Of all the Group of Five teams, the one that first hit the AP Top 25 this season was Fresno State. After the Bulldogs lost a 24-19 decision at Wyoming on Oct. 7, they not only dropped out of the Top 25 but also out of the public’s consciousness.
Yet the Bulldogs are back in a big way, and now they have a game that will feel like a mini playoff when they host Boise State in Saturday’s 7 p.m. PT Mountain West showdown that will air on CBS Sports Network.
Not only is this a rematch of last year’s Mountain West championship game where Fresno State won 28-16, but it would boost either team’s chances to earn a berth in this year’s game.
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Besides losing that earlier game to Wyoming, Fresno State also lost QB Mikey Keene with an ankle injury.
At that point, things didn’t look so hot for the Bulldogs, but QB Logan Fife stepped in and more than kept the Bulldogs afloat, leading them the next week to a 37-32 win at Utah State. Fife, who went 2-2 while filling in for an injured Jake Haener last year, completed 22 of 39 for 291 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions in the win.
After that win on Oct. 14, Fresno State had a much-needed bye.
Following the bye, Keene returned last week to lead the Bulldogs to a 31-24 home win over previously unbeaten UNLV. Keene completed 27 of 41 for 256 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The 5-11, 193-pound Keene is a quarterback that makes things happen. This is his first season at Fresno State after spending his first two years at UCF.
As a true freshman in 2021, Keene was thrown into the fire pretty quickly at UCF after then-starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel (now the starter at Oklahoma) suffered a season-ending broken clavicle in the third game of the season.
In 11 games that season, Keene completed 63.6% of his passes for 1,730 yards, 17 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
Last year, he was mainly the backup to Mississippi transfer John Rhys Plumlee. Keene rotated with Plumlee in three games and made a start in a fourth. He completed 60 of 83 passes (72.3%) for 647 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception.
This season, Keene has completed 68.1% of his passes for 1,948 yards, 19 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
If Fresno State can beat Boise State – no sure thing at all – then the remaining Mountain West schedule doesn’t look too daunting. The most challenging of the final three games will be next week at San Jose State (4-5, 3-2) before Fresno State hosts New Mexico (3-5, 1-3) and ends at San Diego State (3-5, 1-3).
Boise State (4-4, 3-1) is coming off its most impressive win of the season, a 32-7 home victory over Wyoming. Incredibly, Boise State limited Wyoming to just 112 yards in total offense.
Boise State has a two-quarterback system with Taylen Green and Maddux Madsen. And while it isn’t ideal, the Broncos are making it work.
Green is the better runner (256 yards rushing, 5.6 avg., 5 TDs), while Madsen is the more accurate passer (67.1 completion percentage for 731 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions). Against Wyoming, Madsen completed 12 of 15 for 147 yards, one TD, and no interceptions. Green was 3 for 6 for 69 yards, one TD, and no interceptions. He also rushed for 32 yards and a score on four carries, while Maddux gained 24 yards on five carries.
The Broncos face a more difficult end-of-the-season schedule. After meeting Fresno State, they host New Mexico (3-5, 1-3), visit Utah State (3-5, 1-3), and end up at home against No. 17 Air Force (8-0, 5-0).
Boise State has a deceptive record, with two of the losses to Power 5 teams, at Washington (56-19) and a nail-biter home against UCF (18-16). The other two losses were by a combined four points, losing at Memphis 35-32 and at Colorado State 31-30.
Based on the Broncos’ track record, this should be a close contest and one with obvious conference title game ramifications.
Both teams spent part of the season in the Mountain West background, but this game puts each squad clearly in the forefront.