Mountain West Conference divisional leaders San Diego State and Utah State gained the inside track to December’s league championship over the weekend with blowout defeats of their top contenders.
Friday, the pace-setters of the West and Mountain divisions respective meet in San Diego in a possible preview of the MWC Championship Game.
Utah State opened a landscape-shaping weekend in the Mountain West last Friday with one of the most surprising results of the 2015 season.
The Aggies took advantage of eight Boise State turnovers to jump all over the defending MWC champion Broncos. The 52-26 final score in Logan doesn’t fully capture just how dominate Utah State was.
In a win Utah State head coach Matt Wells called “maybe the greatest” in Aggies’ history, the Aggies set the table for several milestones.
The first and most obvious is the Mountain division’s berth in the conference championship game.
“It isn’t the championship, but it puts us in the driver’s seat,” Wells said in Friday’s postgame press conference, via UtahStateAggies.com. “We’ll control our own destiny and that will be a challenge. It’s a challenge our guys will gladly accept.”
Utah State would have to lose twice for Boise State to catch up. However, one-loss Air Force and New Mexico, which the Aggies see in back-to-back road games Nov. 7 and Nov. 14, technically control their own destiny.
Should either win out — which would include a defeat of Utah State — they would win the division.
Utah State’s margin for error in the Mountain West race is thin, and its margin for a shot at the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid is thinner.
The American Athletic Conference has a decided advantage with its three undefeated teams: Houston, Memphis and Temple. Chaos could ensue in the American down the stretch, opening the possibility up for Utah State with its quality win over Boise State, and quality losses to Playoff contender Utah and the Pac-12’s Washington Huskies.
Another loss doesn’t necessarily preclude Utah State from the Mountain West title, but it almost assuredly removes the Aggies from the New Year’s Six conversation.
Were that not enough, further stakes added to Friday’s contest in Qualcomm Stadium: Utah State is playing for the right to not have to go back.
San Diego is lovely in early December; there aren’t many other places in the continental United States where one can lounge on the beach a few weeks before Christmas.
However, Utah State would much prefer spending Dec. 5 in the chilly, mountain air of Logan.
The Mountain West is one of the few conferences that hosts its championship game at an on-campus venue; Conference USA and the American are the other two. If Friday is indeed a preview of the MWC title game.
For San Diego State, the possibility of hosting the MWC Championship Game is the biggest prize to be had with a win Friday.
The Aztecs were eliminated from the New Year’s Six conversation long ago with a confounding home loss to South Alabama.
Meanwhile, San Diego State enjoys about as cushy a divisional lead as any team could this early in the season.
With their 30-7 rout of San Jose State Saturday in Spartan Stadium, the Aztecs are two games up in the loss column on every other team in the West.
San Jose State had been the division’s most impressive team through the season’s first half, but the Spartans would have to run the table and rely on three San Diego State losses to get into the conference championship.
The Aztecs can’t hit cruise control, but their road is considerably less bumpy than Utah State’s.