Week 3 Previews: Mountain West

Northern Illinois (2-0) at UNLV (1-1) Sept. 13, 7:00 pm, CampusInsiders.com 

Here’s The Deal: They’re doing it again. The Northern Illinois Huskies just keep on rolling, blowing away Presbyterian to start the season and then pulling off a shocker – okay, slight shocker – to beat Northwestern to make it 25 straight regular season wins since losing the 2012 opener to Iowa. The last loss in a true non-conference road game came on September 18, 2010 at Illinois, and with a huge test at Arkansas up next, coming up with Las Vegas with a win would set up a bit of a showdown against the Hogs. 

UNLV has had a rough go so far, getting blown away by Arizona to start the season and barely squeaking by Northern Colorado last week. Was the 2013 bowl season an aberration, or is this just a sluggish start? The offense can’t score, the run defense is struggling, and there isn’t the pop or explosion of last season, but beating Northern Illinois would be a huge turnaround moment. NIU is a big enough Group of Five program to get the Rebels some national respect if they can come away with a victory, and with the next three games on the road and four of the next five away from Sam Boyd, this could be a must win moment. 

Why Northern Illinois Might Win: UNLV can’t score. Other than the 31-10 loss to Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl – a forgivable loss, of course – the last time NIU scored 14 points or fewer was a 49-7 loss to Wisconsin early in 2011. The last time NIU scored 14 or fewer to a non-BCS/Power 5 program was in the 2008 Independence Bowl, losing 17-10. UNLV finished last year losing to North Texas 36-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and kicked off this season with two straight 13-point performances. The line hasn’t been that bad and the running game hasn’t been abysmal – the offense just can’t seem to put the biscuit in the basket with turnovers and stalls a big problem. NIU isn’t the same NIU running the ball without Jordan Lynch, but it’s effective and should be able to crank out 200 yards without breathing hard. Can UNLV find some semblance of an offense to keep up the pace? Northern Illinois is going to score more than 14 points. 

Why UNLV Might Win: UNLV is better than this. JUCO transfer Blake Decker took over the starting quarterback job and hasn’t been awful, but he’s throwing too many interceptions and he’s having to press a little bit too much. The Rebels were on the wrong side of the turnover margin in each of the first two games after being in the negative just three times all of last year – losing all three games – including the first two games. If the mistakes stop and Decker can do a better job of hanging on to the ball, and if the offense can be a little sharper on third downs and with fewer errors, all of a sudden, everything could change around like it did starting in the third game of last year. Northern Illinois doesn’t give the ball away – it has yet to turn the ball over. Can the Rebels force mistakes? To help the struggling offense, that has to be the No. 1 goal. 

Who To Watch Out For: NIU quarterback Drew Hare can run a little bit, but he’s not going to be Lynch on the move. However, he’s throwing extremely well and he’s doing a great job of working within the framework of the offense completing 61% of his passes, and while he has only thrown for 209 yards, he’s coming up with big plays. He has yet to throw any picks with three touchdown passes. Benefitting from the passing game is Da’Ron Brown, the senior target who caught two touchdown passes last week against Northwestern and has 13 grabs for 219 yards and three scores. On the other side, UNLV star receiver Devante Davis has caught ten passes for 118 yards, but he has yet to score and he has yet to come up with a big play – the Rebels have to get him going. 

What’s Going To Happen: UNLV will come up with a stronger performance than it did over the first two weeks, but Northern Illinois is too sharp, too strong, and two productive on both sides of the ball. The Huskies will be balanced on the way to a decent second half lead, and then the UNLV mistakes will start to come. 

