Following its 30-28 victory over Boise State in October, Wyoming took control of the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. However, the Cowboys were shocked 69-66 in triple overtime against UNLV last week. Now 7-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play, Wyoming still controls its own destiny in the race for the division title, but there is no more room for error as the Cowboys prepare to host West Division champion San Diego State on Saturday.
The Aztecs improved to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the Mountain West with last week’s 46-16 victory over Nevada. San Diego State has already locked up a spot in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game, but the Aztecs will still have a say as to their opponent. A victory over the Cowboys would likely put Boise State into first place in the Mountain Division, and could help set up a clash of Top 25 and New Year’s Six contenders. Ranked No. 24 in the AP Top 25 – the first since the Aztecs were No. 19 before being upset by South Alabama on Oct. 1 – San Diego State must win out to have any chance of climbing ahead of No. 20 Boise State and No. 21 Western Michigan in the College Football Playoff rankings, to wind up as the top Group of Five team and earn an invite to the Cotton Bowl.
San Diego State at Wyoming
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Two Top Running Backs
College football fans that don’t know the name Donnel Pumphrey should take notice. Not only is the San Diego State running back the nation’s leader with 1,779 rushing yards, Pumphrey also is very likely to break Ron Dayne’s FBS record of 6,397 career rushing yards in the next few weeks.
With 6,051 rushing yards to his credit, and a spot in the conference title game and a bowl game guaranteed, Pumphrey needs to average just 86.5 yards in four games to eclipse Dayne. And, since Pumphrey has gained 179.2 rushing yards per game this season, while averaging an explosive 6.6 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns, the record seems a relatively safe bet.
But, Pumphrey won’t be the only star tailback on the field Saturday. Wyoming running back Brian Hill has 1,417 rushing yards this season – which ranks third in the country – and has scored 16 TDs on the ground. Hill also has been incredibly productive throughout his career and sits third on the Mountain West all-time rushing list with 3,844 career yards.
2. A Tale of Two Defenses
Both San Diego State and Wyoming have had great success running the football in 2016, but only one has consistently succeeded in stopping the run. The Aztecs have limited opponents to an average of 86.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the nation behind Alabama and is 35.1 yards better than No. 2 Air Force among Mountain West teams. San Diego State has held opponents to 2.8 yards per carry and just four rushing touchdowns, both of which lead the conference and rank among the top five in the country. No opponent has gained more than 155 yards on the ground against the Aztecs in any game this season, and eight teams failed to reach 100 rushing yards.
Overall, San Diego State leads the Mountain West and ranks No. 5 in the country in total defense (282.5 ypg). Opponents have averaged just 4.4 yards per play, which ranks sixth nationally. On the other hand, Wyoming has allowed 462.6 total yards per game and 6.3 yards per play, which rank No. 108 and No. 107 in the nation, respectively.
The Cowboys have surrendered 164.7 rushing yards per game this season – a respectable fourth in the conference – but allowed 401 yards and 6.3 yards per carry last week to UNLV. In Wyoming’s three losses this year, opponents have averaged 259.3 rushing yards and 5.05 yards per carry.
Though San Diego State doesn’t often need to rely on its passing game, quarterback Christian Chapman (1,387 yards, 15 TD, 4 INT) and receiver Mikah Holder (21 receptions, 426 yards, 4 TD) could find success against the Cowboys. Wyoming ranks 122nd in the nation and last in the Mountain West in passing defense (297.9 ypg), but the Cowboys do have 13 interceptions.
3. Wyoming QB Josh Allen
Because the Aztecs have been so dominant stopping the run, Wyoming’s hopes will likely fall on the shoulders of its quarterback. Allen has the size (6-5, 222) and arm strength that should garner the attention of many NFL scouts. He has completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,218 yards and 21 touchdowns, 11 of which have gone to wide receiver Tanner Gentry, who also leads the Cowboys with 53 catches, 962 yards (18.2 ypr). Allen also is a threat to run and enters this game with 429 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 97 carries.
However, Allen has thrown 10 interceptions – four of which have come in his last three games – and he’ll face off against a stingy Aztecs defense that leads the nation with 19 picks. Damontae Kazee leads the MWC with five interceptions and Derek Babiash and Kameron Kelly have three each. Also, the Cowboys have allowed 17 sacks this season and San Diego State has recorded 25.
San Diego State is the only undefeated Mountain West program in conference play this season, and the Aztecs have dominated their competition with a strong rushing attack and a stingy defense. Conference opponents have scored just 7.0 points per game and the Aztecs have limited league opponents to 230.2 total yards per contest.
However, it’s worth pointing out that all six of San Diego State’s conference opponents have a losing record overall, and none has better than a .500 record in Mountain West play. In fact, no FBS team the Aztecs have played this season has a winning record right now.
Headlined by Brian Hill, Josh Allen and Tanner Gentry, Wyoming has a balanced offense that averages 443.1 yards per game and 6.3 yards per play, and is capable of moving the football against any defense, including San Diego State’s. Expect the Cowboys to give the Aztecs their toughest test since the loss to South Alabama, but because Wyoming is less likely to slow down Donnel Pumphrey and SDSU’s offense, expect the visiting team to escape with a close, hard-fought victory.
Prediction: San Diego State 27, Wyoming 24
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.