The Mountain West championship looks like it will be a fairly even tilt of offensive firepower against defensive dominance. The narrative would have you believe that, but here's some real talk: Fresno State will win the game.
Don't believe me? These insights might change your mind.
Fresno State will have the two best players on the field
If there was any doubt about Derek Carr's placement at the top of this site's preseason player rankings, it has been erased by the senior quarterback's performance in 2013. Utah State owns the best pass defense in the conference, but the Aggies have not faced many quarterbacks of Carr's caliber. San Jose State's David Fales was able to move the ball on this unit but the Spartans were a team in transition against their will, having lost Noel Grigsby and Jabari Carr. Joe Southwick had a career day against this defense, as well. The numbers are somewhat misleading.
If that were not enough, Davante Adams has a strong argument as the best wide receiver in college football, and he may put the lie to Utah State's red zone defense, which is seventh-best in the nation overall and second in touchdown percentage. Adams has caught 11 of his nation-leading 22 touchdowns in the red zone, and there has yet to be a cornerback that can out-leap him on a jump ball in the end zone.
Fresno State will have a home field advantage
It isn't enough to point out that the Bulldogs have won 12 straight home games dating back to last year. The average score during that streak is roughly 48-24. Carr has thrown 26 touchdowns and just one interception at home. The defense has done most of its best work at Bulldog Stadium, too, racking up the majority of its tackles for loss and passes defensed in the friendly confines. Utah State struggled in road games in Salt Lake City and Westwood, and they will struggle in the Central Valley.
Isaiah Burse will be a difference maker on punt returns
This is more speculative than the other talking points. One of the most amazing statistics I've seen is that Utah State's opponents have managed -8 yards on six returns in 2013, which is unsurprisingly the best figure in the country. Some of that must be attributed to punter Jaron Bentrude, whose numbers are pretty pedestrian. The Aggies punt more than five times per game on average, however, and all it takes to change a game is one opportunity. Burse does not have to take a kick to the house in order to make a difference, since even a 10 or 20-yard return can put USU on its heels. My guess is that he makes that one play.
Fresno's front seven will rattle Darell Garretson
For as well-regarded as Utah State's offensive line has been, it has been erratic in pass protection. You may recall Chuckie Keeton running for his life against Morgan Breslin and the USC defense, or DareIl Garretson's introduction to Shaquil Barrett in the Aggies' slugfest with Colorado State. Lesser pass rush units have gotten to the quarterback, as well, such as UNLV and Wyoming.
Ejiro Ederaine, one of three Mountain West defenders with 10 sacks on the year, will test Kevin Whimpey, and he will have plenty of company. Defensive coordinator Nick Toth hasn't been shy about his gambling tendencies -- safeties Charles Washington and Derron Smith have three sacks apiece, too -- and Garretson will feel the heat all evening long.
- Lobo vs. Aggies Final Score: 79-70
- Boise State's Chris Petersen is a top candidate for Washington job, per report
- Mountain West championship game 2013: Who wins, Fresno State or Utah State
- Matt Wells on Wake Forest rumors: 'I don't know anything about it'
- Wyoming coaching search: Jeff Tedford is a top target