Mountain West Conference Championship Preview

The only meeting this season between San Diego State and Air Force will hold more weight than any other matchup before. While the Falcons lead the overall series 19 to 14, the Aztecs are 4.5 point favorites in the title game. Both teams are coming in hot, with Air Force winning five of their last six, and SDSU currently on an eight game winning streak. 

Key Storylines 

No Boise State-There’s no denying that Boise State is the face of the Mountain West Conference. Coming into this year the Broncos were the clear-cut favorite to win the conference, especially after winning the title last season. Not only were they projected to win the conference, Boise State was seen as the non-power 5 conference team with the best shot at making the CFP playoffs. However, Boise State went 5-3 in conference play, including a 37-30 loss to Air Force which clinched the division for the Falcons. 

Air Force is looking for fourth conference title, first since 1998- Outside of Navy, the military academies aren't known for having much football success. Air Force is looking to change that. The Falcons are attempting to win their first Mountain West championship and fourth conference championship in school history. Before joining the MWC in 1999, Air Force was a member of the Western Athletic Conference, where they won championships in 19985, 1995, and 1998.  

San Diego State Quarterback Maxwell Smith out with torn MCL- The Aztecs don't have the most dynamic passing game, only averaging 138 yards per game, but losing a senior quarterback is going to hurt. In the first quarter of last week’s game against Nevada, Smith went down with an apparent knee injury. The injury is believed to be an ACL injury, but the extent is not know. Redshirt-freshman Christian Chapman will take over at QB for the championship game and possibly the Aztecs’ bowl game.

Key Stats

3,403-total yards given up by San Diego State this season. The Aztecs rely on two things: running the ball and defense. The Aztecs rank fifth in total opponent yards at 3,403, an average of only 284 per game. That's going to make a big difference, considering Air Force has the 27th most total yards in the country, second most in the MW. San Diego State is going to have to depend on its defense, especially with their quarterback out.  

323.2-Air Force rushing yards per game. Like most academies, Air Force is known for their rushing attack. Even with no player having 1,000 rushing yards on the year, the Falcons still rank third nationally in rushing yards per game. Jacobi Owens is the leading running back with 853 yards. Typical of any option offense, the quarterback is a big part of the running game and quarterback Karson Roberts is no different. Roberts is the second leading rusher on the team with 591 yards on top of nine rushing touchdowns. Air Force has virtually no aerial attack, which doesn't bode well against a stout defense. 

+20-turnover margin for San Diego State. Limiting turnovers and forcing your opponents into mistakes is a recipe for success, and no team does it better than San Diego State. The Aztec defense has intercepted 20 passes this year, returning three of them for touchdowns. Their offense is also very safe with the football, turning the ball over only 11 times, 8 fumbles and 3 interceptions. In a game that could come down to the final few possessions, turnovers will most likely be the difference. 

Key Players 

San Diego State Running Back Donnel Pumphrey 

The Aztec offense revolves around junior running back Donnell Pumphrey. Ranked in the top 15 in both rushing yards with 1,464 and touchdowns with 16, Pumphrey was named MWC Offensive Player of the Year earlier this week, the first Aztec to win the award. Not only is he having a great year for the Aztecs, Pumphrey trails only NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for most rushing yards in a career at San Diego State by just over 500. Pumphrey will have to carry an even bigger load for San Diego State in order for them to be successful

Air Force Defensive Lineman Alex Hansen 

The Falcons' defense ranks 20th in the country, giving up 329 yards per game. While three players were named First-Team All-Conference on defense, Hansen is going to have the biggest impact on this matchup. Hansen is third on the team with 59 total tackles, but leads the team in sacks (7.5). More importantly, Hansen leads the team in tackles for loss with 14.5. If Hansen can break into the backfield and contain Pumphrey and any other running back, Air Force has to like their chances of staying in the game, and possibly winning.   


San Diego State def. Air Force 24-17 

This game has the potential to be a low scoring affair. SDSU and Air Force are running teams and both head coaches are sure to game plan for it. Having a redshirt-freshman at quarterback hurts the Aztec offense even more; luckily Pumphrey is up to the task. I give San Diego State the slight edge due to their defense, despite going up against the Falcons' triple option offense. Giving up only 16.6 points per game is no small task and the Aztecs also have the MWC Defensive Player of the Year in cornerback Damontae Kazee. With a playmaker like Pumphrey and one of the nations top defenses, the Aztecs should come away with their first outright MWC title. 

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