For the third straight year, the Boise State Broncos are playing in the Mountain West Championship Game. This year, the no. 19 Broncos are taking on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Game time is at 4:00 EST on Saturday, December 7 on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Broncos as 14-point favorites with an over/under of 64 points. Don’t forget to check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
As mentioned, Boise State is no stranger to conference championship games, knocking off Fresno State to win the Mountain West crown in 2017 but losing last year’s rematch with Fresno in overtime. The Broncos have put together another fine season, entering Saturday’s championship game at 11-1, with their only blemish being a 3-point road loss to BYU. Despite three different quarterbacks seeing significant playing time during the season, the Broncos have been able to get through the Mountain West schedule without a loss. While there is plenty of competition for the one Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game, the Broncos can make a compelling case for a spot in the Cotton Bowl if they take care of business against Hawaii and win a conference title with a 12-1 record.
As for Hawaii, they are making their first appearance in the Mountain West Championship Game. The Rainbow Warriors haven’t so much as shared a conference title since splitting the WAC title with Boise State and Nevada in 2010, so getting to the conference title game is a big deal for them. Of course, head coach Nick Rolovich has taken the Rainbow Warriors to a bowl twice in the last three years, so Hawaii has been trending upward recently. This year, Hawaii started the season 4-1 with wins over Arizona and Oregon State and then finished the regular season with four straight wins to wrap up the West Division thanks to a win over San Diego State a couple of weeks ago.
Unfortunately, Hawaii hasn’t had much good fortune against Boise State over the years. In the 14 games that these two teams have played since the turn of the century, the Rainbow Warriors have just one win over Boise State. That lone win came in Honolulu back in 2007, giving the Broncos a 7-game winning streak over Hawaii. That includes a 59-37 win for Bryan Harsin’s team earlier this year when Hawaii paid a visit to Boise. Oddly enough, that 22-point deficit is the closest Hawaii has gotten to the Broncos since 2008.
Hawaii should be happy and proud to have reached the Mountain West Championship Game. Unfortunately, I think they’ll have to take solace in that when this game is over. The Broncos are a legitimate top-25 team and should take care of business at home against a team that’s a notch or two below them. I’ll admit that the line is big enough to make me think for a second, but I think the Broncos will end up covering.
My biggest concern with Hawaii in this game is their defense. The Rainbow Warriors are giving up close to 32 points per game this season. To be fair, they played three Pac-12 teams with plenty of offensive talent early in the year. Things also started to improve in November. However, five of their eight Mountain West opponents scored over 30 points against them, including Boise State, who hung 59 points against them. It’s hard to find a reason to believe things will be much different thing time.
As mentioned, the Broncos have gone through multiple quarterbacks this season, but that hasn’t changed much about the Boise offense. Senior Jaylon Henderson has started the last three games, tossing eight touchdown passes to just one interception during that time. The Broncos have averaged 43 points over those three games, which is actually above their season average. There’s also no reason to think that George Holani and the rushing game won’t continue to show up against the porous Hawaii defense and keep the Boise offense balanced.
To be fair, the Rainbow Warriors are no stranger to the end zone themselves. They are averaging over 35 points per game, primarily behind the arm of quarterback Cole McDonald. However, McDonald has slowed down late in the year, throwing just six touchdowns and three interceptions in his last five games. I’m also worried about Hawaii’s running game, which was stifled in the first meeting with Boise State outside of McDonald’s scrambling. The Rainbow Warriors also turned it over four times in that game, spoiling an otherwise impressive offensive effort in which they scored 37 points.
Having seen the Hawaii offense once this season, I think the Broncos will be better able to defend it this time around. That game was one of the worst performances by the Boise State defense this season, so they’ll be looking for some redemption. The Broncos have held teams to 20 points or less in half their games this year, and I don’t think it’ll be easy for the Rainbow Warriors to crack that barrier.
It’s also important to remember that the weather in Boise in December is different from the weather in October. The Rainbow Warriors, appropriately enough, are built for ideal weather conditions. If the weather forces Hawaii to run the ball more than they’d like, their offense becomes less potent. That should play to Boise’s advantage even more and is just another reason I think the Broncos will cover the 14-point spread and win another conference title.