Prediction: Northern Illinois 31 … UNLV 17 
Line: Northern Illinois -9.5 o/u: 55
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2.5 

Nebraska (2-0) at Fresno State (0-2) Sept. 13, 10:30, CBS Sports Network 

Here’s The Deal: Nebraska didn’t actually lose last week to McNeese State, but it got lumped into the whole Big Ten Sucks narrative after needing some late heroics to get past an FCS team. But 2-0 is 2-0, and while the style points all came in the opener against Florida Atlantic, this might be a chance for the offense to stretch its legs a little bit against a Fresno State team that has yet to play a lick of defense to start the season. The Bulldogs were never going to be a brick wall, but after getting blown out by USC and Utah by a combined score of 111 to 40, they need something to kickstart the season. With Southern Utah and New Mexico up next, the chances are there to quickly turn things around, but coming up with a stop first would be nice. This is just the second time the two teams have played with Nebraska winning in 2011 42-29. 
Why Fresno State Might Win: So how did McNeese State almost pull off the massive upset? The Nebraska offense struggled to keep the chains moving while the defense couldn’t come up with a stop on two long fourth quarter scoring drives – a 98-yard pick six also helped the Cowboys’ cause. Can Fresno State control the clock a bit? The talent is there in the backfield to run a bit, it just hasn’t kicked in quite yet because … 
Why Nebraska Might Win: It’s hard to commit to the ground game when the defense gives up 31 points in the first half. Utah jumped all over the Bulldogs, as did USC, and now the D is among the worst in the nation in just about every major category. The run defense hasn’t been close, allowing 268 yards per game, and the secondary is giving up 346 yards an outing. Nebraska might be having a few issues, but the offense has been terrific so far. Ameer Abdullah had a hard time getting loose against McNeese State, but he should have wide open lanes to fly through against a Fresno State defensive front that’s getting blown off the ball way too easily. 
Who To Watch Out For: Is anything working right for the Bulldogs? All-America safety Derron Smith has yet to come up with a pick – the team hasn’t intercepted a pass – but he’s making plays where he has to with 20 stops in the two games with a tackle for loss and a broken up pass. Now he needs more help from the front seven that has just two sacks – the Huskers have given up just one sack so far. 
What’s Going To Happen: Nebraska isn’t going to be afraid to keep feeding the ball to Abdullah and the offense should do whatever it wants to. Fresno State is far, far better than it’s looked so far, but it’s in for one more week of problems. 
Prediction: Nebraska 41 … Fresno State 27
Line: Nebraska -11.5 o/u: 62 
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2.5 

Northern Iowa (0-1) at Hawaii (0-2) Sept. 14, 12:00 am, Mountain West 

Here’s The Deal: Can Hawaii finally catch a break? The Rainbow Warriors started to play better at the end of last year, but they’re 1-4 in their last five games going back to last season with the four losses each coming by eight points or fewer. The results might not be a positive under head coach Norm Chow, but the team really is playing better. It’s one thing to push hard and come close in losses to two good Pac-12 teams, but it would be another to lose to an FCS squad. With two road games up next at Colorado and Rice, and with three of the last four games away from Honolulu, beating UNI is vital. The Panthers battled hard in a loss to Iowa two weeks ago, and they’re more than good enough to pull off the win after getting two weeks to prepare. 
Why Northern Iowa Might Win: Hawaii’s passing game still isn’t getting much going down the field. The Rainbow Warriors aren’t efficient, with QB Ikaika Woolsey completing just 47% of his passes for 443 yards with a pick and no touchdown passes. UNI allowed Iowa’s Jake Rudock to complete 31-of-41 passes, but they didn’t really go anywhere. On the other side, the Panther passing game was the opposite, with Sawyer Kollmorgen only completing 17-of-37 throws but for 380 yards. UNI can push the ball deep, Hawaii has yet to prove it can. 
Why Hawaii Might Win: With two weeks off after the opener, and with the long trip to Hawaii, will UNI keep screwing up? The two turnovers against Iowa were a big deal, but the 16 penalties were an absolute killer. Hawaii has shown great fight so far, getting down 38-7 to Oregon State but furiously coming back to make it close late. The team knows it can move the ball in a pinch, and if the mistakes slow down – committing 12 penalties with two turnovers against the Beavers – and the third down conversions improve, the results should come. 
Who To Watch Out For: The Hawaii defensive backs are being forced to make way too many plays. Trayvon Henderson, Dee Maggitt and Taz Stevenson are the team’s three leading tacklers, combining to make 40 stops so far with none of them coming up with a pick. Can the defensive front seven do more to take care of keeping plays in front of them? The Warrior defensive backs have enough to do without having to keep pinching up in run support.
What’s Going To Happen: Hawaii won’t be able to break through. Northern Iowa is a strong, talented FCS team that isn’t going to be intimidated. Kollmorgen and his top target, David Johnson – who caught five passes for 203 yards and a score against Iowa – will each come up with big days. 
Prediction: Northern Iowa 34 … Hawaii 24 
Line: No Line o/u: No Line
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2 

