The Boise State Broncos finally got the Air Force monkey off their backs, beating the Falcons 44-19 at home to improve to 9-2 overall and 7-0 in Mountain West play. The win, coupled with Wyoming’s loss to Fresno State, earned Boise State a spot in the Mountain West Football Championship Game for the first time since 2014. Their opponent? Fresno State, which beat the Broncos 28-14 in the 2014 title game. The Bulldogs, now 8-3 overall and 6-1 in league play following their 13-7 win last week, are in the midst of one of the most incredible turnarounds in college football history following last year’s 1-11 disaster.
Boise State at Fresno State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Boise State -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Mountain West Football Championship Game, Part I
In some respects, Saturday’s matchup means nothing. Win or lose, Boise State and Fresno State will meet again Dec. 2. And, since the College Football Playoff rankings are the first tiebreaker used to determine home-field advantage for the Mountain West Football Championship Game, and the Broncos are currently ranked in the committee’s top 25, it’s unlikely Fresno State would have an opportunity to host the title game regardless of the outcome. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect to see both teams — especially both offenses — come in with boring, vanilla game plans so as not to allow the opposition to gain an advantage ahead of the following week’s more important matchup.
On the other hand, it’s Senior Day for Fresno State, which should add an additional layer of motivation for the Bulldogs, while Boise State has an opportunity to guarantee that it will host the conference title game with a win. A victory would also keep the Broncos in the Top 25, and keep hope alive for a New Year’s Six bowl should chaos break loose in the AAC.
2. De-fense (clap, clap)
The biggest reason for Fresno State’s turnaround in 2017 has been its defense. The Bulldogs lead the Mountain West in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), total defense (307.5 yards per game), and have also surrendered a league-best 5.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranks seventh nationally. Led by Tobenna Okeke (five sacks) and Emeka Ndoh (four sacks), the Bulldogs have accumulated an impressive 26 sacks this season, which is tied for the second most in the league. Of course, Fresno State will be tested by a red-hot Broncos offense that leads the league in scoring (34.8 points per game, including 38.3 points per game in conference play).
The only MWC defense that has gotten to the quarterback more often than Fresno State is Boise State. Freshman linebacker Curtis Weaver leads the team and is tied atop the conference leaderboard with eight sacks, followed closely by Jabil Frazier, who ranks fourth in the league with six. Overall, the Broncos have 28 sacks, helping the unit hold opponents to 330.6 yards of total offense per game and 4.75 yards per play — nearly identical to Fresno State, which has allowed 4.74 yards per snap. The Broncos rank third in the conference with 21 takeaways, just ahead of the Bulldogs, who have forced 19 turnovers.
3. Turnover battle
Both defenses have played great, and both offenses have done a good job taking care of the football. In fact, despite both teams using multiple quarterbacks at times throughout the season, each offense has thrown just five interceptions. Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien, a two-time All-Mountain West performer, has thrown for 1,991 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions this season and is coming off back-to-back 300-yard games. Fresno State starter Marcus McMaryion has thrown for 1,880 yards and 12 TDs with just three interceptions.
Thanks to such sure-handedness, as well as their big-play defenses, Boise State and Fresno State rank second (+11) and third (+9) in the Mountain West in turnover margin, respectively. Therefore, a big play or a big mistake will likely decide the outcome.
This matchup is difficult to predict because of the unique scheduling situation ahead of the unavoidable Mountain West Football Championship Game rematch. Boise State has more to gain with a win, but that motivational advantage is somewhat neutralized by the Bulldogs playing at home for Senior Day. The Broncos have the highest-scoring offense in the conference, but the Bulldogs have the best defense in the league, and both teams have been equally successful at forcing turnovers and taking care of the football offensively. However, because Rypien is firing on all cylinders, having thrown for 1,149 yards with a 12-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his last four games, the Broncos have a slight edge.
Prediction: Boise State 28, Fresno State 27
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.