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Mountain West Championship Game Preview and Prediction: Fresno State vs. Boise State


Can Fresno State beat Boise State two weeks in a row?

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That's the challenge facing the 25th-ranked Bulldogs when they travel to Idaho to face the Broncos in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game on Saturday. Fresno State beat Boise State 28-17 a week ago after racking up 431 yards of total offense. Bulldogs quarterback Marcus McMaryion put together a brilliant performance in helping his team outgain an opponent for the seventh time in nine games.

It's another highlight in a dramatic turnaround for Fresno State under head coach Jeff Telford. The Bulldogs (9-3, 7-1 MW) won just one game a year ago before Telford arrived on the scene and didn't beat an FBS opponent.

The Broncos (9-3, 7-1) are sure to give Fresno State a stiff test in the rematch. Boise State totaled 401 yards a week ago, but struggled to finish drives. The Broncos had multiple first-half drives stall in Bulldog territory, turning it over on downs one time and missing a field goal on another drive.

Boise State holds a 13-6 lead in the all-time series with Fresno State. This is the second time the Bulldogs and the Broncos are meeting in Boise with a conference title at stake. Boise State claimed the 2014 Mountain West crown after taking down Fresno State 28-14.

Mountain West Championship: Fresno State at Boise State

Kickoff: Saturday, December 2. 5:45 PM MT.

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Boise State –8.5

Three Things to Watch

1. What will McMaryion do for an encore?

One reason why Fresno State has improved so dramatically from last season is the play of Marcus McMaryion. The Oregon State transfer has blossomed at quarterback this year.

McMaryion lit up Boise State's defense last week, throwing for a career-high 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His second touchdown pass, an 81-yard strike to KeeSean Johnson, helped the Bulldogs, pull away in the fourth quarter after Boise State cut Fresno State's lead to 19-17. It ended up being the second career 300-yard game for the junior.

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After three games with Fresno State, McMaryion won the starting job and hasn't looked back since. He has thrown for 2,212 yards, 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes. McMaryion's 146.8 quarterback rating ranks second in the Mountain West.

2. How much of an impact will Mattison and Wilson make?

Boise State has plenty of weapons on offense that extend beyond quarterback Brett Rypien. Fresno State's success will hinge on keeping running back Alexander Mattison and receiver Cedrick Wilson from burning the Bulldogs on big plays.

The Broncos have produced a 1,000-yard rusher for nine straight seasons. Mattison became the latest running back to join the club, after gaining 63 yards against Fresno State on Saturday. Only a sophomore, Mattison has 1,024 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Wilson gave the Bulldogs plenty of trouble on Saturday, totaling 134 yards on only seven catches. It marked the senior's second consecutive 100-yard game. His 1,142 receiving yards on 65 catches this season represents the fifth-highest single-season mark in team history.

Wilson is only the third Boise State receiver to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, joining Titus Young (2009-10) and Thomas Sperbeck (2015-16) in that distinction. He has totaled 2,271 receiving yards over the past two seasons, which is the second-best two-season stretch for a Boise State receiver.

3. Can the Bulldogs conquer the "Smurf Turf"?

Topping Boise State on its home field to earn a conference championship seems like a borderline impossible scenario. The Broncos went 5-1 at home this season, losing only to Virginia, and beat conference opponents by an average margin of 18.8 points on the Smurf Turf. Since joining the Mountain West in 2011, Boise State has lost just four home games against conference opponents.

If there's a team equipped to do it, though, Fresno State is one that qualifies. The Bulldogs went 4-0 away from home against league opponents. They allowed just 10.3 points per game in those contests and allowed only one opponent to score more than a single touchdown.

The Bulldogs haven't beaten Boise State in Idaho since a 37-21 win over the Broncos in 1984, back when Boise State still played at the Division I-AA (now FCS) level. Since that time, Fresno State has lost eight straight road games to the Broncos, most recently falling in the 2014 MWC title game.

Final Analysis

Fresno State will be eager to make a statement after being denied the right to host the Mountain West Championship Game despite beating Boise State head-to-head and finishing with identical records in league play. The problem is that the Broncos are tough to overcome on the Smurf Turf. Fresno State has a strong enough defense to limit the damage, but it can't keep Boise State's playmakers in check for another four quarters.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Boise State

Prediction: Boise State 24, Fresno State 20

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

(Top photo courtesy of