Nevada (2-0) at Arizona (2-0) Sept. 13, 11:00, Pac-12 Network 

Here’s The Deal: A couple of unbeaten teams meet in Tucson, with visions of a perfect 3-0 start to the non-conference schedule. Arizona got this point with wins over UNLV and UTSA, the latter by a narrow 26-23 margin. The Wildcats will need to smooth out the wrinkles now, because the string of nine straight Pac-12 games begins with a visit from improved Cal next Saturday. Nevada is looking to win consecutive games over Pac-12 teams for the first time in school history. The Pack handled Wazzu on Friday, an encouraging start for a team that went 4-8 in 2013. 
Why Nevada Might Win: Offense is the historical trademark, but the Pack is winning with defense so far. Spearheaded by DE Brock Hekking and CB Charles Garrett, Nevada has allowed just 32 points, including last week’s silencing of Washington State. UTSA showed last week that the Arizona attack can be slowed, especially with up-and-down redshirt freshman Anu Solomon under center. 
Why Arizona Might Win: Whether or not Solomon’s passes are on target, the Wildcats are going to run the ball, a staple in a Rich Rodriguez system. Against the experienced Roadrunner defense last week, Arizona was forced to use a backup rookie running back, yet Nick Wilson responded with 174 yards on 30 carries. As long as the Cats are setting the tone on the ground, it’s going to create opportunities for Solomon to employ one of the Pac-12’s most physically talented receiving corps. 
Who To Watch Out For: S Jared Tevis arrived in Tucson as a walk-on. He’s going to leave at the end of this season as the 2014 team’s most valuable defender. The face of Arizona’s bend-don’t-break D was instrumental to last week’s UTSA win, making 16 stops and a game-sealing pick. This week, Tevis is intent on slowing down Nevada QB Cody Fajardo. 
What’s Going To Happen: If Arizona doesn’t play better than it did in San Antonio, it’ll begin Pac-12 play with a loss. The Cats will be up to the challenge put forth by the staff, once again surviving on the strength of the running game and Jeff Casteel’s scrappy defensive unit. 
Prediction: Arizona 35 … Nevada 23 
Line: Arizona -15.5 o/u: 65.5 
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2.5
 
Boise State (1-1) at Connecticut (1-1) Sept. 13, 12:00, ESPN2 

Here’s The Deal: Boise State is back on track. After opening with a sloppy effort against Ole Miss, the Broncos win 37-24 win over Colorado State. The bounce back was a statement for Bryan Harsin’s first team, which remains determined to bring the Mountain West crown back to Idaho. Although UConn handed Bob Diaco his first win as the head coach, the team may have slipped further into irrelevancy by narrowing getting past Stony Brook, 19-16, in an inconsistent all-around performance. 
Why Boise State Might Win: The offense is light years ahead of feeble Connecticut. The Broncos have surrounded steady game manager Grant Hedrick with a pair of stars, RB Jay Ajayi and WR Matt Miller. Ajayi is coming off a 219-yard effort against Colorado State, while sure-handed Miller and jackrabbit Shane Williams-Rhodes complement one another well. 
Why Connecticut Might Win: Yeah, the Husky D faces a tall order this week, but it’s shown flashes in the early going. UConn held BYU to fewer points than Texas did last Saturday, and Stony Brook didn’t score an offensive touchdown until there were two minutes left. The Huskies have veteran stoppers in the back seven, namely linebackers Marquise Vann and Jefferson Ashiru and DBs Obi Melifonwu and Byron Jones. 
Who To Watch Out For: Concussions have ended the career of UConn QB Casey Cochran, meaning, for better or worse, the offense belongs to Chandler Whitmer. The senior was erratic in the Stony Brook game, which does not bode well for when he faces a Bronco secondary paced by CB Donte Deayon and S Jeremy Ioane. 
What’s Going To Happen: Boise State captured some momentum last week, which it’ll carry to the East Coast this Saturday. While the UConn defense represents a decent foundation, Diaco doesn’t yet have the offensive tools to knock off quality opponents. Ajayi and Miller will help stake the Broncos to a cushion that the Huskies are incapable of erasing. 
Prediction: Boise State 37 … Connecticut 16 
Line: Boise State -16 o/u: 49 
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2 

