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College football: Much stays the same in mild mild West Division

Updated: 
September 20, 2017 - 12:05am

Ten months after the University of Hawaii football team played its last Mountain West Conference game, guess what’s changed as the Rainbow Warriors prepare to start a new conference season?

Very little.

In the West Division and, indeed, the conference as a whole, things look remarkably as they were.

It is still San Diego State and the 11 dwarfs.

Except that the Aztecs, who are now nationally ranked (22nd in the Associated Press poll and 25th in the coaches’ poll), might have created even more separation from the rest of the field.

The 3-0 Aztecs have dispatched Arizona State on the road and Stanford (formerly No. 19) at home on consecutive weekends, serving notice that despite the loss of the all-time leading rusher in Football Bowl Subdivision history, Donnel Pumphrey, to the NFL they are better than the teams that won the last two Mountain West championships and three division titles.

Or, as running back Rashaad Penny put it Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune, “We’re coming at you.”

As long as Penny, the nation’s leading rusher at 196 yards per game (UH’s Diocemy Saint Juste is 10th at 144.7) and the Aztec defense are healthy, it is hard to see who in the Mountain West in general and the West Division in particular is going to slow them down.

This in a conference that went 1-7 against nonconference opposition Saturday and is 6-17 against FBS foes this season.

The mild mild West Division was certainly bereft of challengers last year and was a contender for the worst division in the FBS. Which is part of why three teams (Fresno, Nevada and San Jose State) made offseason coaching changes. And why UH was the consensus No. 2 pick of the preseason polls and magazines this year.

The good news, if you are the ‘Bows, who have just one nonconference game remaining this season (Nov. 25 against Brigham Young) is that little appears to have changed from its division opponents in the first month of the season. Nevada is 0-3, having lost to 35-point underdog Idaho State, an FCS team Saturday. Nevada-Las Vegas, a 45-point pick at home, has lost to another FCS team, Howard. And both Fresno State and San Jose State have done little to distinguish themselves in back-to-back “guarantee game” pummelings.

Some of the beatings figure to continue this week with Nevada playing Washington State and UNLV up against Ohio State.

Meanwhile, the ‘Bows, coming off an open date, are about where we figured they’d be at 2-1. Though the inability to put so much as a speed bump in the way of UCLA’s offense was disconcerting, especially when viewed in the light of Memphis’ victory over the Bruins on Saturday.

Part of what has so far distinguished the ‘Bows from their division brethren is that they have a proven quarterback in Dru Brown. Everybody else, except for San Diego State, which needs to ask little from its signal-caller other than not to botch handoffs to Penny, is trying to find a reliable playmaker there.

So, the next two games — Saturday at Wyoming and the following week back at Aloha Stadium against Colorado State — figure to be the toughest of the four-game stretch until San Diego State comes to Halawa Oct. 28. And, if BYU (1-3) doesn’t emerge from its Power Five opponent-induced tailspin, they might be the three toughest games remaining all season.

The Cowboys, who won the Mountain Division title last year, and Rams are the most likely contenders with Boise State for that division.

So far little has changed in the Mountain West. Now, we see whether UH can shake that up.

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