Who: #23 Fresno State(8-1, 5-0 MWC) @ Boise State(7-2, 4-1 MWC)
Where: Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, ID (Capacity 36,387)
When: Friday, November 9, 2018, 7:15PM PT
How to Watch: Game will be broadcast on ESPN2
One of the most heated rivalries in the MWC comes up for another meeting Friday night, with the #23 Fresno State Bulldogs traveling up to the blue turf of Boise to take on the Broncos. Both teams are in the running for the MWC championship, and of course Fresno is hoping for a NY6 bowl berth. The schedule for the Bulldogs is definitely backloaded, with Boise this week and San Diego State the next, with no margin for error. On the flip-side of this, these two games do give them a great opportunity to rack up some statement wins down the home stretch of the regular season. A win on Friday will also be Fresno’s first win at Boise since 1984, and their first ever win on the blue turf.
Despite the blowout loss to a rapidly fading Oklahoma State, and an upset loss to San Diego State, this Boise team is incredibly potent, and should pose an offensive challenge for the elite Fresno defense. Senior Brett Rypien and his stable of receivers have been a nightmare for opposing secondaries, with John Hightower, A.J. Richardson, and Sean Modster proving to be a potent trio totaling over 1,800 yards. On S&P+, Boise’s offense has ranked 21st, ahead of Fresno State’s offense, and only behind Utah State’s offense for most electric. Now, they haven’t faced a defense quite as strong as the Bulldogs’, but San Diego State did a good job of forcing mistakes and slowing down the Broncos during their upset win in week 6. Even with that loss, they are averaging 38 points per game, which is good for 21st in the country. They now have to face the 2nd best scoring defense in the country though, with the Bulldogs only surrendering 12.3 points a game.
While the offense is definitely cause for concern for Fresno, the Boise defense might not pose as much of a challenge. While games between these teams have been close and low scoring affairs, Boise’s defense has been decimated by injuries this year. They lost David Moa at the beginning of the year, and now leading tackler Riley Whimpey is done for the year with a knee injury. Combine that with injuries to Chase Hitada, DeAndre Pierce, Tyler Horton, and Sonatane Lui, this Boise defense is suddenly very thin. Even with Whimpey in the lineup, the Boise defense was only ranking 51st in S&P+, and now he is gone. Fresno State has definitely found their stride on offense ever since the Minnesota game, and have been absolutely rolling teams, scoring more than 40 points per game.
On the Bulldog injury front, things seem to be improving. Jeff Allison left the UNLV game with an undisclosed injury, but is reported to be okay. Michiah Quick has finally returned in the last two weeks, giving Marcus McMaryion yet another weapon in the passing game. The O-Line may finally be healthy, as it looks like both Logan Hughes and Syrus Tuitele will be ready for Friday. That means the revolving door on the right side of the line should finally end, and the line can continue not giving sacks, and giving Marcus a clean pocket to work out of. It might also help open up some running lanes, after an emergent game from the Bulldog running backs last week against UNLV.
Last year, these two teams met up 2 times, in back to back weeks to end the season, with each team getting a win. Fresno State won the first matchup in Bulldog Stadium 28-17, and Boise won the Mountain West championship the week after at their stadium, 17-14. These two teams could again face off twice, as Boise plays host to Utah State the final week of the regular season. A loss to Fresno this week would put a serious damper on any conference championship hopes for the Broncos, as it would be their 2nd loss, while USU remains unscathed. While it would kill their NY6 chances, Fresno State could in theory absorb a loss, as long as they top San Diego the next week in Bulldog Stadium. Not sure either team wants to think about a loss at this point, since the Milk Can Trophy is on the line between these two rivals. Fresno finally got the Can back last November, and I’m sure Jeff Tedford and the staff don’t want to give it back quite so quickly. Having all of the rivalry trophies lined up in the trophy case is nice, and just needs a MWC Championship trophy to complete the set. They’ve already retained the Golden Screwdriver, with the Milk Can, Oil Can, and Valley Trophy still up for grabs. (even though the Valley Trophy game seems a mere formality against a terrible SJSU team).
Like all rivalry games, and namely Boise State/Fresno State games, they are really hard to predict. But given how Fresno is firing on all cylinders right now, and Boise’s defense has been decimated by injury, this game could get ugly quickly. I know how much every Fresno fans wants to see a win on the blue turf after all this time, and a statement win could really help them climb the rankings, especially being over a Boise team that still holds a lot of cache in the football world. I know that Boise has a very potent offense that could give an experienced secondary fits, but I just don’t know if their defense can slow down Fresno’s passing attack. I’m thinking this one won’t be a high scoring track meet, but I think Fresno State pulls out a comfortable win on national TV to finally get the Smurf off their back.
On the odds front, the betting line has been hovering around 3 or 4 points for Fresno State. Taking into account the 3 point home field advantage, that means Vegas expects the Dogs to win by about a touchdown. That line was before the Whimpey injury came out, so may have shifted. S&P+ gives the Dogs a 70% chance of getting this win, with about a 9 point margin. ESPN’s FPI gives the Dogs a 54.3% chance of a win, which just became a favorite over the weekend. Maybe I’m just more of a homer for the Bulldog defense being able to force mistakes and keep Brett Rypien quiet, but I’m about doubling the predicted margin.