FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Boise State football is back in the national rankings for the 16th consecutive season.
To stay there come the college football bowl season, the Broncos will have to beat its biggest rival. Twice.
The No. 25 Broncos (9-2, 7-0 Mountain West, No. 23 CFP) finish the regular season Saturday at Fresno State (8-3, 6-1). Win or lose, they will play the Bulldogs again Dec. 2 in the Mountain West Conference championship game - most likely to be played in Boise, Idaho, no matter the results at Bulldog Stadium.
“The fact is we’re going to play two games and we’d like to win both those games,” Broncos coach Bryan Harsin said. “If we’re iffy on, ‘Let’s just win one of the two and we’ll make the second one most important,’ then I think we’ve completely derailed everything we’re trying to accomplish throughout the season.”
The Broncos are back in the Top 25 after winning seven straight games since a 2-2 start.
Even if they lose, they are very much in control of their postseason destination. A loss to Fresno State will give them identical records overall and in the conference, but the tie does not go to the head-to-head winner.
The Mountain West championship game host would go to the team with the best composite computer score among four digital rankings: the Wolfe Ratings, Anderson & Hester Rakings, Colley Matrix and the Billingsley Report.
Boise State holds an average ranking lead of 22.5-to-43.8 over Fresno State.
“I’m not going to get too involved in it,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “We’re just going to prepare to play and anticipate going on the road to play. It’s unfortunate for the fans, I will tell you that.”
Fresno State fans won’t complain too much. Last year, the Bulldogs were 1-11 for the worst record in program history dating to 1921. Tedford has led them to a seven-win turnaround in his first season that is best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Here are other things to watch:
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Fresno State brought back former Bulldogs quarterback Tedford in the offseason, and what did the offensive guru deliver? The Mountain West’s No. 1 scoring defense from a cast of players that allowed 30-plus points eight times last season. This year’s unit is allowing 17.3 points per game, good for 12th in the nation. Only Alabama and Washington have breached the 30-point mark. Boise State leads the conference with 34.8 points per game, so this will be a tough test.
FAVORITE TARGET: Boise State senior receiver Cedrick Wilson clinched his second 1,000-yard season while playing through a shoulder injury. His 57 catches are a career best, making him the preferred target of quarterback Brett Rypien, who leads the conference by completing 63.9 percent of his passes. Wilson joined Titus Young (2009-10) and Thomas Sperbeck (2015-16) as the only Broncos with two 1,000-yard seasons.
QUARTERBACK PLAY: Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion, a summer transfer from Oregon State, was just the quarterback Tedford needed to create his brand of efficient offense. McMaryion is comfortable throwing short check-down passes when the coverage is strong, mobile enough to buy time in the pocket for routes to develop, and strong-armed enough to get the ball over the top of defense for home-run throws. A trio of running backs, led by diminutive freshman Ronnie Rivers, serves to set up his passing game.
FIERCE RIVALS: This remains one of the great grudge matches outside the Power Five establishment. Boise State ruined the 2001 Fresno State’s bid for a BCS Bowl under quarterback David Carr, and the teams have tangled from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference ever since. The Bulldogs look to end a 21-game losing streak to top-25 teams dating to 2004, and are 0-8 against ranked Broncos teams.
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