Fresno St.-Boise St. Preview
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin was asked at his weekly press conference if his players are aware that a major bowl berth can be all but secured with another victory - and how they'll handle that type of pressure.
After reaching for his smartphone and noting they all possess a similar device that can access news instantly at the touch of its screen, Harsin said the 22nd-ranked Broncos can't avoid knowing that a victory in Saturday night's Mountain West championship game would likely put them in a coveted New Year's Day bowl spot.
He also made sure to point out, though, that they're not assuming a victory over improved Fresno State, the defending conference champion.
"We're aware of it," Harsin said. "But the only thing we know for a fact is that we get to play on Saturday night for a championship. All the speculation of where we could go for a bowl game, that doesn't really matter right now. We've done a good job of focusing on our opponent. Guys would be nuts if they're not focused on (Fresno State).
"I know it's cliché, but that's how we operate."
Boise State (10-2, 7-1) has won its last seven games, including a 37-27 home victory over the Bulldogs (6-6, 5-3) on Oct. 17. This matchup will be played on the same blue field of Bronco Stadium, yet carries significantly more importance for the home team.
Under the new College Football Playoff system, the highest-ranked conference champion from the Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American, American Athletic and Conference USA plays in the either Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Peach Bowl on Jan. 1.
As the only school among those conferences in the CFP rankings, Boise State would be expected to be that team if it wins this contest. It has averaged 53.2 points in the five games since defeating Fresno State and is coming off last week's 50-19 rout of Utah State, as first-team All-Mountain West running back Jay Ajayi rushed for career highs of 229 yards and five touchdowns.
"We're two teams that are playing a whole lot better," Harsin said. "I see a (Fresno State) team that has gone through ups and downs just like we have. They've won the games they've needed to win to get into this position, just like we have. You can take the records and throw those out.
"When we played them here at home, it wasn't a large margin of victory. We felt like we had played in a very physical game against a very good team. They'll be prepared."
The Bulldogs began the season 0-3 and got back to .500 before again losing three in a row, including the defeat at Boise State. But since being routed 45-17 by Wyoming on Nov. 1, they've won three straight and clinched the conference's West Division with last week's 28-21 win over Hawaii.
Brian Burrell threw for 127 yards against the Broncos and then completed just seven of 13 passes for 94 yards with two picks against Wyoming, but he's thrown eight touchdowns over the last three.
Martez Walker has rushed for at least 116 yards in five of his last six, including a season-best 164 and two touchdowns against Boise State. He he ran for 137 and scored twice in the first half against Hawaii.
"Not many people expected us to be here, especially after how we played in that Wyoming game," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "I'm really impressed with how our guys rallied. It just shows you through perseverance what you can do."
Fresno State will be looking to win its second straight conference title after beating Utah State in last season's inaugural Mountain West championship game.
"We're excited, and we're going to make the most of our opportunity," Burrell said.
Although Boise State has a major bowl berth at stake, DeRuyter isn't downplaying the ramifications for his squad. The Bulldogs are bowl eligible and hope to have another game added to their schedule as well.
"Guys know that if we play to what we're capable of, we can go toe to toe with anybody," DeRuyter said. "We had a really strange journey to get here, nothing that we would've ever scripted. Our guys know all year long this is the goal. We get a chance on Saturday to write the next chapter."
Stopping Ajayi appears to be the key for Fresno State. He ranks third in the nation in yards from scrimmage per game at 179.6 for a Boise State squad that's eighth nationally at 512.1.
The Bulldogs rank 10th in the 12-team conference with 468.9 scrimmage yards allowed per game.