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Mountain West rankings: Fans or not, Boise State is on top

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier (19) looks to throw the ball against the Utah State defense in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Boise, Idaho.
AP Photo/Steve Conner

The more things change in the Mountain West, the more one thing always seems to remain the same.

Boise State is the team to beat.

The Broncos exploded out of the gate last Saturday with a convincing 42-13 victory over Utah State to open the season. Boise State led 28-0 at the half and strolled to the easy 29-point victory to earn the top spot in the first Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings of the season.

The only thing different for Boise State this past Saturday was all of the empty seats at Albertsons Stadium because of the COVID-19 restrictions. The stadium with its famous blue turf normally is filled with 30,000 or more fans.

“It’s a different feeling,” Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier said. “A win is a win but it does feel weird without fans in ‘The Blue.’”

Boise State, as usual, did get the win in The Blue. The Broncos have now won 21 conference-opening games in a row and 19 consecutive home openers.

Bachmeier, who battled injuries last year, tossed three touchdown passes and ran for one in the rout over No. 7 Utah State. Bachmeier was 20-of-28 for 268 yards.

“He played like a savvy seasoned veteran,” Utah State coach Gary Andersen said.

Utah State quarterback Jason Shelley, a transfer from Utah, was just 14-of-27 for 92 yards with an interception. Shelley is replacing Jordan Love, who was a first-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers last spring.

The Nevada Wolf Pack, ranked No. 2, built a 28-6 lead over Wyoming and held on for a 37-34 overtime win.

Quarterback Carson Strong was 39-of-52 for four scores and 420 yards and was named this week’s Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week.

“What can you say about Carson?” Nevada coach Jay Norvell said. “He’s got a chance to have a great year.”

Strong is on pace for 3,360 yards, 32 touchdowns and 213 completions this season in just eight games. The Pack season records are 34 touchdowns, 4,265 yards and 331 completions, all by Chris Vargas in 1993.

“I really think we left a ton of plays out there,” Strong said after beating Wyoming. “We could have put up a lot more points.”

Strong, who passed for 402 yards in the final game of the 2019 season (a 30-21 loss to Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), is the first Nevada quarterback to pass for 400 or more yards in consecutive games since Zack Threadgill in the second and third games of the 2002 season.

Wyoming lost its starting quarterback Sean Chambers to a broken leg suffered on the game’s third play.

“Anytime you lose a key starter at quarterback, it changes things,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.

Wyoming, ranked No. 6, did outscore Nevada 25-3 over the final 18 minutes of regulation to force overtime. The comeback started after Wolf Pack defensive back Tyson Williams was ejected for targeting Wyoming receiver Ayden Eberhardt. Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams scored on a 21-yard run on the first play after Williams’ ejection.

“That was a very cheap play and it fired us up,” Wyoming wide receiver Gunner Gentry said.

San Diego State, led by new head coach Brady Hoke, devoured the UNLV Rebels, 34-6, and is ranked No. 3. New San Diego State running back Greg Bell, a transfer from Nebraska, had 111 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

“I was just out there trying to run the hardest I can,” said Bell who sat out all of last season after transferring.

New head coach Todd Graham became the first Hawaii coach to win his debut since Bob Wagner in 1987. Graham’s Rainbow Warriors, ranked No. 4, whipped Fresno State 34-19 and also debuted a run-heavy offense.

Hawaii, which relied heavily on the forward pass under former coach Nick Rolovich the past four years, ran for 323 yards n 53 carries against Fresno State. Both running back Miles Reed (109 yards) and quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (116 yards, two touchdowns) ran for more than 100 yards, the first Hawaii duo to do so since Joey Iosefa and Steven Lakalaka in 2013 against Army.

Hawaii also intercepted Fresno State quarterback Jake Heiner three times and held the Bulldogs to 3.2 yards per carry on the ground. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 10.

The biggest surprise of the opening week was No. 5 San Jose State’s 17-6 win over No. 8 Air Force. Air Force, which beat Navy 40-7 on Oct. 3, did run for 206 yards on 49 carries with their triple-option offense but the Falcons found the end zone only once on a pass and fumbled the ball away twice.

“Our guys handled their scheme real well,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

The Spartans and Falcons battled to a scoreless tie by halftime. San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel, a graduate transfer who played at Arkansas last year and Texas A&M in 2017 and 2018, completed 22-of-29 passes for 226 yards and two touchdown passes to tight end Derrick Deese for a 14-0 lead.

The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West football rankings:

1. BOISE STATE (1-0): Last week: Boise State 42, Utah State 13. This week: Boise State at Air Force, Saturday.

2. NEVADA (1-0): Last week: Nevada 37, Wyoming 34 in overtime. This week: Nevada at UNLV, Saturday.

3. SAN DIEGO STATE (1-0): Last week: San Diego State 34, UNLV 6. This week: San Diego State at Utah State, Saturday.

4. HAWAII (1-0): Last week: Hawaii 34, Fresno State 19. This week: Hawaii at Wyoming, Friday.

5. SAN JOSE STATE (1-0): Last week: San Jose State 17, Air Force 6. This week: San Jose State at New Mexico, Saturday.

6. WYOMING (0-1). Last week: Nevada 37, Wyoming 34. This week: Hawaii at Wyoming, Friday.

7. UTAH STATE (0-1). Last week: Boise State 42, Utah State 13. This week: San Diego State at Utah State, Saturday.

8. AIR FORCE (1-1). Last week: San Jose State 17, Air Force 6. This week: Boise State at Air Force, Saturday.

9. COLORADO STATE (0-0): Last week: Game vs. New Mexico canceled because of COVID-19. This week: Colorado State at Fresno State, Thursday.

10. FRESNO STATE (0-1): Last week: Hawaii 34, Fresno State 19. This week: Colorado State at Fresno State, Thursday.

11. NEW MEXICO (0-0): Last week: Game vs. Colorado State canceled because of COVID-19. This week: San Jose State at New Mexico, Saturday.

12. UNLV (0-1): Last week: San Diego State 34, UNLV 6. This week: Nevada at UNLV, Saturday.