This time last week, Boise State, the only undefeated team in the Mountain West, held a slight lead in the Mountain Division standings. Colorado State (6-3, 4-1) needed only a win over rival Wyoming to set up what appeared to be the de facto division title game this week in Fort Collins. Instead, the Rams were upset 16-13 in an uncharacteristically poor offensive performance (though the Cowboys’ defense was certainly aided by the snow blowing through Laramie). It was the second straight loss for Mike Bobo’s squad after a 45-28 upset at the hands of Air Force the previous game.
Meanwhile, Boise State looked sluggish early against Nevada, falling behind twice in the first half before taking control and winning 41-14 to increase its winning streak to five. Now 7-2 overall and 5-0 in Mountain West play, the Broncos have a firm grip on the division. In fact, thanks to the tiebreaker awarded from its 24-14 victory over Wyoming last month, Bryan Harsin’s squad needs just two wins in its final three games to secure a spot in the conference championship game. If the Broncos run the table, win the title, and get lucky with results from the AAC, Boise State could even sneak into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Boise State at Colorado State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Boise State -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Strength vs. strength
The Colorado State offense leads the Mountain West and ranks 16th in the nation in both total offense (483.6 ypg) and yards per play (6.7). The Rams have a very balanced unit, including the top passing offense in the conference (286.5 ypg), and a ground attack that has averaged 197.1 rushing yards per game.
Quarterback Nick Stevens has thrown for 2,865 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions this season – the most in the Mountain West in all three categories – while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Stevens is the key to the offense, but running back Dalyn Dawkins has been the MVP of the unit during conference play. Dawkins, who ranks fourth in the Mountain West with 1,050 rushing yards, has surpassed 100 yards in five of his last six games and has averaged 134.7 yards per game and 7.41 yards per carry in conference play.
Led by Stevens, Dawkins, standout receiver Michael Gallup and a Colorado State offensive line that has surrendered just six sacks this season, the Rams pose a threat to any opposing defense, but Boise State has posted some impressive numbers of its own on that side of the ball. The Broncos rank second in the conference and 15th nationally in total defense (307.9 ypg) and rank No. 11 in the FBS in yards allowed per play (4.57). Boise State is particularly tough against the run, having held opponents to 106.4 yards per game on the ground (which ranks 11th in the country), and just 3.2 yards per carry (eighth). The Broncos have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.
2. Playmaking receivers
Boise State has the ability to hold down the Rams on the ground, but Colorado State’s passing attack could pose a bigger threat. After all, Gallup leads the nation with 1,196 receiving yards. He also leads the Mountain West with 76 receptions and 119.6 receiving yards per game, which rank second and third, respectively, in the FBS. He has six touchdown catches.
But Gallup won’t be the only productive and explosive receiver on the field Saturday. Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson also has six TD grabs this season, and ranks second to Gallup in the conference with 828 receiving yards and 92.0 yards per game. Wilson has averaged 16.6 yards on 50 receptions this year, both of which rank third in the conference. A high school quarterback, the 6-foot-3, 188-pound senior also is a threat to throw on trick plays, as he completed two passes last week.
3. Boise State QB Brett Rypien
Already a two-time All-Mountain West selection, Rypien (above, right) has had a bumpy junior season. He struggled in the season opener against Troy, was pulled the following game against Washington State, and then missed the Mountain West opener with New Mexico due to injury. As a result, graduate transfer Montell Cozart was able to carve out a role in the Broncos’ offense.
Cozart, the former starter at Kansas, has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 684 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception. He also has added 299 rushing yards and four touchdowns, both of which rank second on the team.
Though Cozart still gets his fair share of snaps, especially in the red zone, Rypien has settled down in recent weeks and now sits firmly atop the depth chart. Overall, Rypien has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions. Over the last four weeks against Mountain West competition, he has completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 714 yards and six TDs without a pick. Rypien has a 156.3 rating in conference play, second only to Stevens among Mountain West signal-callers.
Colorado State looked like a Mountain West contender early in the season, but despite a balanced and explosive offense, the Rams have fallen out of the race after back-to-back losses. Boise State, in danger of falling into mediocrity after failing to reach the conference championship game in each of the last two seasons, has instead surged to the top of the Mountain Division standings. Armed with one of the best defenses in the league and a top-20 unit nationally, the Broncos have the talent to slow down Colorado State, and with an improved Brett Rypien and playmaking receiver in Cedrick Wilson, Boise State also has the offensive skill to beat the Rams.
Prediction: Boise State 31, Colorado State 28
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.