Monday, February 10, 2014

Grading the weekend: week #1


It's time to grade the weekend results of each Mountain West team.  We'll do this each week during the season, keeping one thing in mind -- these grades mean absolutely nothing.  Yes, they're fun to talk about but they're far from official and everyone has their own version of how the weekend went.  And remember -- it changes each week and there will likely be ups and downs for everyone.  Here's our week one take:

San Jose State  A
Some may think the Spartans deserve an A+ for a 6-0 start.  Sure they finished a perfect weekend and that's impressive, but it's hard to point to a single win that will mean anything in May.  Creighton is the only team SJSU beat that finished with a winning record last season, and none of the six teams the Spartans beat advanced to last year's NCAA Tournament.  If there's any reason for concern, it's that SJSU had to come from behind late to win three of its six games.  Conversely, you can look at it this way:  The mark of a great team is its ability to come back.

Colorado State  A-
The Rams went 4-1, surprising some people.  The wins over Oregon State and Utah are both solid, despite the fact the Beavers and Utes were both underwhelming this past weekend.  Beating two Pac-12 teams in the same weekend though?  That's a great sign, particularly the win over Oregon State. CSU would've been an A+ if it hadn't fallen in a surprise to Cal State Northridge.  That loss could hurt down the road.

San Diego State  B-
The Aztecs went 4-1, but weren't as impressive as many thought they'd be.  The win over Oregon State is a nice one.  The blowout 13-1 loss in five innings to Stanford?  A bit shocking.  Causing some concern also is the fact that no pitcher aside from Danielle O'Toole got a win, and the Aztecs struggled and nearly lost to Appalachian State in a 7-6 game that went to extra innings.  By most teams' standards, it was a good weekend.  By the standards of a team searching for a 7th straight NCAA bid, it was so-so.

Nevada  B+
The win over BYU should be a good one as the season goes along, but the Cougars were far from impressive this weekend.  Helping Nevada's grade:  consecutive shutout wins on Sunday over East Carolina and Utah Valley.  Those aren't great opponents, but the fact the Pack handled them with ease (thanks to some fine pitching) says what we knew all along:  Nevada won't be an easy out.  The loss to Idaho State is somewhat troubling, especially considering that the Bengals have won four times vs. the Pack in the last two seasons.

Utah State  B
Just one week into the season, a lot of eyes are fixated on the Aggies, who shocked many with four wins.  To understand the magnitude of that feat, consider this:  Utah State didn't win its fourth game of the year last season until March 16.  This time, it did it on February 9 -- a full five weeks earlier.  Wins over Nebraska-Omaha, East Carolina and Texas-Arlington aren't going to knock anyone's socks off nationally, but they're solid victories, especially for a program that was just plain bad last season.  If we had a Surprise of the Week honor, it would go to Utah State. 

Fresno State  A-
Despite going 3-2, the Bulldogs earn an A- because they probably came up with the biggest win in the conference by virtue of a 1-0 shutout of defending ACC champion North Carolina State.  The Wolfpack were 27th in ESPN.com's rankings entering the game.  Fresno State easily handled both Appalachian State and UC Riverside, and narrowly missed a monster upset in a 10-9, extra inning loss to 8th-ranked Oregon.  Just facing the Ducks and 7th-ranked Arizona State should give the Bulldogs an RPI boost, and the close call with Oregon lets Fresno State know it's close to a return to prominence.

Boise State  D+
The Broncos would've been looking at a D- (or even an F) if they didn't pick up their first win in program history over a team from the Pac-12.  Beating Utah is a good win, if only because it helps in the RPI when you beat a team from the nation's best conference.  Aside from that, Boise State struggled in a major way.  The Broncos were outscored 32-3 following their win over Utah, going 0-4.  Five errors in a single inning led to 11 runs in the top of the first for Northwestern, marking the most runs allowed by a BSU team in a single inning.  Boise State didn't shy away from a strong schedule this weekend, playing a solid set of opponents, but we expected closer games.  So it's a disappointment.

New Mexico  D
There is certainly no shame in being run-ruled by Arizona State in Tempe.  Being blasted 10-0 in five innings by Portland State is another matter.  Pitching is a big concern.  UNM allowed eight or more runs in each of its five contests on the season's opening weekend.  That has to improve.  The schedule was rigorous to say the least.  ASU, Cal and Northwestern are all tough.  But struggling in an 11-10 win over UC Riverside (the Lobos' only victory) may say the most about this team.

UNLV  D
Freshman Morgan Ettinger got a victory this weekend.  Senior Amanda Oliveto did not.  That, in itself, is a shock.  UNLV had difficulties at home, getting outscored 37-16 against a quality slate of opponents.  Washington and Baylor were going to be hard to beat no matter where those games were played, but the one loss that really stings?  An 8-4 Sunday setback at home to the Toreros of San Diego.  The Rebels trailed 8-1 before trying to rally late.  With a non-conference schedule that is packed with strong teams, UNLV will have to improve quickly.  If there's a bright side:  the RPI should be good if the Rebels can go on a little winning streak in the next couple of weeks.