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Mountain West rankings: San Jose State 2-0 for 1st time since 1987

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
San Jose State wide receiver Bailey Gaither (84) celebrates with Kairee Robinson (32) after scoring a touchdown against New Mexico during the second half of an NCAA football game on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 in San Jose, Calif.
AP Photo/Tony Avelar

Nick Starkel has found a new home.

The San Jose State Spartans’ senior quarterback torched the New Mexico Lobos for 467 yards and five touchdowns on Saturday in a 38-21 victory, completing 34-of-47 passes.

San Jose State is now 2-0 for the first time since 1987 and moves up a spot in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West Football Rankings to No. 4.

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be,” said Starkel, who transferred to the Spartans after last season from Arkansas. The 6-foot-3 Starkel also played two seasons (2017-18) at Texas A&M.

Starkel completed 137-of-227 passes for 1,962 yards and 15 touchdowns in two years at Texas A&M and was 96-of-179 for 1,152 yards and seven touchdowns at Arkansas last year.

The graduate transfer is now second in the Mountain West at 346.5 passing yards a game behind only Nevada’s Carson Strong (385 a game).

“When Nick came here he knew the type of weapons he had to throw the ball to,” San Jose State wide receiver Tre Walker said.

Walker caught nine passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico while Bailey Gaither hauled in 10 passes for 208 yards and a 65-yard touchdown that gave the Spartans a 31-21 lead late in the third quarter.

San Jose State, which beat Air Force 17-6 to open the season, now must travel to No. 2 San Diego State for a key Mountain West matchup Friday night.

“It is awesome,” said Spartans coach Brent Brennan of his team’s 2-0 start. “It’s special to hear the excitement in everyone’s voices. It’s just fun to hear people excited about Spartan football.”

San Jose State, which finished 5-7 last year, had had just three winning seasons since 1992 (7-5 in 2000, 9-4 in 2006 and 11-2 in 2012).

“I’m excited to see what we can do with this football team,” Brennan said. “I believe we’re building a championship program here, knowing in the past that it hasn’t looked like that.”

New Mexico stayed at No. 11 with the loss. The game against the Spartans was the Lobos’ season opener and was moved from Albuquerque, N.M., to San Jose State because of a COVID-19 outbreak recently in New Mexico.

Boise State whipped No. 8 Air Force, 49-30, to remain on top of the Appeal rankings. The Broncos had to play without starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who sat out the game for undisclosed reasons.

Bachmeier was replaced by USC transfer Jack Sears, who completed 17-of-20 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns.

“It was just great to help out this football program,” Sears said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been preparing all along like I am the starter. And once they gave me the green light I was ready to go.”

Sears connected with wide receiver C.T. Thomas on a 75-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first play.

“He is an absolute weapon,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Jack is a cool customer. He’s very focused and talented.”

Sears has two years (this year and next) of eligibility remaining.

“I wanted to go someplace that had a winning culture,” Sears said. “It (Boise State) really felt like home.”

San Diego State jumped over Nevada and into the No. 2 spot in the rankings with a dominating 38-7 win over No. 9 Utah State. The Aztecs ran for 407 yards on the ground on 53 carries with Greg Bell leading the way with 157 yards. Bell leads the Mountain West with 268 rushing yards.

Utah State (0-2), which had just 215 yards of offense against San Diego State, will meet Nevada this Thursday at Mackay Stadium.

The Aztecs currently lead the Mountain West in total offense (497 yards a game) and in total defense (200.5 a game). San Diego State, which is playing its home games in Carson, Calif., (near Los Angeles) this season, trounced UNLV 34-6 in its season opener and has allowed just 13 points all season.

No. 3 Nevada rolled over No. 12 UNLV 37-19, matching its point total the previous week in a 37-34 overtime win over Wyoming.

Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong was 21-of-27 for 350 yards and two touchdowns and became the first Nevada quarterback to pass for 350 or more yards in four consecutive games since David Neill in 1998. Strong passed for 351 yards in the Wolf Pack’s 33-30 loss to UNLV last year and followed that up with 402 yards in a 30-21 loss to Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He then passed for 420 yards against Wyoming on Oct. 24 and backed that up with 350 against the Rebels this past Saturday.

Strong, though, was only concerned with beating the Rebels.

“Gosh, dang, that (losing to UNLV in 2019) was the biggest monkey on my back,” the Wolf Pack sophomore said. “I was in tears I the locker room. It was the worst feeling walking off the field last year. It (beating the Rebels) was quite a relief.”

UNLV has allowed 71 points in its first two games combined. “Hats off to Reno and their experience,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said.

The Rebels’ offense was far more productive against Nevada than it was in its season-opening 34-6 loss to San Diego State. The Rebels had 348 yards and 22 first downs and scored two touchdowns against Nevada after getting just 186 yards, 11 first downs and one touchdown against San Diego State.

“I’m proud of the offensive improvement but we’re not into moral victories,” Arroyo said. “We’re hurting.”

Wyoming rebounded from its loss at Nevada and moved up a spot to No. 5 after beating No. 6 Hawaii, 31-7.

Xazavian Valladay led Wyoming with 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Wyoming held Hawaii to just 12 first downs and sacked Rainbow Warriors quarterback Chevan Cordeiro five times.

Fresno State made the biggest jump in the rankings. The Bulldogs moved up three spots to No. 7 with a 38-17 win over No. 10 Colorado State.

The Bulldogs’ Ronnie Rivers ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns and also caught five passes for 69 yards and another score. Rivers has now scored in 10 consecutive games. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener was 22-of-32 for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

Colorado State, which had its season opener against New Mexico canceled the week before, fell to 0-1. The Rams’ Todd Centeio, a transfer from Temple, passed for 141 yards (10-of-23) and rushed for 80 on 13 carries.

The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West football rankings:

1. BOISE STATE (2-0): Last week: Boise State 49, Air Force 30. This week: BYU at Boise State, Friday.

2. SAN DIEGO STATE (2-0): Last week: San Diego State 38, Utah State 7. This week: San Jose State at San Diego State, Friday.

3. NEVADA (2-0): Last week: Nevada 37, UNLV 19. This week: Utah State at Nevada, Thursday.

4. SAN JOSE STATE (2-0): Last week: San Jose State 38, New Mexico 21. This week: San Jose State at San Diego State, Friday.

5. WYOMING (1-1). Last week: Wyoming 31, Hawaii 7. This week: Wyoming at Colorado State, Thursday.

6. HAWAII (1-1): Last week: Wyoming 31, Hawaii 7. This week: New Mexico at Hawaii, Saturday.

7. FRESNO STATE (1-1): Last week: Fresno State 38, Colorado State 17. This week: Fresno State at UNLV, Saturday.

8. AIR FORCE (1-2). Last week: Boise State 49, Air Force 30. This week: Air Force at Army, Saturday.

9. UTAH STATE (0-2). Last week: San Diego state 38, Utah State 7. This week: Utah State at Nevada, Thursday.

10. COLORADO STATE (0-1): Last week: Fresno State 38, Colorado State 17. This week: Wyoming at Colorado State, Thursday.

11. NEW MEXICO (0-1): Last week: San Jose State 38, New Mexico 21. This week: New Mexico at Hawaii, Saturday.

12. UNLV (0-2): Last week: Nevada 37, UNLV 19. This week: Fresno State at UNLV, Saturday.