Air Force (1-1) at Georgia State (1-1) Sept. 13, 2:00, ESPN3 

Here’s The Deal: Just when it seemed like Air Force was on the verge of going 2-0 and being ready to start out the season with a nice run, Wyoming came up with a late win. Even so, the Falcons are playing better than last year, but they need to be ready for a big fight in two weeks when the Mountain West world continues with a home date against Boise State. Georgia State is also playing better than 2013, and it also had a shot to start out 2-0 before losing a tight battle with New Mexico State. It gets nasty fast with trips to Washington and Louisiana-Lafayette up next, but it’s all about taking steps for the young program. Playing well against Air Force would help. 
Why Air Force Might Win: The Falcons have done a terrific job of loading up against the run. Wyoming couldn’t find any room against an improving front seven – or six – running for just 51 yards and not getting anything big. Georgia State has thrown well so far, but the running game has been setting it up. It’s not going to work nearly as well this week against a Falcon D that’s great at getting behind the line. 
Why Georgia State Might Win: The Panthers have a good enough linebacking corps to keep the Air Force ground game to run wild. New Mexico State was able to run effectively, but it was the passing game that ended up giving GSU problems. Abilene Christian bombed away on the Panther secondary – that’s not going to be a problem against Air Force. The GSU offense is working well and can keep throwing – the passing game has clicked over the first two games. 
Who To Watch Out For: He’s not getting a ton of help, but Georgia State LB Joseph Peterson might be able to do it all by himself. The junior tackling machine has twice as many stops as anyone else on the team, making 26 tackles including 15 against NMSU with a forced fumble to go along with a pick against Abilene Christian. There’s a chance he’ll flirt with the 20-tackle mark. 
What’s Going To Happen: The Georgia State run defense has been okay, but it’s about to run into a buzzsaw. The Air Force offense will wake up after last week’s struggles. 
Prediction: Air Force 34 … Georgia State 14 
Line: Air Force -11.5 o/u: 63 
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2 

Wyoming (2-0) at Oregon (2-0) Sept. 13, 2:00, Pac-12 Network 

Here’s The Deal: Now that Oregon has passed its first playoff test of 2014, it’s on to the weekly grind of remaining among the highest ranked teams in the country. The Ducks erased all kinds of Stanford-related demons last Saturday, getting off the mat in the second half to fend off a physical Michigan State team. Enter Wyoming for its first-ever meeting with Oregon. The Cowboys under new coach Craig Bohl have started fast, including last week’s Mountain West win against Air Force. 
Why Wyoming Might Win: Bohl’s a big-game coach, who led North Dakota State to three straight FCS national titles before leaving for Laramie. He’ll have his players mentally prepared for this difficult trip to Eugene. The stout Cowboy D has given up just 25 total points and 2.7 yards per carry, despite facing option-based Air Force last week. If Oregon has a little hangover for this game, who’d blame it?
Why Oregon Might Win: Slowing down Montana and Air Force won’t exactly prepare the Cowboys for Marcus Mariota and the revved-up Duck offense. Oregon will have no issues scoring. Wyoming, though, will be a different story. The Cowboys have sputtered on the ground and through the air, troubling news considering how well the Duck D closed out the Spartans in Week 2. 
Who To Watch Out For: If the Oregon defense can build on last week’s effort, the team could sail into the playoff. The Ducks really came to life around the pressure of ends Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner and timely picks from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Erick Dargan. It’s hard to imagine Wyoming QB Colby Kirkegaard having much success against the athletic and frenetic Oregon defense. 
What’s Going To Happen: Oregon could very well be sluggish coming out of the tunnel. But it won’t make any difference to the final outcome. The Ducks will coast behind Mariota and his myriad speedy weapons, setting the table for the start of Pac-12 play a week from now. 
Prediction: Oregon 52 … Wyoming 13 
Line: Oregon -43; O/U: 64.5 
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2 

