Battle for the MWC Championship
For the second consecutive year, the #25 Fresno State Bulldogs will travel to face the #22 Boise State Broncos for the Mountain West Conference Championship. After meeting twice last season, this will be the fourth time the two teams have met in the span of 372 days.
On the line, besides bragging rights in the conference for the victor, is the chance to represent the “Group of Five” conferences in a NY6 bowl should Central Florida fall in the AAC Championship game on Saturday.
The Broncos are 10-2 overall on the season, with a 7-1 record in the Mountain West. Their losses during the season were a 44-21 loss at Oklahoma State from the Big 12 during Week 3, and a 19-13 loss versus San Diego State three weeks later.
Boise and Fresno State share four opponents – Wyoming, San Diego State, Nevada, and New Mexico – and Boise State went 3-1 in those games, with an average margin of victory of 12.3 points.
The Broncos of recent vintage have always been a fairly balanced team, and this year was no exception. They ranked 13th in passing offense in the NCAA with 305.9 passing yards per game. But they also average 162.8 rushing yards per game, which was good enough for a ranking of 70 among the 129 FBS teams. Their total offense number of 468.7 yards a game was also good enough for a top 20 finish, placing them at 18th. Finally, they averaged 37 points a game during the season, which was 19th in the country.
The passing offense was led by four-year starter Brett Rypien at quarterback, who was recently named MWC Offensive Player of the Year. He ranked 11th nationally in passing efficiency, throwing for 3,580 yards and 29 touchdowns (to go along with seven interceptions).
He had two receivers with over 800 yards receiving on the season. Sean Modster caught 64 passes for 933 yards and seven touchdowns, while A.J. Richardson had 49 catches for 804 yards and eight touchdowns.
Junior running back Alexander Mattison led the Boise State rushing attack, accounting for 1,215 yards of the Broncos’ rushing output (62.2%). He also scored 16 touchdowns on the ground. It was his second consecutive season over 1,000 yards for the Broncos, and he will most likely return next season.
Defensively, the Broncos rode a relatively stingy rush defense to a top 50 overall defensive ranking, giving up an average of 362.2 yards per game on the season (rank 43). Their scoring defense was also in the top third of the NCAA, allowing an average of 22.3 points per game (36th).
The Broncos surrendered an average of 238.9 yards per game through the air, ranking 80th in the country. As a team, they intercepted seven passes on the season, with sophomore Kekaula Kaniho leading the way with three.
Their rush defense surrendered and average of 123.3 yards per game, good for 23rd in the NCAA. Junior defensive back Kekoa Nawahine led the league with 67 tackles, while sophomore defensive lineman Curtis Weaver led the team with 9.5 sacks. The team also had a +10 turnover margin, recovering 15 fumbles to go along with those seven interceptions.
The Bulldogs are also 10-2 overall on the season, with the same 7-1 record in the Mountain West. Their losses during the season were a 21-14 loss at Minnesota from the Big Ten during Week 2, and a 24-17 loss versus Boise State in Boise three weeks ago. However, one of those games was a blowout win against FCS opponent Idaho, so I have adjusted the per game numbers to remove the stats from that game.
Note: The season-long stats for the individual players include the Idaho game.
Fresno State went undefeated against those four shared opponents mentioned above, with an average margin of victory of 20.5 points. They held those four opponents to a combined 27 points.
The Bulldogs were a little less balanced than Boise State, with passing yards being more than twice the number of rushing yards. Overall, they averaged 426.5 yards per game in the 11 games versus FBS opponents, good enough for 49th in the country. Their 286.1 passing yards per game is good enough for 21st in the country, but they are 104th in rushing offense with 140.4 yards per game. Finally, they scored 32.4 points per game against FBS opponents, ranking 40th in the nation.
The passing offense for the Bulldogs is also led by a senior quarterback. Marcus McMaryion ranked 7th in passing efficiency, throwing for 3,283 yards and 24 touchdowns with only three interceptions. In his two season as starting quarterback, he has led Fresno to a combined 20-6 record, including a victory in the Hawaii Bowl last season.
Senior wide receiver Keesean Johnson led the Bulldogs in receiving yards, with 87 receptions for 1,267 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior tight end Jared Rice was McMaryion’s second favorite target, catching 46 passes for 580 yards and three touchdowns. Those two players combined accounted for over 56% of the quarterback’s passing yards on the season
The leading rusher for the Bulldogs was sophomore running back Ronnie Rivers, who rushed for 468 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games. He shared time in the backfield with fellow sophomore Jordan Mims, who added 438 yards of his own (over 12 games) and six touchdowns. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion tied with Rivers for the lead in rushing touchdowns on the team with seven, while adding another 213 yards of his own to the team’s total.
Removing the blowout victory against Idaho from the overall yardage numbers and averages hurts Fresno a little, but they are still a top 50 defense, surrendering an average of 373.9 yards in those 11 FBS games. The rank just behind Boise in rush defense (24th, with 123.6 yards per game), but are hurt by their 101st-ranked passing defense (250.3 ypg), which affects the overall numbers. They did, however, have the 2nd-stingiest scoring defense, giving up an average of 13.6 points to FBS opponents. The highest point output against them was the 27 points that Toledo scored, and they held four opponents under 10 points.
The Fresno defense had 10 different players with an interception, with 17 total on the season. Mike Bell, Juju Hughes, and Anthoula Kelly tied for the lead with three a piece. Junior linebacker Jeff Allison led the defense with 109 total tackles (as well as two interceptions of his own) and earned MWC Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. Finishing the season with a +14 turnover margin – they added six fumble recoveries on defense and only had nine total turnovers on offense – helped the team to the MWC West Division title and the rematch against Boise State.
The game is played at Albertson’s Stadium in Boise, ID with kickoff at 5:45pm MST/ 7:45pm EST).
The neutrals are expecting 53 points to be put up on the board and have given both teams an even chance at prevailing.
Keys to a win for each side
- Get Mattison going early
- Use home field to their advantage
- Take away Fresno’s already limited running attack
- Spy McMaryion so he can’t hurt you with his legs
- Turnovers – limiting them on offense and forcing them on defense
- Finding a rhythm running the ball
- Defensive execution; watch for Boise State gadget/trick plays
- Take the crowd out of the game by scoring early
Boise State has won two of the last three matchups between the teams, including the MWC Championship last season. I think Fresno State gets revenge and waits to see if it is enough to make it to a NY6 bowl – though the AAC Championship should be over by the time this one starts so they’ll know UCF’s fate.
Fresno State 30 – Boise State 27