Mountain West Preview: Fresno State vs. Boise State

    Fresno State (6-6) at Boise State (10-2) Dec. 6, 10:00, CBS Here’s The Deal: It’s going to be a tremendous comeback story either way, and as the last game

    December 4, 2014

    Fresno State (6-6) at Boise State (10-2) Dec. 6, 10:00, CBS 

    Here’s The Deal: It’s going to be a tremendous comeback story either way, and as the last game in Championship Weekend, it’s going to be an interesting fight. Can Boise State take away the crown? 

    You would hardly have been surprised if someone told you four months ago that Fresno State would be playing Boise State for the Mountain West title. It was hardly an easy ride, though, for these two to get here. 

    Very, very, very quietly, Boise State has turned things around in a big way after a down 2013 and a little bit of a rocky start. There’s hardly any shame in losing to a healthy Ole Miss team 35-13 to start the season, but the world sort of tuned out after a late September loss to Air Force. But a funny thing happened in between, which didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time – Boise State 37, Colorado State 24. That turned out to be the difference in the season and in Boise State’s title hopes, handing the Rams their only loss of the year up until a late loss to Air Force, and now everything is there for the taking. The Broncos might not be close to the playoff, but with a win, and thanks to a No. 22 ranking by the CFP committee, they’ll get the Group of Five’s automatic spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowls with a shot at a 12th win. 

    The offense has been almost unstoppable since the 28-14 loss to Air Force, and the defense has turned it up a few notches over the last few weeks, but there were a few close calls along the way. One of them came against a Fresno State team that put up a good fight in a 37-27 loss. 

    The Bulldogs needed to rally in a huge way to not only take the West division, but to become bowl eligible. Miserable to start the year in blowout losses to USC, Utah and Nebraska, a mid-season three-game losing streak with bottom-out gaffes against UNLV and Wyoming – losing 45-17 to the Cowboys – put them at 3-6 with little hope of repeating as Mountain West champs. Instead, the defense got a wee bit stronger, the offense a bit more efficient, and the team rose up to win three straight games to pull it off. Not only was last week’s tight win over Hawaii for a shot at Boise State and a repeat title, but it was for bowl eligibility. In this rocky rebuilding year, the team will take it. 

    Why Fresno State Might Win: The Bulldogs have to get back to the ground game that did such a great job in the first meeting. The defense came up with one of a relatively decent game – considering the opponent and the problems throughout the season – but unlike the first time around, the ground attack has to lead to better ball control. Time of possession has been a problem all year for Fresno State, keeping the ball for just 27:49 per game, and it was an issue the first time around despite getting a huge day from Marteze Waller. However, 76 of his 164 yards came on one run – he needs to be able to grind out runs and lead to makeable third down chances. If it’s possible to slow things down a little bit – which isn’t really what the team likes to do – it has to give it a shot. This can’t be a firefight – it has to be a grind. However … 

    Why Boise State Might Win: For Fresno State to win this, it’s going to have to really, really go against type. The problem with that is Boise State’s ability to dominate games and take control throughout, keeping it for 32:16 per game thanks to one of the most effective ground attacks in America and one of the most efficient passing games. Fresno State’s defense more than held its own the first time around for around 50 minutes, but the Broncos came up with a good balance – rushing for 264 and throwing for 228 – able to do whatever they wanted. It could and should be more of the same. Fresno State either has to be ready for a shootout, or it has to pick its poison. Forget about stopping everything the Broncos will try to do; Fresno State has to find one thing it can do really, really well. That’s been a problem this year. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Jay Ajayi continues to dominate. All the Boise State running back did in the biggest games of the year was tear off 219 yards and two scores against Colorado State, and rip apart the tremendous Utah State run defense for 229 yards and five touchdowns last week. Against Fresno State the first time around he turned into the grinding workhorse with 30 carries for 158 yards and two scores, but he dominated the game. 

    Fresno State’s Marteze Waller ran for more yards than Ajayi the first time around – 164 – but he might have to do even more. Great down the stretch when the team needed him the most, he ran for 137 yards and two scores last week against Hawaii. If he’s not dominant, Fresno State can’t win. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Boise State is going to come out roaring. Ready to establish itself as the star of the Mountain West again in head coach Bryan Harsin’s first season, the Bronco offense will rip off three straight scoring drives and Fresno State won’t have any chance to keep up the pace. 

    Prediction: Boise State 48 … Fresno State 24 
    Line: Boise State -20.5 o/u: 68 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: The Interview – 1: CMA Country Christmas … 3 

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