UC Davis (1-1) at Colorado State (1-1) Sept. 13, 3:00, Colorado State

Here’s The Deal: Can Colorado State get its groove back? After running over Colorado in a terrific win to start the season, the Rams were shut down on the ground against the nasty Boise State run defense in last week’s 37-24 loss. The team has time off with two weeks to prepare for Boston College up next, but the next Mountain West game doesn’t come until mid-October against Nevada. UC Davis bounced back from a thumping by Stanford to blow away Fort Lewis, and with the Eastern Washington high-octane passing attack up next, this week is about weathering the storm and improving. 
Why UC Davis Might Win: It’s not like playing Fort Lewis, but the UCD running game should be able to move a little bit. There are enough options and there’s a good enough passing game to provide a little bit of balance to keep the Colorado State offense on the sidelines. Can the Aggies hold up against the run? The defensive front will have its moments. 
Why Colorado State Might Win: Get ready for the pounding game to return. Boise State came in focused and fired up, and Colorado State had to deal with the Bronco offensive balance. The Rams showed they could throw last week in a desperate attempt to catch up, but the running game is going to be what carries the team. UCD won’t be able to handle Dee Hart and the ground game and … 
Who To Watch Out For: Garrett Grayson, who threw for 434 yards and three scores against the Broncos. Most of the production came in comeback mode, and he threw two picks, but he came up with a good second half. The more he can stretch things out, and the sharper he is, the more room for Hart and Treyous Jarrells. 
What’s Going To Happen: Colorado State will get back on track with an impressive, dominant win. 
Prediction: Colorado State 38 … UC Davis 13 
Line: No Line o/u: No Line 
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 1.5 

Wake Forest (2-0) at Utah State (2-0) Sept. 13, 7:00, CBS Sports Network 

Here’s The Deal: Utah State will experience some firsts this weekend, its first meeting with Wake Forest, and the first time it’s ever played an ACC opponent in Logan. The Aggies are hoping to be inhospitable hosts Saturday evening when the Deacons come to town. Utah State and Wake Forest evened their records on the backs of FCS teams last weekend, Idaho State and Gardner-Webb, respectively. 
Why Wake Forest Might Win: Defense will be the backbone of Dave Clawson’s first team in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons have only allowed 24 points in the first two games, including no touchdown passes. S Ryan Janvion and corners Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel form the foundation of an underrated secondary. 
Why Utah State Might Win: The Deacon offense is dreadful and not nearly potent enough to keep pace with Aggie QB Chuckie Keeton and his emerging set of weapons. Utah State might be more inclined to grind it out this week with Keeton, RB Joe Hill and even versatile playmaker JoJo Natson. 
Who To Watch Out For: Is Keeton okay? The Aggie star is just 31-of-65 for 260 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. While it could be rust after missing the second-half of last year with a knee injury, the staff will be looking for improvement from the quarterback now that it’s the third week. 
What’s Going To Happen: Even without linchpin LB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State won’t have problems stifling the woefully-inconsistent Wake Forest offense. Keeton, with help from the running game, will take care of the rest, guiding the Aggies to their first-ever win over an ACC squad. 
Prediction: Utah State 31 … Wake Forest 10 
Line: Utah State -14; O/U: 44
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Drop – 1: 19 Kids and Counting) … 2