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November 17, 2011

Week 12 preview in the Mountain West

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Boise State faces a unique challenge this week as it attempts to bounce back from one of the most heartbreaking defeats any team has suffered this season.

THE SCHEDULE
SATURDAY
New Mexico at Wyoming, 2 p.m.
Colorado State at TCU, 3:30 p.m.
UNLV at Air Force, 6 p.m.
Boise State at San Diego State, 8 p.m.
How do you focus on the present when everyone around you keeps dwelling on the past?

Boise State's dreams of playing in a BCS game likely disintegrated last week when Dan Goodale's 39-yard field goal sailed wide right as time expired, allowing TCU to leave the blue turf with a 36-35 victory.

TCU will have the Mountain West title all to itself as long as it wins its final two games over Colorado State and UNLV. Boise State likely will settle for a Las Vegas Bowl bid instead of a trip to the Fiesta Bowl or Sugar Bowl.

It would be easy for the Broncos to start feeling sorry for themselves, but they can't afford a hangover effect Saturday as they head to San Diego State for one of their toughest road games of the season.

The Broncos believe they won't suffer any letdown. They insist they've turned the page.

"It was definitely difficult," Boise State linebacker Aaron Tevis said. "We were definitely sad, mad and all those feelings. But by the next day, we all realized what we needed to do. We need to move on, worry about our next game. It's not the end of our season. So that's what we did. It didn't take long."

Boise State must look inward for motivation because there isn't a whole lot at stake in the Broncos' final three games. Only a stunning set of circumstances would put Boise State back in BCS contention, even if the Broncos win the rest of their games to finish 11-1. They're basically playing for pride from this point on.

"We'll see what these guys are made of," Boise State coach Chris Petersen told reporters after the TCU game. "This is real-life football. You don't win all of your games all the time, as much as we've done that around here. So we'll see. We have some pretty mature guys, a lot of seniors that do a good job."

Boise State has experience just about everywhere in its lineup, but its young secondary offers cause for concern.

TCU's Casey Pachall threw for 473 yards and five touchdowns last week against a Boise State defense that was decimated by injuries at cornerback.

The Broncos could have to play without junior Jamar Taylor and sophomore Ebenezer Makinde, who have leg injuries. Boise State already is playing without starting cornerback Jerrell Gavins, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Boise State may have to start sophomore Quaylon Ewing-Burton and true freshman Lee Hightower against San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley, the MWC's record holder in career passing yards.

But if the Broncos can withstand those injuries, they should win the rest of their games. Boise State showed last season it knows how to bounce back from its rare setbacks. The Broncos had an equally heartbreaking loss last season when they fell 34-31 to Nevada after blowing a 17-point halftime lead and missing short field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime. That team whipped Utah State 50-14 the following week, then trounced Utah 26-3 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"You don't always reach your goals," Tevis said. "It's just about how you react to that and how you keep going and pushing. A lot of mediocre teams would just give up and look to the end of their season. We're trying to go out with a bang."

Best matchup: Colorado State RB Chris Nwoke vs. TCU run defense. Although his team has lost five consecutive games, Nwoke is one of the MWC's hottest players. In his last two games, Nwoke has rushed for 156 yards against UNLV and 232 yards against San Diego State. Nwoke now faces a TCU team that leads the MWC in run defense. The Horned Frogs are allowing 123.7 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry to top the conference in both categories. Colorado State's precarious quarterback situation will put even more pressure on Nwoke to carry the Rams' offense. Pete Thomas suffered a knee injury last week that leaves his status uncertain for the TCU game. True freshman Garrett Grayson would step in if Thomas can't play.

Players on the spot: Wyoming WRs Robert Herron and Mazi Ogbonna. Chris McNeill's season-ending injury has left Wyoming QB Brett Smith searching for a new favorite target. McNeill led the Cowboys in receiving and had come on strong down the stretch with 22 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns over his past three games. McNeill's absence requires Herron and Ogbonna to pick up the slack. Herron is Wyoming's second-leading receiver with 39 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns, but he hasn't had more than 43 receiving yards in any of Wyoming's past eight games. Ogbonna has 28 receptions for 307 yards and three touchdowns, but he has had as many as 55 receiving yards in a game just once all season.

Keep an eye on: San Diego State's offensive backfield. If you're wondering why we didn't make Ronnie Hillman's confrontation with Boise State's defensive line the matchup of the week, it's because Hillman has a sprained ankle that could prevent him from playing this week. Hillman didn't practice early this week, which lends credence to the notion that the nation's second-ranked rusher might not be available. His absence would be particularly crushing because San Diego State already has lost backup TB Walter Kazee to a season-ending torn ACL. If Hillman can't play Saturday, redshirt freshman Adam Muema likely would get the starting assignment. Muema has rushed for 82 yards on 15 carries this season.

