The three MW-Sun Belt games are Appalachian State vs. Wyoming, Nevada vs. Texas State, and Utah State vs. James Madison.
It’s not all that often squads from these two leagues meet in the regular season. In fact, the only MW-Sun Belt matchup in the previous two years was when Nevada played host to Texas State in Week 1 last season.
On Saturday, we have the privilege of watching three of these contests with some unique storylines in place. Here’s a glance at each.
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App State (2-1) at Wyoming (2-1)
The Mountaineers heading to Laramie provides one of the top Group of Five contests of the week with the potential of being one of the best of the season.
These teams haven’t met since 2015 where App State picked up a 31-13 home win. The last time it visited Laramie was in 2003. College football betting odds currently list the Cowboys as three-point favorites while the total sits at 43 points.
After sharing the backfield with Camerun Peoples the past two seasons, Nate Noel has a dominant share of the Mountaineers’ rushing attack. He leads the FBS at 140 rushing yards per game while his 420 yards are second behind Notre Dame’s Audric Estime. The junior has also added four touchdowns and is on pace for his second 1,000-yard season of his career. He rushed for 178 yards last week against East Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have allowed 120 rushing yards per game on the season, which ranks fourth in the league. This number doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as they held Texas Tech to just 93 rushing yards in their double-overtime thriller and limited fourth-ranked Texas on the ground for most of last week’s loss. Some late long runs also padded the stats in UW’s win over Portland State.
The Cowboys’ defensive line is their strength, and this game could be determined by how well they contain Noel and the App State rushing attack.
Like UW, the Mountaineers took a quality Power Five opponent to double overtime but fell 40-34 to North Carolina in Week 2.
Texas State (2-1) at Nevada (0-3)
Remember how I mentioned Nevada and Texas State last met just over a year ago? That was the last time the Wolf Pack won a game. Their 13-game losing streak is currently the longest in the country by seven games.
There’s a reason Ken Wilson is on the hot seat.
Last week’s 31-24 loss to Kansas should have breathed some life into the program, especially when Nevada tied the game at 24 early in the fourth quarter. If they want to make it two wins in a row over the Bobcats, however, they’ll need to slow down T.J. Finley and their potent offense.
Texas State ranks 12th in the nation at 44 points per game, which also leads the Sun Belt. This comes after the Bobcats just put up 77 points against Jackson State last week. Three different players have at least 100 rushing yards and four different receivers have 100 yards or more.
I don’t know if Nevada quarterback Brendon Lewis and his offense can keep pace, but they’ll need to take their play up a notch if they want to win this game.
James Madison (3-0) at Utah State (1-2)
This will be the first meeting between these teams, and JMU’s first ever game against a Mountain West team.
And after two road games, the Dukes will be away from home again as a 5.5-point favorite, which seems a little short before digging into the matchup.
Despite its record, USU has shown early potential. The Aggies lost to Iowa by 10 points in Week 1 and to a solid Air Force team last week. Their win came in a 78-28 thrashing over Idaho State. Their 407 yards per game rank second in the conference, and their 37.7 points are No. 1 in the MW — of course skewed by the 78-point outing.
Still, we’ll see how the offense responds to a Dukes defense that gives up 308 total yards per game and 22.7 rushing yards per contest. The Aggies average 183 rushing yards per game and have three running backs with at least 100 yards.
We’ll see which prevails Saturday night: JMU’s rush defense or USU’s rushing attack.