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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Two M.W.C. Bowl Teams, Two Results

Judging by the results, one would think that the latter of the two Mountain West teams would be heading to the Pac-10, not the former. That’s simply by watching each team play, ignoring the opponent and getting straight down to the final result: Utah looked horrendous, for the third time in five games, while San Diego State completed its one-year turnaround in style. There’s more to games than just the final result, but in the span of two nights, one can’t help but be struck by how bad Utah looked while amazed at how quickly S.D.S.U. has turned the corner under Brady Hoke.

Boise State 26, Utah 3. In Utah’s defense, it could have been closer — maybe, if things had gone Utah’s way early, it would have been closer. There was an early touchdown called back, one that came with the Utes already holding a 3-0 lead. By my count, there were two dropped passes in the first quarter that would have either led directly to a score or left Utah on the doorstep.

That’s of little consequence: after struggling early finding their footing, the Broncos were in complete control. Utah can take no solace in the fact that it could have been closer, not after such a horrendous close to the season.

I asked in the Las Vegas Bowl preview if Utah was ready for the Pac-10, though I followed that by asking if the Pac-10 was ready for Utah — two meaningless questions, but important to consider. Is this how Utah pictured closing out its final season in the Mountain West? The 2-2 month of November might have been offset with a win over Boise State; with three losses in its last five, Utah enters a new conference with more questions than answers.

Heading into November, one could have made the statement that Utah would have stood as Oregon’s greatest Pac-10 challenger — Utah was 8-0 at this point. Now, late in December, one wonders if Utah has the wherewithal to regroup before taking on one of the best conferences in the country.

Then there’s San Diego State, which has proved throughout 2010 that it is the program most likely to fill the vacuum left in the M.W.C. by Utah’s departure — and T.C.U.’s departure, once we get to that point. Nine wins, including last night’s wonderful showing against nine-win Navy; four losses — Missouri, B.Y.U., T.C.U. and Utah — by a combined total of 15 points.

Yes, the Aztecs lost to Utah. And yes, Utah’s 10-3 mark tops S.D.S.U.’s 9-4 — so why does each team’s season feel different? Simple: S.D.S.U. was coming off a decade-plus of incompetence; Utah has won 33 games over the last three seasons. It’s the nature of the beast: the unexpected trumps the expected, the unpredictable draws stares more than the expected — S.D.S.U.’s 9-4 feels good, Utah’s 10-3 leaves us begging for more.

When we come down to it, however, these are still two programs on an upswing. S.D.S.U.’s recent upturn has been quicker, yes, but the Aztecs still have a ways to go before being considered in the same class as Utah. Hoke would be the first to admit that.

On the other hand, San Diego State can’t wait to get back on the field in September. Utah, on the other hand, might face some doubts about its ability to go toe-to-toe with the Pac-10, thanks to an ugly close to a previously perfect season.

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  1. jjtiller says:

    This SDSU team is really, really good

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    There are a lot of things to like about the Aztecs heading into next season. Lindley looks like an NFL type quarterback who will be operating behind a veteran offensive line with Hillman at his side.

    Defensively, Rocky Long is one of the better DCs going. The Frogs will have their hands full in San Diego next year. How big a game could that be in late November ?

  3. Ezra says:

    and Nevada’s and Fresno State’s and Hawaii’s departure?


    (and, yes, Burnt Orange: a late-season TCU-SDSU tilt could be huge, if the Frogs get past Air Force (in Colorado Springs; not likely) and head to SDSU undefeated. TCU is rebuilding in 2011.

    Paul: Move along, Ezra, nothing to see here. I think I got a bit ahead of myself and tried to combine the idea of T.C.U. and B.Y.U. leaving with Nevada and those folks coming in. Thanks, I re-read it last night and I really didn’t see it.

  4. keith mcGa says:

    Amazing, that people who should know better, don’t know the MWC has been beating up terribly, the weaker Pac 10.

    Two years ago, the MWC went 6-1 in the regular season over the Pac 10.

    Last year BYU embarassed Oregon State and Utah whipped up on Cal….

    And idiots continually say “Can Utah compete in the Pac 10″.. It ain’t hard!!!!!

  5. Burnt Orange says:

    @Ezra – point taken with the turnover of the TCU roster. I think the trips to BYU and Baylor ( assuming RG returns) could be problematic as well.

    San Diego State has a very interesting September trip to Ann Arbor next year. Anyone else think Hoke will be auditioning for the Michigan job – assuming Rich Rod is still around ? Hoke was an assistant at Michigan for several years.

    As for the Utes, like many teams, it seems to be so much about their quarterback play. I am not sold on any of their candidates at that position heading into next year but overall you have to like their position in the South Divison of the Pac 12. Colorado and UCLA are lost. SC on probation and ASU struggling.

  6. Burnt Orange says:

    Actually- have now seen three different TCU 2011 schedules in three different places. Looks like possible home game with Boise St. substituted for away game at BYU. Scheduling chaos.

  7. Clayton says:

    I was shocked by the SDSU win, I thought Navy’s triple option was gonna be a little too much for them to handle but they looked great last night. Brady Hoke is legit.

  8. The real question here is this: If MWC commissioner Craig Thompson was an utterly incompetent moron, where could the MWC be? If they had just invited Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii earlier, then Utah may not have left and they would have only lost BYU to independence, which was happening anyway.

    Can you image a conference of 12 teams and a championship game that has Boise State, Utah, TCU, Air Force, Nevada, Fresno State, Hawaii and now SDSU? That’s an AQ conference if ever there was one. And now what do they have? SDSU is the only bright spot with all the other departures. At least this basketball season is showing some promise for them.

  9. schedule nit says:

    No, the real question is this: Do Utah’s receivers wear extra rib pads, or are they really that portly? No wonder they dropped all those passes, they were busy trying to get their bellies out of the way!

  10. Zaboo says:

    For those saying the MWC is better than the Pac-10, and citing head to head records, that’s nearly meaningless. For example, the Big East has OWNED the SEC for the last decade Head-to-head, and you don’t see anyone proclaiming their dominance.

    Nonetheless, I think Utah wins what should be a wide-open Pac-12 South next year. Either them or ASU(IF they can resolve their poor QB situation).

  11. PeteP says:

    The biggest problem for SDSU over the next 2 seasons will be keeping Hoke as head coach. The Aztecs have always had tons of talent (as reflected by the many Aztecs drafted) but have lacked heart for a long time.

    The Aztecs could easily have won 3 of the 4 games they lost (the TCU game was nowhere near as close as the final score).

    It will be very interesting in the MWC with Boise, Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno coming to challenge the SDSU and AFA in the new MWC.

    As to Utah, it has potential, but has completely failed to recover from the a$$-kicking it received at the hands of TCU, where one of the defensive coaches thanked Gary Patterson for not going for 100. The Utes have a solid foundation and a good potential and should be a 7-9 win team every year.

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