Numbers game: TCU's victory over Boise State last week extended the Horned Frogs' conference winning streak to 22 games. The Frogs also won their 12th consecutive MWC road game to set a conference record. BYU had won 11 MWC road games in a row from Oct. 8, 2005 to Dec. 1, 2007. TCU hasn't lost a conference game on an opponent's home field since falling 13-10 to Utah on Nov. 6, 2008.

What they're saying

"That was a call like the 'Mad Hatter.' Does that make me the Mad Patter?" - TCU coach Gary Patterson, making a Les Miles reference, to the (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram while discussing his decision to go for two after scoring a touchdown with 1:05 remaining in the Horned Frogs' 36-35 victory over Boise State

"We really felt like if it was about the 20-yard line in the middle, we'd have a really good chance to make it. ... All we need to do is get an easy field goal and we win. Make the field goal, and we're not even having these conversations." - Boise State coach Chris Petersen, defending the Broncos' play-calling in the final series of the TCU game to The Idaho Statesman

"Usually when you walk in the locker room, on the TV you can choose whatever channel you want to watch. Right now, it's just a replay of that game. Every day, all the time, that's the only game we can see. It basically instills in us, 'Do not take this team likely.' " - Wyoming CB Tashaun Gipson, to the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, referring to the Cowboys' 34-31 loss to New Mexico last season. That was New Mexico's only win last season

"I'm proving everybody wrong. Everybody thought I was crazy. They thought I wasn't going to do it. But I actually put my mind to it, and I'm going to do it." - Colorado State LB Mychal Sisson, to The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan, about his expected return to action Saturday after breaking his right ankle Sept. 10

"This game here was as big as any I've been a part of. I am as proud of them as any team I've ever coached on." - New Mexico interim coach George Barlow after the Lobos beat UNLV 21-14 for their first win of the season

"Back in August, I thought - and I still think - we have a really good team on our hands. If you would have told me we would be 5-5, I definitely wouldn't have been happy." - Air Force G A.J. Wallerstein, to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette

Poll watch: Boise State slipped from fifth to 10th in the BCS standings after it lost to TCU. The upset led to TCU entering the BCS standings at No. 19.

Etc.: New Mexico will introduce ESPN analyst Bob Davie as its new coach at a news conference today. Davie, who will take over at the end of the season, posted a 35-25 record at Notre Dame from 1997-2001. He has been out of coaching since the end of the 2001 season. ... Air Force's loss to Wyoming last week means the Falcons (5-5) must win their last two games Saturday against UNLV and Nov. 26 at Colorado State to become bowl-eligible. Air Force has to go 7-5 because two of its wins came against FCS programs (South Dakota and Tennessee State). ... Air Force and UNLV head into their Saturday matchup with uncertain quarterback situations. Air Force's Tim Jefferson sustained a concussion last week against Wyoming and doesn't know whether he will be able to play this week. UNLV coach Bobby Hauck isn't saying who will start at quarterback Saturday at Air Force. Redshirt freshman Taylor Barnhill started in place of an injured Caleb Herring against New Mexico last week. Sean Reilly, who also is battling an injury, played late in the game. ... Boise State's three losses over the past four seasons have been decided by a combined total of five points. ... Boise State WR Matt Miller has the most receptions (48) and touchdown catches (seven) of any freshman in school history. ... Colorado State's Mike Orakpo, Shaquil Barrett and James Skelton will remain the starting linebackers even as Mychal Sisson returns to action this week from a broken ankle, Rams linebackers coach Bernard Clark told The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan. Sisson will rotate into the game at all three linebacker spots in a reserve role. Sisson has earned second-team All-MWC honors in each of the past two seasons. ... UNLV RB Dionza Bradford has rushed for 100 yards in three of his past four games. He has rushed for 569 yards this season, putting him 55 yards away from the UNLV freshman record set by James Wofford in 1997. ... New Mexico LB Carmen Messina's 14-tackle performance against UNLV last week gave him a season total of 110. That makes him the first Lobo since Brian Urlacher (1996-99) to record three straight 100-tackle seasons. Messina has made 14 tackles in each of his last three games. ... San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley threw for 154 yards at Colorado State last week and set the MWC record for career passing yards. Lindley's 11,494 career passing yards broke the record formerly held by Max Hall, who threw for 11,365 yards at BYU from 2007-09. ... TCU WR Josh Boyce has 51 catches for 867 yards, putting him on pace to become the second 1,000-yard receiver in school history. Reggie Harrell had 1,012 receiving yards in 2003. ... Wyoming ranks second nationally in turnover margin with 24 takeaways and 10 giveaways. Wyoming committed 18 turnovers and produced just 15 takeaways while going 3-9 last season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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