It took the Mountain West three months and an entire regular season to determine what the conference’s football media predicted back in July.
The Boise State Broncos, ranked No. 1 in the Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings, and the Fresno State Bulldogs, ranked No. 2, are going to the Mountain West championship game. The preseason division championship favorites will meet in the title game this Saturday (4:45 p.m., ESPN) at Boise State.
It’s the third time in the six years of the Mountain West championship game Boise State has hosted Fresno State. The Broncos won the first two, 28-14 in 2014 and 17-14 last season.
Boise State (10-2, 7-1) earned its spot in the title game with a 33-24 victory over No. 3 Utah State (10-2, 7-1) on Saturday to win the Mountain Division. The Broncos head into the championship game with a seven-game winning streak.
“We didn’t have enough when it mattered most,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
Boise State, whose winning streak started with a 31-27 win over Nevada at Mackay Stadium on Oct. 13, also beat No. 2 Fresno State, 24-17 on Nov. 19 at Boise State.
Broncos coach Bryan Harsin said Boise State’s vast experience in big games helped them on Saturday.
“When you get in these months, you get more confidence, and you know you’re capable of doing it,” Harsin said.
Utah State, trailing just 10-7, attempted a surprising fake punt on its own 34-yard line early in the second quarter. The Broncos stopped the play for no gain and scored a touchdown seven plays later.
“That’s on me,” Wells said.
Fresno State, also 10-2, 7-1, clinched the West Division a week ago. The Bulldogs rolled over No. 12 San Jose State (1-11, 1-7) on Saturday, 31-13, in a final tune-up before the title game. Fresno State, though, punted the ball four times and lost a fumble on its first five possessions of the game and led just 3-0 at halftime.
Bulldogs’ quarterback Marcus McMaryion completed 20-of-29 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns as Fresno State now has back-to-back seasons of 10 victories or more for the first time since 1988 and 1989.
The No. 4 Wolf Pack (7-5, 5-3) saw its four-game winning streak come to an end with a stunning 34-29 loss at No. 9 UNLV (4-8, 2-6). The Wolf Pack wasted an early 23-0 lead as quarterback Ty Gangi was intercepted three times.
The Rebels, which climbed a spot to No. 9, completely shut down the Wolf Pack offense in the second half, allowing just a field goal.
Hawaii (8-5, 5-3) climbed three spots to No. 5 with a 31-30 overtime victory over No. 8 San Diego State (7-5, 4-4) on the road. Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald passed for 452 yards and three touchdowns. His 10-yard scoring pass to JoJo Ward in overtime was the game-winner.
The Aztecs, which have now lost three in a row and four of five to plummet to No. 8 in the rankings, had a chance to tie the game in overtime but elected to go for a two-point conversion after cutting Hawaii’s lead to 31-30. Quarterback Ryan Agnew’s pass intended for Kahale Warring, though, fell incomplete.
Hawaii, which led 24-14 at halftime, had more first downs (22-21) and more yards (516-402) than the Aztecs. The Rainbow Warriors lost four in a row before beating UNLV and San Diego State to close out the regular season. Their three conference losses all came against teams ranked ahead of them (Fresno State, Utah State and Nevada) in the Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings. Hawaii, though, didn’t play top-ranked Boise State this season.
Wyoming (6-6, 4-4) stayed at No. 6 with a 31-3 victory over No. 11 New Mexico (3-9, 1-7). The Cowboys, which have now win four games in a row, became bowl eligible with the victory over New Mexico. A bowl game invitation, though, isn’t guaranteed for Wyoming as the Mountain West has seven bowl eligible teams and just five bowl tie-ins.
Wyoming, though, finished strong after losing four in a row earlier this season. “To be able to continue to not have doubt, to stay together and pull together, that’s the Cowboy way,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.
New Mexico ends its season with a seven-game losing streak. “To me, this was a beaten-down team playing a bigger, stronger, more powerful team,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said.
Air Force (5-7, 3-5) stayed at No. 7 with a 27-19 victory over No. 10 Colorado State (3-9, 2-6). Cole Fagan rushed for 260 yards on 34 carries for the third-most rushing yards in Air Force history.
“I look at the numbers and don’t believe it,” Fagan said.
“We couldn’t stop him,” Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said. “When you can’t stop the fullback in the option, you can’t stop the option.”
Air Force, which was whistled for just one penalty in the game, ran for 393 yards on 67 carries. Colorado State ran for 64 yards on 24 carries and had the ball for just 21:29.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings for the week of Nov. 26-Dec. 2 . . .
1. BOISE STATE (10-2, 7-1): Alexander Mattison rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries against Utah State. Last week: Boise State 33, Utah State 24. This week: Fresno State at Boise State, Saturday, Mountain West championship
2. FRESNO STATE (10-2, 7-1): KeeSean Johnson caught seven passes for 173 yards against San Jose State to become Fresno State’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,390). Last week: Fresno State 31, San Jose State 13. This week: Fresno State at Boise State, Saturday, Mountain West championship
3. UTAH STATE (10-2, 7-1): Quarterback Jordan Love passed for 363 yards and three touchdowns against Boise State but the Aggies rushed for just 62 yards on 19 carries. Last week: Boise State 33, Utah State 24. This week: Bowl game will likely be announced Dec. 2.
4. NEVADA (7-5, 5-3): Kelton Moore ran for 129 yards on 13 carries against UNLV and now has 36 carries for 238 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games against the Rebels. Last week: UNLV 34, Nevada 29. This week: Bowl game will likely be announced Dec. 2.
5. HAWAII (8-5, 5-3): Wide receivers Cedric Byrd (six catches, 140 yards) and JoJo Ward (six catches, 120 yards) gave the San Diego State secondary fits on Saturday. Last week: Hawaii 31, San Diego State 30 (OT). This week: Bowl game will likely be announced Dec. 2.
6. WYOMING (6-6, 4-4): Quarterback Tyler Vander Waal was just 4-of-17 for 41 yards through the air against New Mexico as the Cowboys rushed for 366 yards. Last week: Wyoming 31, New Mexico 3. This week: Bowl game will likely be announced Dec. 2.
7. AIR FORCE (5-7, 3-5): Air Force had 30 first downs against Colorado State and controlled the ball for 38:31. Last week: Air Force 27, Colorado State 19. This week: Season over.
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (7-5, 4-4): Aztecs’ running back Juwan Washington rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii. Last week: Hawaii 31, San Diego State 30 (OT). This week: Bowl game will likely be announced Dec. 2.
9. UNLV (4-8, 2-6): Quarterback Armani Rogers was 13-of-20 for 172 yards and three touchdowns through the air and rushed for 46 yards and two touchdowns against Nevada. Last week: UNLV 34, Nevada 29. This week: Season over.
10. COLORADO STATE (3-9, 2-6): Wide receiver Preston Williams caught 12 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns against Air Force. Last week: Air Force 27, Colorado State 19. This week: Season over
11. NEW MEXICO (3-9, 1-7): The Lobos lost by 28 points or more four times (and another time by 18) in their season-ending seven-game losing streak. Last week: Wyoming 31, New Mexico 3. This week: Season over.
12. SAN JOSE STATE (1-11, 1-7): Quarterback Michael Carrillo passed for 302 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State. Last week: Fresno State 31, San Jose State 13. This week: Season over.