There was a point in the season where it could have been anyone’s guess who was going to play in the Mountain West championship.
Fresno State was dealing with an injury to its all-conference quarterback, and things were looking a little bleak for Boise State following a 2-2 start and a loss to UTEP.
Early in the season, San Jose State and Air Force were the teams to beat in the league. UNLV and Wyoming were both 4-1. The league seemed to be up for grabs. That all went away too soon, though. Before we knew it, Boise and Fresno were back at the top. Nothing new.
Out of the previous 10 MW championships, this will be the seventh that consists of one of these squads. This will be the fourth time in the last 10 years that Boise and Fresno face off for the league title. A fresh scene in the MW conference game would be great, but credit to these programs for consistently setting the standard.
College football odds list Boise as a 3-point favorite. On a neutral field, the line could be a little closer to even. Both teams faced some obstacles throughout the year and overcame them. Here’s a glimpse of how.
Broncos offense transitions
Like it was mentioned above, the Broncos had a sluggish start to their campaign. That all changed in Week 5 when Boise went on to rattle off four consecutive conference wins, including victories over San Diego State, Fresno, and Air Force.
The shift in the team’s play came after Broncos coach Andy Avalos fired offensive coordinator Tim Plough and hired former Boise coach Dirk Koetter in the same role. The move also featured a change under center. With Hank Bachmeier getting most of the work in those first four games, Taylen Green became the starter shortly after Koetter’s arrival. The offense gained some life, Green was recently named MW freshman of the year, and the offense now competes with Fresno as one of the top in the league:
Most of that production comes from Boise’s rushing attack and George Holani.
Holani finished second in the league with 96.1 rushing yards per game behind only Brad Roberts — the MW Offensive Player of the Year. The Broncos’ 190.4 rushing YPG also ranks second. Fresno’s defense ranks in the bottom half of the conference in rushing yards allowed. If Boise can find its usual success on the ground, it won’t need to rely as much on Green to try and keep pace with Jake Haener.
Avalos was announced as the MW coach of the year Tuesday. It’s the first time ever a Boise State coach has been awarded the honor. The coach made some tough decisions early in the season, but they paid off.
Bulldogs bounce back
Just like Boise, the Bulldogs’ season didn’t get off to a hot start.
Through the first five weeks, they were 1-4 and on the verge of being 1-5 before coming away with a win over a red-hot San Jose State team. Fresno was trying to find its way after losing Haener to an injury suffered in a Week 3 loss to USC. The high ankle sprain sidelined him for six weeks. Since then, he’s been one of the best in the country:
In the five games since his return, the Bulldogs have averaged 39 PPG. Fresno’s 277 passing YPG leads the league, but it’s going up against a Boise pass defense that ranks second (158.8).
The last time these teams played was in Week 6. Haener was out and the Broncos rolled to a 40-20 victory. As much as his absence showed his importance to the team, Haener has plenty of support on offense. Jordan Mims is a top-five running back in the conference and rushes for just south of 90 YPG. Jalen Cropper is another all-conference guy and leads the MW in receptions per game (6.1) and is third in YPG (83.7).
This game has a great chance of coming down to whose defense plays better. Can the Broncos stymie Fresno’s attack? Or can the Bulldogs take away the run and make Green beat them?
We’ll find out soon.