Can Mountain West crash College Football Playoff party?

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The College Football Playoff is essentially a Power 5-only party.  Mountain West Conference teams can dream, sure. But those spots are closely guarded by the big boys.

Boise State and Fresno State — along with San Diego State — are 250-1 to make the CFP for good reason. The MWC does, however, have a couple of chances at making one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Chances that could be bolstered this weekend.

The Broncos — 11-10 favorites to win the conference, according to the Westgate SuperBook — are 5½-point underdogs against Florida State in Jacksonville on Saturday, while the Bulldogs face USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Broncos in particular look well-positioned to challenge Central Florida’s two-year hold on the spot reserved for a school from the so-called “Group of Five” conferences (the MWC, American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt).

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Boise State, which beat Arizona in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl as the Group of Five representative in the first season of the CFP, appears to have few stumbling blocks are facing the Seminoles. Two road games, Oct. 19 at BYU and Nov. 23 at Utah State, look like the Broncos’ biggest hurdles prior to the MWC title game — possibly a rematch with Fresno State (the Bulldogs beat Boise State in overtime last December).

But first, Boise State has to replace a three-year starter at quarterback (Brett Rypien) and a running back who was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft (Alexander Mattison). On the bright side, the entire offensive line returns, and the Broncos have been reloading for many years now.

New defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding inherits seven returning starters, led by 6-foot-3, 264-pound edge rusher Curtis Weaver. Weaver led the team in sacks and tackles for loss in 2018.

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Can the Broncos catch UCF, which is ranked 16th in the AP Poll? (The first CFP rankings will be released Nov. 5.)

The Knights appear to have a slightly harder road ahead.

They host No. 25 Stanford and play at Pittsburgh in back to back weeks next month. Then there’s what could be an AAC showdown Nov. 2 against Houston.

For Group of Five hopefuls, a signature win can mean a lot come December.

What about the first full week of the college football season?

Thursday

UCLA at Cincinnati -2½: A year ago, the Bearcats went to Los Angeles and spoiled Chip Kelly’s Bruins debut. UCLA went on to lose four more in a row but were playing much better football during the second half of the season. Kelly gets back his quarterback and the offensive and defensive lines.

The Bruins are probably a year or two away from contending in the Pac-12 — there are 61 freshmen on the roster, according to the school’s website — but Kelly can use the revenge angle here. UCLA

Friday

Rice at Army -22.5: Head coach Jeff Monken has made the Army football program nearly unrecognizable from earlier this century. With 29 wins in the past three years, the memories of 14 consecutive losses to Navy are fading. Returning for Monken are 32 seniors and junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, last seen torching Houston for five touchdowns in a 70-14 bowl win.

Things have certainly changed in West Point, N.Y.

‘’Obviously, we’ve had a lot more expectation put on us this year than we have in the past,’’ fullback Connor Slomka told The Associated Press. ‘’It’s really exciting for this program. We as a team are very excited to have this opportunity. It’s something we haven’t had before.”

Dreams of an undefeated season won’t be ruined by Rice, but they could be next week when the Black Knights travel to the Big House to face Michigan on national television. Will they be up for the Owls this week? Or will the Cadets have their eye on Ann Arbor? RICE

Saturday

No. 16 Auburn -3.5 vs. No. 11 Oregon, Total 55 (At Arlington, Texas): Heralded Tigers freshman quarterback Bo Nix, Mr. Football last season in the state of Alabama, faces a big test in his first collegiate game.

Oregon, which allowed 300 yards passing just twice last year (against Stanford and Washington State), has three starters in the secondary back this year.

Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert, playing in his 30th collegiate game, also faces a stout defensive backfield. 

Auburn returns four of five starters to a secondary that helped hold four 2018 opponents without a touchdown pass.

None of those opponents had a quarterback expected to be a top-five pick in next year’s NFL Draft. OREGON and UNDER

 

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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