Aztec cornerback Tayler Hawkins. Photo credit:

San Diego State and Nevada will meet Saturday in Carson with the winner securing the inside track to the Mountain West championship game.

The Aztecs (8-1, 4-1 MW), picked to finish third in the West in a preseason poll, sit atop the division, with the Wolf Pack (7-2, 4-1 MW), selected as the preseason favorite, right there with them.

Nevada owns the recent advantage, having claimed victory the last three games against SDSU.

SDSU again faces a clash of their elite defense set up against a stellar offense lead by quarterback Carson Strong.

San Diego State ranks first in the MW in scoring defense (16.7) and pass-efficiency defense (105.07). Nevada leads the MW in scoring (36.4) and passing (376.3).

Cornerback Tayler Hawkins said Strong is someone who will “play at the next level.” He knows, as he faced him last year in the Aztecs’ 26-21 loss to the Wolf Pack, in which Strong completed 31 passes for 288 yards with two touchdowns.

“I think I kind of underestimated him as a DB last year, but I definitely have to come with my “A” game this year,” the senior said.

Head coach Brady Hoke called Strong “a prototypical pro quarterback.” San Diego State, lacking a high-flying offense, would like to see a return to their productive running game.

“We haven’t had an explosive play in the last three weeks I would say. That’s part of it. We’ve got to get explosive plays,” Hoke said.

Meanwhile,  SDSU moved up two spots to No. 22 in the second College Football Playoff Selection Committee Rankings, released this week.

The last time the Aztecs posted an 8-1 record through nine games was 2016. The last time they had a better mark was a 9-0 start in 1970.

The Nevada game, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, is also SDSU’s homecoming.

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