The 2018 Mountain West Championship Game gives us a rivalry game between the no. 22 Boise State Broncos and the no. 25 Fresno State Bulldogs. Kickoff is set for 7:45 EST on Saturday, December 1, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Fans can catch all the action on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Broncos as 2.5-point favorites on their home field. The over/under for the game is set at 50.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of the college football betting odds for this weekend’s games.
Boise State, of course, is no stranger to being in the Mountain West Championship Game, as they are defending conference champions. This will also be Boise’s third trip to the conference title game under Bryan Harsin, who took over in 2014. The Broncos were also regulars in conference championships under Chris Petersen.
However, the Broncos did not have an easy path this time around. A loss to San Diego State in early October put Boise State a little behind in the conference standings. They have since won seven games in a row but did so knowing that another loss would likely take them out of the conference championship game. A win last week over Utah State, who was previously undefeated in conference play, clinched the Mountain division for the Broncos.
Fresno State, meanwhile, had a much smoother path to their second straight Mountain West title game. Their only conference loss of the season came against Boise State the second weekend in November. Other than that, the Bulldogs cruised through their conference schedule, winning the West division with a two-game cushion. Of course, the Bulldogs haven’t won the Mountain West title outright since 2013 when they were led by Derek Carr.
Naturally, as the two powerhouse programs of the Mountain West, Boise and Fresno have developed a fierce rivalry over the years. As mentioned, the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in last year’s conference championship 17-14 and earlier this year 24-17. Fresno State won last year’s meeting during the regular season. However, the Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Broncos in Boise since 1984.
I respect Fresno State and all the Bulldogs have accomplished this year, but it’s hard to bet against the Broncos in this game. Boise State has owned this conference for over a decade. They’ve also won 15 of their 18 games against Fresno State going back to 2001. I can’t ignore that history, and with the spread less than a field goal, I’ll lean toward the Broncos to cover.
Statistically, Fresno State is the better defensive team in this game. The Bulldogs are conceding less than 14 points per game, which is impressive no matter what conference you play in. But it’s still fair to question the level of competition they’ve faced. Fresno State didn’t play a terribly difficult non-conference schedule and was only occasionally challenged in the Mountain West. That makes Boise State one of the best offensive teams they’ve faced this season.
Moreover, the Broncos totaled nearly 450 yards of offense in their first meeting against Fresno State, despite being held to 24 points. More importantly, I think Boise State is better offensively than they were at that point in the season. After being somewhat lackluster most of the season, the Boise running game has exploded the second half of the season. Running back Alexander Mattison has rushed for over 140 yards in each of the final three games of the season, scoring six touchdowns during that span.
With Mattison coming alive, the Broncos have a more balanced attack, making quarterback Mark Rypien and the passing attack all the more dangerous. Rypien has 15 touchdown passes to just two interceptions over the last six games of the season. He’s also been on point with his accuracy the last three games, including Boise’s win over Fresno when he completed 24 of his 29 passes. The Bulldogs didn’t seem to have an answer for Rypien in that game, so I’m not too confident they can do much better this time around.
Of course, the Fresno State offense can also put points on the board, averaging close to 35 points per game. Senior quarterback Marcus McMaryion has been remarkably consistent all season, and the first matchup against Boise State was no different. However, unlike the Broncos, the Bulldogs have seen little improvement in their rather average rushing attack late in the year. Fresno State averages less than 150 yards rushing per game on the season and barely eclipsed 100 yards in the first game against the Broncos.
The Boise State defense isn’t quite an elite unit, but they can stop the run and make teams one-dimensional. Only three teams have averaged more than four yards per rush against the Broncos this season, and two of those games were out of conference. If Fresno State can’t do any better on the ground, it’ll put way too much pressure on McMaryion against a solid Boise pass defense.
To be fair, I expect Fresno State to make this a competitive game. However, I think Boise State will have a lot more success running the ball, allowing them to control the game. With the conference title game being played in their home stadium, the Broncos will get the job done and cover the 2.5-point spread.