Utah (8-0) @ New Mexico (4-5)
(Saturday, 8:30 pm, The Mtn.)
Don’t ever count out Rocky Long’s troops. When quarterback Donovan Porterie went down for the season with an injury, the Lobos simply rallied around their potent running game. They are hanging around .500 thanks to the running of Rodney Ferguson. The senior tailback has paced the nation’s 13th ranked rushing attack with 865 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ferguson has his work cut out for him this week because the Utah front seven is one of the best in the Mountain West. Thanks to stars like Paul Kruger, Koa Misi, and Stevenson Sylvester, the Utes have limited opponents to 85.9 rushing yards per game this season (9th nationally). Can they hold up against Ferguson and company? One reason Utah is confident heading into this game is because of the play of their quarterback, Brian Johnson. Johnson has posted solid numbers and displayed impressive leadership skills in leading the Utes to their 8-0 mark. He has been the leading candidate for the Faulk Trophy for the entire season, and I expect him to play like he deserves the award Saturday. The Achilles heel for Utah all season has been their penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. Untimely penalties and turnovers have cropped up, but haven’t yet gotten the best of the Utes. New Mexico is a solid fundamental team that will be able to take advantage of these mistakes. That will get the momentum of the crowd going and give the Lobos an excellent shot at the upset.
J.Pike’s Pick: New Mexico 24, Utah 23
BYU (7-1) @ Colorado State (4-4)
(Saturday, 5 pm, The Mtn.)
Colorado State is looking for their first big win under new head coach Steve Fairchild and a home game against BYU would be the perfect opportunity to get it. If a winless Washington team can come within a blown extra point of taking BYU to overtime, why can’t the Rams do it too? Fairchild is striving for balance offensively with wide receiver Rashaun Greer and running back Gartrell Johnson, but the offensive line isn’t good enough yet for either phase to thrive. Facing an ever-improving BYU front seven that includes standouts David Nixon, Matt Bauman, and Jan Jorgensen doesn’t bode well for that unit. On the other side of the ball, BYU can score points, but they aren’t unstoppable. If you can pressure Max Hall you can knock him out of his rhythm. The problem is that Colorado State is last in the Mountain West with only 6 sacks this season. On emotion alone, the Rams will make this one a game in the second half, but in the end it will be difficult to make clutch stops against the potent BYU offense.
J.Pike’s Pick: BYU 34, Colorado State 24
TCU (8-1) @ UNLV (3-5)
(Saturday, 7 pm, CBS College Sports)
When UNLV knocked off Arizona State earlier this season, it looked like the Rebels were finally going to turn the corner under coach Mike Sanford. Now that we are a little deeper into the season it looks like a win over ASU isn’t quite as impressive as it seemed at the time. But with quarterback Omar Clayton the Rebels will always have a chance to win. The problem is he will have to do it against one of the best defenses in the nation. TCU is in the top two nationally in each of the following categories: scoring defense (10.4 points per game), rushing defense (30.2 yards per game), total defense (218.9 yards per game), sacks (35), and turnover margin (+14). On top of all that, TCU has yet to allow a single point in the fourth quarter this season. So Omar Clayton had better watch his back because Jerry Hughes (12 sacks) and Jason Phillips will be coming after him on Saturday. For UNLV to pull the upset, they’ll need to play their best game and hope for one of those annual TCU choke jobs that tend to trip up the Horned Frogs just when they are gaining some national attention.
J.Pike’s Pick: TCU 33, UNLV 16