Who: #25 Fresno State Bulldogs (10-2, 7-1 MWC) v. #22 Boise State Broncos (10-2, 7-1 MWC)
Where: Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, ID (Capacity, 36,387)
When: Saturday, December 2, 4:45PM PT
How to Watch: Game will be broadcast on ESPN and the ESPN App
Well, this all feels awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Fresno State and Boise State again, with a title on the line. This is the 4th time the two teams have played in the last 374 days, and the 3rd time that they’ll square off for the Mountain West title. Fun fact: All three of those MWC championship games have been in Boise, but that’s above my pay grade. Maybe a neutral site would be better for these? (Hint, hint, new Raiders stadium) This game could also have massive implications for the conference and college football in general, because if UCF stumbles in their championship game, the winner of the Mountain West goes to a NY6 bowl game. This would also open up another bowl slot, since the conference right now has more bowl-eligible teams than bowl tie-ins. That would be huge for a team like Wyoming, who is sitting at 6-6, but on the outside looking in right now.
I’m getting ahead of myself though, talking about NY6 games and bowl tie-ins. Let’s focus on the Bulldogs and Broncos, Round IV. These two met already this season on the blue, with the Broncos winning by a touchdown after a frenetic comeback in the second half. Now, the Dogs will have revenge on the brain, and Jeff Tedford’s first conference championship. Last year, the shoe was on the other foot, with Fresno State taking the regular season matchup, and the Broncos taking the rematch in the title game. Last year’s games were separated by a week, now we’ve had a full month between the games. Will this year feature a clean sweep for Boise, or will the Dogs be able to flip the script, and get their first win against Boise on the blue since the 80s.
The first game this year was a slugfest against two heavyweights, and we can’t expect any different in this game. Both teams feature electric and efficient offenses, with defenses known for shutting down opponents each week. Boise State has the edge on the offensive side of the ball, with Fresno State maintaining their advantage on the defensive side. In Game 1, Boise’s offense was the difference, will the Fresno defense be the difference this time? The Bulldog defense is the 2nd best defense in the country in scoring D, 2nd in red zone D, and the 4th ranked rushing D. Based around three bruisers in the middle, including the conference Defensive Player of the Year, 2 speed rushers on the edge, and a seasoned secondary featuring multiple all-conference players, the Bulldog defense may be the best in the Group of 5, and sits around Top 10 in the country. Not to mention allowing opposing QBs to only complete 50% of their passes, and surrendering an almost absurd 13 points per game.
On the offensive end, yes, the numbers do tilt in Boise’s favor, but not as much as they did in previous meetings. The Fresno State offense might not be built around big plays, but they are an incredibly efficient unit that makes few mistakes or negative plays. Marcus McMaryion finished the regular season completing 70% of his passes, while only being sacked 2.7% of the time on drop backs. And he’ll be playing against a banged up secondary at Boise, who they were able to move the ball on last time, at least in the first half. The offense did seem to go cold in the 2nd half of that game, and had trouble finding their rhythm against SJSU, but passing to Keesean Johnson and Jared Rice is always a safe bet. Johnson is now the all-time leader at Fresno State in receiving, and Jared Rice just set the single season marks for tight ends. Not to mention the snub of Keesean to the all-conference team providing extra motivation for him coming into this game, and the desire to go out on top for an incredible group of seniors that have seen their program at its lowest and highest.
If there is a significant key to this game, it’s slowing down Alexander Mattison. He has been absolutely electric for the Broncos in the back half of the season, and kept them in the game against Fresno State the first time. He also spent all of last week running all over Utah State en route to their Mountain Division title. The junior back has run for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, more than 1,000 yds better than the next closest Boise rusher. It may be worth sending in a nickel back, or even an extra safety into the box to try to keep Mattison contained Saturday night. Try to keep them off-schedule, and force them to play straight into the defense’s wheelhouse. Last game, Mattison ran for 144yds and 2TDs, mostly in the 2nd half against a defense that spent too much time on the field. Expect the offense to work more ball control to give the defense time to rest, and the defense to work hard to keep Mattison contained.
Before I give my prediction for this game, I’ve got to raise my continual objections to this game being at 4:45PM on ESPN. The ACC and Big Ten championship games both start at 5:00PM, with both games having massive College Football Playoff implications. This is probably the worst possible time slot that this game could have been in, and it makes zero sense to be at this time. We could have been at noon, or even 3:00. But nope, have to be shoved in right before the two biggest championship games of the night. Thanks again Mountain West. Even a 7:00PM game would have been fine, despite it being really cold up in Boise, (another reason to move it to an indoor stadium in Vegas once it’s constructed). Whole lot of eyes that should be on a fantastic football game in the Mountain West will be dragged elsewhere to watch college football titans try to play their way into the Playoff.
I wish I could be more optimistic about Fresno State winning this game, but that blue turf has some sort of voodoo over this program. S&P+ gives the Dogs a 60% chance of winning this game by 5 points, while FPI has Boise as a slight favorite. Vegas has the Broncos as a 2.5 point favorite, and this game is definitely close to a coin-flip. Boise has been wrecked by injuries this year, and this could be the Bulldogs’ best chance to get over the hump. Either way, it’s going to be a close game between two rivals. Especially with this being the last scheduled meeting between the two, as the divisional schedule will shift in 2019. So any future meetings will have to be in the title game, which could be likely with two programs looking very unlikely to slow down any time soon. Will Tedford cement his status as a leader in the conference, or will the Broncos add another trophy to their case? We’ll find out Saturday night.
Score Prediction: Fresno State 24-21 Boise State