A spot in the Mountain West Conference championship game is on the line when Utah State and Boise State battle it out on the Smurf Turf this weekend. The winner will claim the Mountain division crown and earn the right to host the title game on Dec. 1.
The No. 14 Aggies (10-1, 7-0 MW) are entertaining hopes of securing a conference title and a NY6 bowl berth after picking up their school-record 10th straight win with a 29-24 victory over Colorado State last Saturday. Utah State came painfully close to seeing those dreams shattered. Rams QB Colin Hill delivered a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game's final play, but it ended up being negated by an illegal touching penalty.
The No. 21 Broncos (9-2, 6-1) kept on track in their bid to challenge for another Mountain West title after trouncing New Mexico 45-14 last Friday. Boise State shook off back-to-back mediocre outings on offense with a balanced effort from quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison. Rypien threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-27 passing. Mattison added 145 yards and a score on the ground.
Boise State holds a commanding 17-5 lead in the series. The Broncos have won two straight over Utah State and have not lost at home to the Aggies since falling 39-14 in 1996.
Utah State at Boise State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Boise State handle the blistering pace of Utah State's offense?
One reason why Utah State has reeled off 10 straight wins for the time ever is that opponents are usually overwhelmed by how quickly the Aggies march down the field. Utah State leads all FBS teams with 24 scoring drives lasting less than one minute. The Aggies have already set school records this season with their 69 touchdowns and 542 points scored, bettering the previous marks of 60 touchdowns in 2011 and 454 points scored in 2012.
Jordan Love is the catalyst behind all of this offensive success. The sophomore quarterback makes good decisions and even better throws to ignite the Aggies when they need a spark. Love has thrown for 2,845 yards and 25 touchdowns so far this season. He has reliable accuracy to go with a strong arm. Love has tossed just four interceptions and is completing 66.4 percent of his passes.
Stopping Love and company will be a tough task for Boise State. During the team's current 10-game winning streak, Utah State is scoring 51.1 points and totaling 514.1 yards per game. The Aggies have converted 45.9 percent (62-of-135) of their third downs in that stretch and have committed just 13 turnovers.
2. Which defense will get more disruptive plays?
This game isn't just matching two of the Mountain West's best offenses. Both Boise State and Utah State also have shown a knack for imposing their defensive will against conference opponents.
The Aggies rank second nationally with 28 takeaways. They lead the nation with 18 interceptions and six defensive touchdowns. Utah State has forced at least one turnover in 15 straight games, which is the third-longest such streak in the nation. The Aggies do a good job at forcing quick punts. They force 5.73 three-and-outs per game, ranking third nationally. Defensively, during its 10-game winning streak, Utah State is allowing 20.5 points and 365.9 yards per game. Opponents have converted just 30.3 percent of their third downs in that stretch.
The Broncos are quite formidable on defense as well. Boise State is allowing 22.2 points and 355.8 total yards per game. So far, the Broncos have forced 20 turnovers and scored four defensive touchdowns this season. Boise State has also tallied 36 sacks and allowed opponents to convert just 31.6 percent of third-down opportunities. The Broncos rank in the top 25 nationally in all of these defensive categories.
3. Will the Aggies be able to handle Boise State's playmakers?
Strong performances against New Mexico helped vault Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison up the charts in the offensive record books. Rypien boosted his career passing total to 13,146 yards, becoming the 17th quarterback in FBS history to hit the 13,000-yard milestone. Mattison crossed the 1,000 yard plateau and now has 1,015 rushing yards. He became the sixth Boise State player since 2001 to record back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The Broncos have had a 1,000-yard rusher for 10 straight seasons, the longest active streak in country and tied for the third-longest such streak in NCAA history.
The looming question for Utah State is whether or not the Aggies can stop either player. Rypien has thrown for 3,270 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. He is completing 68.5 percent of his passes and has thrown just seven interceptions. Mattison is averaging 92.3 yards per game on the ground. Both players had big games in Logan last season. Rypien threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, while Mattison added 110 yards on 19 carries to lead Boise State to a 41-14 victory.
Utah State has piled up tons of victories in impressive fashion this season. The problem is that the Aggies have also played one of the nation's weakest schedules. Their only wins over teams with winning records came against BYU and Hawaii — both of which have five losses. Boise State has done well against a stronger schedule. The Broncos are tough to beat on the Smurf Turf and have the added bonus of traveling this path before. Their experience should offer a slight edge in a game that's sure to be an instant classic.
Prediction: Boise State 30, Utah State 27
— 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.