McGrane: With Much at Stake, it’s Hard Hiding the Hype
Oct. 20, 2017
2017 Mick McGrane Features
McGrane: With Much at Stake, it’s Hard Hiding the Hype
Reality has a way of poking its nose into unwanted places, of making us face our fears and confront consequences, of forcing us to view the big picture when we’d be content to cover our eyes.
And in Week 7 of the college football season, it’s sitting smack-dab in the middle of San Diego State’s front porch.
Oh, trust me, I’m fully aware that a certain head coach would vehemently disagree. Rocky Long possesses a strong distaste for making mountains out of mole hills, and I’m largely inclined to agree. Nonetheless, going undefeated through the first half of the season and climbing to a ranking of No. 19 in the nation fuels excitement, giving rise to expectation.
Bringing us, ahem, back to last week’s loss to Boise State, which was merely the latest in a seemingly unending string of “biggest” games of the season this year for the Aztecs.
“I think, personally, I made a mistake about the way I approached last week’s game, and it has something to do with young football players,” Long said. “This game (versus Fresno State on Saturday) is no more important than next week’s game or last week’s game. And I think we approached last week’s game, maybe subtly, but I think we approached last week’s game as (being) more important. And our team did not handle that the right way.
“So, you guys can build it up all you want. This game is important, but it’s not going to make or break our season, and it’s no more important than next week’s game.”
“You guys,” of course, are always stirring the pot, always blowing things out of proportion and mostly being a pain in the neck. And while I’d rather not “build it up,” I’ve also covered this football program in one form or another for the better part of 20 years. I know a big game when I see one, and this one couldn’t hide in a jungle if it were camouflaged in the dark of night.
With apologies to Coach Long, here goes:
Fresno State, whose only two losses are to No. 1 Alabama and then-No. 6 Washington, enters Saturday’s contest at SDCCU Stadium holding a one-game lead over SDSU in the West Division of the Mountain West. Win, and the Aztecs not only move into a tie for first place, they would also own the tiebreaker in their quest for the division title by having beaten Fresno State head-to-head. Lose, and SDSU not only falls two games back of the Bulldogs, it would essentially trail by three given that Fresno State would own the tiebreaker.
Three games back with four to play? This is why football coaches tell you the game is not rocket science.
“We’ve got a really good football team coming in here this week,” Long said. “That game (the Boise State loss) is long gone, and it wasn’t that important anyway. What’s important is the one that’s next on the schedule. And that’s true for every team, no matter what the hype is.”
Fine. No more hype. Indeed, I refuse to acknowledge that when the winners of the MW’s two divisions meet in the title game on Dec. 2, the host team will be the one ranked highest in the College Football Playoff rankings (to be released for the first time on Oct. 31).
I have no intention of playing up the fact that the College Football Playoff rankings also determine which Group of 5 team earns a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Forget last week’s loss. If the Aztecs beat Fresno State and win at Hawai’i next week, they remain very much in the hunt for a New Year’s Six game.
I refuse to recognize that Fresno State is coming off a 38-0 win over a New Mexico team that was averaging 266.9 yards rushing and finished with 109.
I will ignore the fact that of the six rushing touchdowns allowed by the Bulldogs this season, half of them came against Alabama.
And I’m turning a blind eye to the fact that since the inception of the Mountain West championship game in 2013 only two teams from the league’s West Division — SDSU and Fresno State — have advanced to the title game.
A game involving first place and an opportunity to gain the inside track on winning a third straight Mountain West crown? A New Year’s Six game? You’ll hear no hype from me.
“I think there’s even more pressure on us now, being technically a game behind (Fresno State),” said senior safety Trey Lomax. “I think there’s even more pressure to go out and execute and win games. You know teams are coming to get you. And even though you go into every week with that must-win mentality, I think it’s even more this week. Fresno (State) is a confident team right now, which makes them that more dangerous. We need to approach this game in the right way.”
Which, ideally, would mean no peeking. Lomax admitted that prior to last week’s game, the Aztecs were taking note of upsets across the country and how those upsets potentially could elevate their position in the rankings.
Now slotted at No. 26, the Aztecs’ interest in any business but their own is a fool’s errand.
“Wherever we landed, we landed,” said senior tight end David Wells. “We landed outside the Top 25 because we lost; we deserved it. Now it’s our job to win out, to win this game. If we get back into the Top 25, we get there, but our job this week is to be 1-0.”
“Our whole team has to be ready to go into this game like we’re playing for first place, because that’s what we’re doing,” Wells continued. “For us to get back to our goal of winning a 22nd championship, we have to beat these guys.”
And for seniors like Lomax and Wells, that means rallying the troops in the wake of a loss that snapped an eight-game losing streak. SDSU has responded from its last five home losses by winning its next home game by an average of 16.2 points. The Aztecs have not lost consecutive home games since the opening of the 2013 season.
“You can’t let anybody take a play off at all, especially during practice,” Wells said. “We get limited reps during the course of the week, so when we’re out there we have to make sure that the 1s and the 2s and the entire scout team is going at it. I think the seniors and the coaches are going about it the right way in helping us push each other. It’s something that needs to happen. People can’t get complacent. I don’t want to say that we got complacent being in the position we were in at 6-0, but, hopefully, everyone takes (last week’s) loss the right way.
“Sometimes, you’ll see guys who are just talking and talking, but they’re not backing up what they’re saying with their play. It’s our job as seniors and leaders to go out there and show everybody how it’s done. We can’t take plays off. You have to be ultra critical of yourself when you’re watching film, and when you’re out there at practice, you can’t just go through the motions and think of it as just practice. You have to do it every single time so that when guys look at you they know that you’re working your tail off on every single play.”
Said Lomax: “I think our team is pretty optimistic when it comes to dealing with adversity and things that make or break a lot of teams. I think our team is ready to bounce back. We know how big this week is and the impact that it had could have on our season.”
Remember, you didn’t hear it from me.