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

Jay Ajayi

Jay Ajayi

Boise State and Fresno State close out the 2014 regular season with a showdown on the blue turf in the Mountain West Conference championship game. With a win over the Bulldogs, the Broncos are expected to clinch a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games as the top team from the Group of 5 conferences. While there’s a lot at stake for Boise State, Fresno State is trying to build off the momentum to close out the regular season. The Bulldogs won their final three games, including a 40-20 upset against Nevada to win the West Division.

Boise State and Fresno State have met 15 previous times, with the Broncos owning a 12-3 series edge. Fresno State’s last win in this series was last season (2013) by just one point (41-40). The Bulldogs have never won in Boise and lost the 2008 and 2010 meetings by 51 points each.

Fresno State at Boise State

Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Boise State -22

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Fresno State’s Key to Victory: QB Brian Burrell

It’s no secret Fresno State is going to need to score some points to keep pace with Boise State. The Broncos average 41.8 points in six home games this season, and coach Bryan Harsin’s offense is tough to stop on the blue turf. The Bulldogs are averaging 35.3 points per contest over their last three games, and quarterback Brian Burrell is playing better after early-season struggles. Burrell tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 313 yards in an upset win at Nevada and added 207 yards and three touchdowns in a win over San Jose State on Nov. 8. Burrell has 13 picks this year, and he has to keep that number to zero or one on Saturday night. The junior has a strong supporting cast, including running back Marteze Waller (6.5 ypc) and receiver Josh Harper (76 catches). Burrell holds the keys to the offense and will determine if Fresno State can pull off the upset. If he plays well and limits the mistakes, the Bulldogs have a chance to keep this close into the fourth quarter – similar to the first meeting between these two teams.

Boise State’s Key to Victory: Get RB Jay Ajayi Going Once Again
Jay Ajayi is one of the nation’s most underrated players, and the junior enters the Mountain West Championship with seven consecutive 100-yard efforts. In 12 games, Ajayi has 1,619 yards and 24 rushing scores and has caught 45 passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns. In the first meeting between these two programs in 2014, Ajayi gashed the Fresno State defense for 158 yards and two scores on 30 carries. The Bulldogs will be challenged at the point of attack once again, as this defensive front has struggled to stop the run this season and ranks ninth in the Mountain West in rush defense. Surprisingly, Ajayi wasn’t voted the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year this week, and it’s likely the junior will use that snub as motivation on Saturday night. Ajayi makes the offense for Boise State go. Fresno State has to find a way to slow down the junior on the ground, while the Broncos want to see around 130-150 yards from their star running back on Saturday night.

Final Analysis

Fresno State gave Boise State all it could handle in the first meeting between these two teams this year. And the Bulldogs played better down the stretch this season, finishing with a three-game winning streak to earn back-to-back trips to the Mountain West Conference championship game. However, it’s a tall order to win in Boise. And the Broncos simply have too much to play for. Ajayi and quarterback Grant Hedrick have big performances, elevating Boise State to a conference title and a spot in a premier bowl game this year.

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Prediction: Boise State 45, Fresno State 20