Boise State running back Andrew Van Buren leads the team on to the field carrying the Dan Paul Hammer before the Nov. 20, 2021 game against New Mexico in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)
The more things change in the Mountain West, the more they seem to always revert back to the Boise State Broncos.
The Broncos, nearly out of the Mountain West football championship picture just a month ago, are now squarely back in the conversation heading into the final week of the regular season.
Boise State, ranked No. 3 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings, whipped No. 12 New Mexico 37-0 this past weekend and now have a chance to win the Mountain Division along with No. 2 Air Force and No. 7 Utah State.
The Broncos, though, were 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Mountain West after a 24-17 loss to Air Force on Oct. 16. Since then, however, Boise State has won four in a row and is now 7-4, 5-2.
“We have a lot more to accomplish,” Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir said after catching seven passes for 116 yards and a touchdown against New Mexico. “We’re not done yet.”
The Broncos, which have lost only one game to a Mountain Division team (Air Force), do have the toughest road to a division title this week, having to play at No. 1 San Diego State at Carson, Calif., on Friday. Also on Friday, Utah State (8-3, 5-2) will be at No. 12 New Mexico and Air Force (8-3, 5-2) hosts No. 10 UNLV.
San Diego State (10-1, 6-1) got past No. 11 UNLV last weekend, winning 28-20. The Aztecs, though, might need to beat Boise State this Friday to secure the West Division title over the Fresno State Bulldogs. The No. 4 Bulldogs (8-3, 5-2) will be at No. 8 San Jose State on Thanksgiving and would win a tiebreaker with San Diego State because of its 30-20 win over the Aztecs on Oct. 30.
Boise State, whose four-game win streak is the longest current streak in the Mountain West, just wants to finish the year strong after its difficult first two months.
“We just have to keep working and keep growing,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “We have played a lot of young players this year and we are building that dependable depth that we’ve been talking about for a long time. We have to keep doing that.”
San Diego State, coming off a 23-21 win over Nevada two weeks ago, struggled to put UNLV away last Saturday. Jesse Matthews’ third touchdown catch of the game with 3:33 to play gave the Aztecs a 28-20 lead but San Diego State’s defense needed an interception by Seyddrick Lakalaka with 1:45 to play to help secure the victory. The Aztecs offense then killed off the final 1:45 to complete the victory.
The Aztecs had just 15 first downs and were out-gained by UNLV 394-290. San Diego State also needed a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown from Andrew Eleki in the first quarter to help beat the Rebels.
“I don’t think we played Aztec football, especially on the defensive side,” San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke said. “We’ve got to do a better job.”
The Rebels got 372 yards and two touchdowns combined from quarterbacks Justin Rogers and Cameron Friel. Wide receiver Steve Jenkins caught five passes for 176 yards.
“These guys fought, they’ve been tough and they’re growing,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said.
No. 2 Air Force beat Nevada in three overtimes, 41-39, at Mackay Stadium to keep its Mountain West title hopes alive. The Falcons, now 5-0 on the road this season, controlled the game until the fourth quarter, leading 24-10, until the Wolf Pack rallied with two late scores.
“I’m real disappointed for our seniors that we couldn’t win this game for them,” said Nevada coach Jay Norvell, whose Wolf Pack have lost to both San Diego State and Air Force the past two weeks with a division title on the line.
The No. 5 Wolf Pack is now just 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the Mountain West with all three league losses coming by two points each.
“That’s tough to swallow,” said Norvell, who will head into his sixth season at Nevada next year looking for his first Mountain West division title. “The last two weeks have been tough.”
The three losses is the most the Wolf Pack has had in the Mountain West since it went 4-4 in 2019 in league play.
The Wolf Pack has lost three of its last five games after winning 12 of its previous 15 games.
No. 4 Fresno State (8-3, 5-2), which also beat Nevada earlier this season, had a bye last week and will head to San Jose State on Thanksgiving with a chance to win the West Division.
The No. 6 Wyoming Cowboys pulled off the biggest upset last weekend in the Mountain West, destroying No. 7 Utah State, 44-17. Utah State was in position to win the Mountain Division with a victory over Wyoming last week and No. 12 New Mexico this Friday.
“We played hard but we didn’t play well,” Utah State coach Blake Anderson said. “We made way too many mistakes. We basically just got shoved around on the defensive line and the offensive line.”
Wyoming scored the final 20 points of the game and out-gained Utah State, 604-362. The Cowboys, led by Titus Swen’s touchdowns of 98 and 43 yards, rushed for 362 yards. The 98-yard run is the second longest in Mountain West history behind only San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman, who went 99 yards against Wyoming in 2011.
“It was our most complete game of the year,” said Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, whose Cowboys (6-5, 2-5) became bowl eligible with the victory.
No. 8 San Jose State (5-6, 3-4) and No. 9 Hawaii (5-7, 2-5) could also join Air Force, Utah State, Boise State, Wyoming, San Diego State, Fresno State and Nevada as bowl eligible teams with a victory this week. Colorado State (3-8, 2-5), New Mexico (3-8, 1-6) and UNLV (2-9, 2-5) could be the only Mountain West teams not eligible for a bowl this season.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West football rankings for the week of Nov. 22:
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (10-1, 6-1). Last week: San Diego State 28, UNLV 20. This week: Boise State at San Diego State, Friday.
2. AIR FORCE (8-3, 5-2). Last week: Air Force 41, Nevada 39 (3 OT). This week: UNLV at Air Force, Friday.
3. BOISE STATE (7-4, 5-2). Last week: Boise State 37, New Mexico 0. This week: Boise State at San Diego State, Friday.
4. FRESNO STATE (8-3, 5-2). Last week: Bye. This week: Fresno State at San Jose State, Thursday.
5. NEVADA (7-4, 4-3). Last week: Air Force 41, Nevada 39 (3 OT). This week: Nevada at Colorado State, Saturday.
6. WYOMING (6-5, 2-5). Last week: Wyoming 44, Utah State 17. This week: Hawaii at Wyoming, Saturday.
7. UTAH STATE (8-3, 5-2). Last week: Wyoming 44, Utah State 17. This week: Utah State at New Mexico, Friday.
8. SAN JOSE STATE (5-6, 3-4). Last week: Bye. This week: Fresno State at San Jose State, Thursday.
9. HAWAII (5-7, 2-5). Last week: Hawaii 50, Colorado State 45. This week: Hawaii at Wyoming, Saturday.
10. UNLV (2-9, 2-5): Last week: San Diego State 28, UNLV 20. This week: UNLV at Air Force, Friday.
11. COLORADO STATE (3-8, 2-5). Last week: Hawaii 50, Colorado State 45. This week: Nevada at Colorado State, Saturday.
12. NEW MEXICO (3-8, 1-6). Last week: Boise State 37, New Mexico 0. This week: Utah State at New Mexico, Friday.