Mid-major Report: After downing Boise, Fresno State on the rise in the Mountain West
If there was still any doubt about which team was in power in the Mountain West, Fresno State erased it with an impressive 41-40 home victory over Boise State last Friday.
It was the first time the Bulldogs had beaten the Broncos since 2005, and Boise State has been firmly in control of its conference — first the WAC and then the newly revamped Mountain West — since toppling Fresno State and future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick David Carr in 2001. Being kicked around for the better part of a generation naturally leads to resentment and envy, and the Bulldogs’ dramatic win, this time with David’s brother, Derek, at the helm, likely had some sort of purging effect.
Like a younger brother finally beating his older brother at a game of one-on-one basketball in the driveway, that first win goes a long way. If Fresno State can use the confidence gained from a close win over the Broncos to catapult it through the rest of its conference schedule, the Bulldogs could have the makings of the last true BCS buster. It was only fitting that the sun was rising on the Bulldogs and setting on Boise State as the two teams played each other, a role reversal from many of the teams’ meetings in the past.
The Bulldogs barreled their way into the AP Poll this week and already have two quality wins against Boise State and Rutgers, which lost to Fresno in a season-opening 52-51 shootout. That win over the Scarlet Knights looks all the better now that Rutgers is 3-0 since, including a 28-24 victory over Arkansas on Saturday.
On Monday, Fresno State announced a Heisman campaign for Carr. Through three games games, the senior has gone 113-of-164 for 1,121 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
The Bulldogs lean heavily on Carr, as he’s averaging a staggering 54.6 attempts per game in the early going. And he has needed to be as good as he’s been, with Fresno’s defense allowing a shade under 39 points per game. If that unit and a less-than-stellar rushing attack can improve, the Bulldogs could make a real run at an undefeated regular season.
There are only three unbeaten non-AQ teams left — Navy, Northern Illinois and Fresno State — and the Bulldogs seem to have the best shot at running the table. The remaining teams on their slate have a combined 9-19 record thus far, and Fresno State avoids Utah State and the similarly prolific arm of Chuckie Keeton.
A win over Boise State was a nice start, but Fresno State has its sights set far higher.
• Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato: So the result wasn’t the one the Thundering Herd hoped for in the pouring rain against Virginia Tech last week, but it wasn’t for lack of effort out of Marshall’s electric quarterback. Against a Hokies’ defense that held Alabama to 206 total yards, Cato racked 228 passing yards, 46 rushing yards and two touchdowns in an eventual 29-21 loss. He was also intercepted twice on the day.
Marshall couldn’t pull out the triple-overtime upset on the road, but this team is clearly better than its 2-2 record indicates. Both losses have come by a single possession, and with the Mountaineers reeling, it’s possible the Thundering Herd are the best team in the state of West Virginia.
• Ball State running back Jahwan Edwards: The Cardinals bounced back after a turnover-filled loss to North Texas with a 51-20 statement win over Eastern Michigan last week. Edwards was a major reason why; he scored three touchdowns on just 15 carries.
Sophomore Horactio Banks has impressed early with 300 yards on the ground and five touchdowns in Ball State’s four games, but getting balance and extra effort from Edwards, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards a year ago, is the key to the Cardinals competing in the MAC West.
• Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton: Coming into the season, Tettleton’s experience and prior success were a big part of the reason the Bobcats were considered a preseason favorite to win the MAC East. But a team-wide struggle in the Bobcats’ opener, in which Tettleton threw for just 140 yards with a 47.8 completion percentage, seemed to temper some of that early-season hype.
That’s a shame, because Tettleton and Ohio have turned around and won three straight leading into conference play. The senior quarterback completed just under 69 percent of his passes in wins over North Texas, Marshall and Austin Peay, including a 13-of-15 effort with three touchdowns last week against the Governors.
• FIU: It probably isn’t fair to lead with the Golden Panthers, who are now 0-4 after a 72-0 stomping at the hands of Louisville. But when writing a three down column, it’s necessary to include the teams that are already buried. FIU had two first downs against the Cardinals and just 30 total yards. It averaged 0.1 yards per carry. This isn’t just a bad offense; it might just be the worst offense in the FBS, although Miami (Ohio), UMass and Georgia State could also make claims to the title.
• San Jose State punter Harrison Waid: Already famous for throwing a fit in the Military Bowl, Waid demonstrated again that might have a bit of a temper problem.
The senior was ejected for fighting against Minnesota last week, and he’s now forever a GIF:
• Boise State’s defense: Once known as a hard-hitting, mistake-free club, the Broncos are a shadow of their former selves. Boise State’s secondary is missing tackles, the line isn’t getting any push and the team is giving up yards in bunches. Boise has played two great attacks in Washington and Fresno State, but it’s allowing 28 points per game. It still has a few potent opposing offenses left on its schedule. It’s always hard to count Chris Petersen-led clubs out, but the Broncos are in real danger of losing three or more games for the first time since 2007.