Mountain West: Key Out Of Conference Games
By Joe Jenkins
Out of conference games in college football have completely different meanings, depending on what kind of team you are.
If you’re from the Big 10 or SEC, the popular trend is to schedule a few patsies, pad the record, and ensure a perfect record going into the conference slate. Defending champion Alabama, for example, will be playing Georgia State and Chattanooga this season. Ohio State opens the season hosting the University at Buffalo.
The insider jargon used for these contests is a “guarantee game,” meaning the big, bad bully is virtually guaranteed a win and the seemingly inferior team gets a hefty six or seven-figure paycheck to nurse their wounds and help fill their cash coffers — unless, of course, you’re talking about Appalachian State. Then you march into the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., pull off one of the biggest upsets in college football history and collect your payday.
For the higher end mid-majors like some of the teams in the Mountain West, non-conference games are critical. It provides a school like Boise State a rare chance to nail down an all-important “quality win” which helps to pad the resume for pollsters and increase strength of schedule for the computers.
Here’s a look at five critical games outside the MWC that could prove to be a bit more than just a “guarantee game.”
Boise State at Washington (Aug. 31)
BSU’s out of conference schedule isn’t very strong this year, so any legitimate hopes of BCS crashing in January rest on its ability to win in Seattle in August.
During the Broncos’ “rebuilding” year last season, they edged the Huskies in a 28-26 thriller at the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas and all signs point to BSU having an even stronger season with QB Joe Southwick entering his second full year running Chris Petersen’s offense.
A loss to the Huskies would be considered an upset.
Fresno State vs Rutgers (Aug. 29)
The Scarlet Knights have been in the news for a lot of bad reasons over the last few months, so it’s easy to forget they had a nine-win football team in 2012.
The Bulldogs' offensive strategy will be to lean heavily on Derek Carr to throw over a defense that only allowed 14 points per game last season.
San Diego State at Ohio State (Sept. 7)
The Aztecs are looking to compete for a conference title again in 2013, but they’re going to need to have everything fall into place if they hope to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.
Braxton Miller did it all for OSU in 2012, leading the team in passing and rushing yards. SDSU will try to keep Miller in check by keeping him off the field. Expect to see a lot of RB Adam Muema when the Aztecs have the ball. It may be the only way they keep this game close.
San Jose State at Stanford (Sept. 7)
There’s no doubt that when Stanford scheduled this game years ago, they saw it as your typical guarantee game, but that’s not what they got last year when the Spartans came to Palo Alto. The Cardinal needed a fourth-quarter field goal to edge SJSU in last year’s season opener, 20-17.
Spartans QB David Fales will look to improve on his debut season by landing a signature win for his program in their first MWC season.
Utah State at USC (Aug. 29)
The Aggies have another big out of conference game against long-time rival Utah, but a win against the Trojans would have a much bigger impact on the college football landscape.
USC has questions at quarterback in the first year after the Matt Barkley era, and USU may benefit from an early-season matchup. The Aggies will have to contain RB Silas Redd and Biletnikoff Award-winning WR Marquise Lee if they hope to keep this contest close.