Boise State, SJSU lead 2023’s final rankings

Nevada Appeal

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The computers might not agree but the San Jose State Spartans now feel like champions.

“What a football game,” Spartans coach Brent Brennan said after a 37-31 victory over the UNLV Rebels on Saturday night in Las Vegas. “What a special win. Really, really cool.”

The victory over the Rebels, as well as Boise State’s 27-19 win over Air Force, left San Jose State tied with UNLV and Boise State atop the Mountain West standings with a 6-2 league record to close out the regular season.

The Spartans, though, were the odd team out in the three-way tie because of a group of computer rankings and will watch Boise State play UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday in the conference championship game.

“There was a time when we were not playing in meaningful games in the month of November said Brennan, whose Spartans are No. 2 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings behind Boise State and ahead of UNLV. “But now we are.”

Brennan’s Spartans thought the win over UNLV would put them in the title game. The three-team tiebreaker went to the computer power rankings because UNLV and Boise State did not play each other in the regular season.

“Everyone was surprised the way it played out, especially because we had just beaten UNLV,” Brennan said. “But it was out of our hands.”

San Jose State won its last six games to finish the regular season at 7-5 overall.

“When we were 1-5 nobody gave us a chance except the guys in our locker room,” Brennan said.

The Spartans are one of seven Mountain West teams to qualify for a bowl game invitation, which are scheduled to be announced on Sunday.

“There was a time when I would walk around downtown in Spartans’ gear and nobody said a word,” said Brennan, who was 3-22 over his first two seasons (2017-18) as San Jose State’s head coach and is 31-25 since. “But now people come out of the woodwork to come up to me and love up the Spartans.”

UNLV (9-3, 6-2), an original member (1999) of the conference, now gets a chance to win its first Mountain West championship.

“I hate that we lost the game (against San Jose State),” said Rebel coach Barry Odom, who was named the league’s Coach of the Year earlier this week. “We couldn’t have started any worse (UNLV trailed 17-0). We got beat. It’s hard to say out loud.

“I don’t want anyone in that locker room to ever feel like coming up short is OK.”

No. 1 Boise State (7-5, 6-2) won its final two regular-season games after firing head coach Andy Avalos. This will be the Broncos’ seventh appearance (three wins) in the Mountain West title game. It will also be Boise’s sixth appearance in the last seven years.

“This week is about our players winning a championship,” interim head coach Spencer Danielson said. “It’s about this team and their pursuit.”

A Boise home crowd of 36,390, the largest ever for a Broncos’ regular-season finale, saw the win over Air Force. Boise State running back Ashton Jeanty scored on a 50-yard run and ran for 107 yards on 14 carries and caught five passes for 118 yards and another score.

“We didn’t quit,” said Jeanty, who was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year this week. “We fight. We don’t back down.”

Danielson, a Boise State assistant coach since 2017, heaped praise on the Bronco fans. Boise State was 4-5 before winning its final three games (the first win in the streak was by Avalos). 

“Bronco Nation, we’re all in this together,” the 35-year-old Danielson said. “That’s the beautiful part about Boise State. It’s a community. It’s not just a football team. They bleed blue, we bleed blue.”

No. 4 Air Force (8-4, 5-3) started the season 8-0 but lost quarterback Zac Larrier to a knee injury and lost its final four games. No. 6 Fresno State (8-4, 4-4) also started strong and fell into a slump, losing its last three games (33-18 to San Diego State on Saturday).

No. 10 San Diego State (4-8, 2-6) lost eight-of-nine games before beating Fresno State.

“There will be some more emotions,” said Aztec head coach Brady Hoke, who announced his retirement last week.

The Aztecs, despite the win over Fresno State, turned in their worst season since also finishing 4-8 under Hoke in 2009. Hoke was San Diego State’s head coach for six seasons (2009-10 and 2020-23) with a record of 40-32.

The Aztecs, though, sent him out a winner on Saturday in an emotional game.

“I told the kids, ‘When we kick off to start the game, we’re going to make a statement,” Hoke said. “And those guys went down the field and made a statement that we were going to be tough and do everything we could to get that Oil Can trophy (given to the winner of the Fresno State-San Diego State game).”

No. 5 Wyoming (8-4, 5-3) whipped No. 12 Nevada, 42-6, for its first road victory of the season.

“Our team was certainly ready to play,” Cowboys’ coach Craig Bohl said. “We’ve kind of had a bugaboo on the road. All of a sudden, we were Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde between home and road games. We just wanted to set the record straight and close out our regular season with a road win.”

Nevada finished 2-10 for the second consecutive season, its worst back-to-back seasons since moving to Division I-A (the FBS) in 1992. The Wolf Pack is the only team in the conference this year to win fewer than four games overall.

“2-10 is not acceptable,” said head coach Ken Wilson, now 4-20 as Nevada’s head coach. “I’m going to evaluate everything and talk to everybody in the next few days. I’ll evaluate the head coach first. I’ve got to do a better job. We’ll then start to worry about what changes we’re going to make, whatever we have to do to get this moving forward.”

No. 7 Utah State (6-6, 4-4) outlasted No. 11 New Mexico (4-8, 2-6), 44-41. New Mexico fired head coach Danny Gonzales (11-32 in four seasons) the following day.

No. 8 Hawaii (5-8, 3-5) beat No. 9 Colorado State (5-7, 3-5) on a last-second 51-yard field goal by Matthew Shipley. Colorado State tied the game at 24-24 on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi to Tory Horton with 54 seconds left.

“I’m devastated by this,” Colorado State safety Henry Blackburn said. “There’s been so many times this season when it came down to the wire. We know we can play with anybody in the country. We just have to learn how to finish games and learn how to win.”

“We have to be better,” said Jay Norvell, now 8-16 in two seasons as Colorado State coach. “That’s the bottom line. And it starts with me.”

The final Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings for the 2023 season:

1. BOISE STATE (7-5, 6-2). Last week: Boise State 27, Air Force 19. This week: Mountain West championship: Boise State at UNLV, Saturday.

2. SAN JOSE STATE (7-5, 6-2). Last week: San Jose State 37, UNLV 31.

3. UNLV (9-3, 6-2). Last week: San Jose State 37, UNLV 31. This week: Mountain West championship: Boise State at UNLV, Saturday.

4. AIR FORCE (8-4, 5-3). Last week: Boise State 27, Air Force 19.

5. WYOMING (8-4, 5-3). Last week: Wyoming 42, Nevada 6.

6. FRESNO STATE (8-4, 4-4). Last week: San Diego State 33, Fresno State 18.

7. UTAH STATE (6-6, 4-4). Last week: Utah State 44, New Mexico 41.

8. HAWAII (5-8, 3-5). Last week: Hawaii 27, Colorado State 24.

9. COLORADO STATE (5-7, 3-5). Last week: Hawaii 27, Colorado State 24.

10. SAN DIEGO STATE (4-8, 2-6). Last week: San Diego State 33, Fresno State 18.

11. NEW MEXICO (4-8, 2-6). Last week: Utah State 44. New Mexico 41.

12. NEVADA (2-10, 2-6). Last week: Wyoming 42, Nevada 6.


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