Monday, February 17, 2014

Grading the weekend: week #2

It's time again to give out grades for the previous weekend's action.  And it's hard to believe that we're already heading into week three of the season.  Week #2 saw eight of the nine Mountain West teams in action and results were, in some cases, substantially different from week one.

Fresno State  A
The Bulldogs had a strong weekend and went a perfect 5-0, though the competition wasn't all that stiff.  The win over UC Santa Barbara was a key one, however, snapping the Gauchos' 5-game winning streak.  Only 8th-ranked Texas A&M had defeated UCSB this season prior to Fresno State doing it.  What made the Bulldogs' weekend impressive was how they won:  with excellent pitching (at one point, Fresno State pitchers threw 23 consecutive scoreless innings), in blowout fashion in three games, and in one late-game comeback.  The most telling statistic:  The Bulldogs beat three teams (UCSB, Sacramento State and Cal State Bakersfield) they lost to a season ago during a 30-24 campaign.  It's becoming clear early:  This team is starting to look like the Fresno State of old, and that's a good thing for Bulldog fans.

Nevada B+
It was a second consecutive 4-1 weekend for the Wolf Pack, and Nevada got a nice win over Hawai'i in an 11-2 run-rule rout.  The opponents look better on paper than they do in reality though.  Hawai'i was the only team with a winning record that the Pack faced, and the Wahine aren't the team they've been in recent seasons.  Normally a pitching powerhouse, Hawai'i pitchers allowed a stunning 54 runs in Las Vegas this weekend.  UTEP and Portland State, both of whom were beaten by the Pack, have combined to win just three of 20 games this year.  A 10-6 loss to Chattanooga, which was 1-5 overall entering that game, was a bit odd.  Nevada's non-conference schedule the rest of the way is one of the lightest in the MW, giving the Pack a good chance to post a gaudy record prior to league play.  With a team that appears to be so solid, we would've liked to have seen Nevada challenge itself more in non-conference play.

San Diego State A-
The Aztecs went 4-1 and picked up what looked like a nice win over a ranked Cal team on Friday.  But this year's Cal team is looking like one of the worst Bears teams in years.  Sure we need to put that in perspective.  Cal has been a juggernaut for three decades, but seeing the Bears lose to St. Mary's, San Diego State and Texas State on the same weekend?  Well, that just doesn't happen. Ever.  But it did last weekend.  Also losing to Texas State:  SDSU, which lost at home to the Bobcats.  It's strange, but the Aztecs' best win of the weekend may have come in a 6-1 victory over Cal State Fullerton.  The Titans, who already have beaten defending NCAA champ Oklahoma, are an improved team.

Colorado State B-
The Rams had a 3-2 weekend that included splitting a pair with Rutgers, falling to Oklahoma State, and posting wins over Wichita State and Texas-San Antonio. It was a better than average weekend, but there was nothing eye-opening.  Oklahoma State is generally a very solid opponent and a win there would have been a good one.

San Jose State B-
The Spartans went from 6-0 and receiving Top 25 votes in week one, to a 1-3 finish last weekend.  How does a 1-3 weekend earn a team a B- grade?  Well, playing the likes of Washington and Arizona State will do wonders for the RPI.  Just playing those two is as good -- or better -- than beating average competition.  San Jose State got a win over Michigan State, which is nice.  Losing to Illinois State in a run-rule rout is concerning, as is losing by 17 runs to Washington.  But when it comes to the RPI, losing to the Huskies by 17 runs is no worse than losing by a run in extra innings.  We give points for at least scheduling the big powerhouse teams.

Boise State  B-
After a 1-4 opening weekend, the Broncos bounced back by going a respectable 3-2 in Las Vegas.  Beating Chattanooga is a feather in the cap of Boise State, especially since Nevada lost to the same team.  Wins over Utah Valley and UTEP mean little in the grand scheme of things.  Being run-ruled by Cal State Northridge 12-2 in five innings is alarming, as is the fact Boise State has been run-ruled four times already this season.  The Broncos are turning out to be a team that's very hard to read early in the year.

It was the second straight 1-win weekend for the Rebels at home.  UNLV is a mystery because it has played such a daunting schedule.  The Rebels pushed Oregon to the brink, just like Fresno State did the previous weekend, with UNLV falling 3-1 in 10 innings.  The lone win came over Utah Valley, and the Rebels are allowing six or more runs in 70% of their games so far.

New Mexico D
The Lobos went winless (0-4) and are now 1-8 on the season.  Two of the losses this past weekend are quality defeats to Arizona and Alabama, even if they were both blowouts.  Losing to Tennessee State and Grand Canyon, however?  Not good.  Tennessee State was 244th in the RPI last season, and Grand Canyon is a transitioning Division I school still ineligible to compete for an NCAA berth.  UNM would get an F grade if not for gaining those RPI points by playing Bama and Arizona.