Jeff Tedford has already engineered one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college football this season, taking No. 25 Fresno State from one win a season ago to the cusp of a Mountain West Conference title.
No matter the outcome of Saturday’s MWC championship game against Boise State, it’s been a highly successful first season for Tedford at his alma mater.
”No matter where we were to go, or who we were to play, the goal starting out is to have a chance to win the conference championship,” Tedford said. ”We have the opportunity right now to go compete for that. We have tremendous respect for Boise State. It’s about the game. It’s not about all the other things, the where, the what, all of that.”
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Fair or not, if the Bulldogs (9-3, 7-1 MWC, No. 25 CFP) are to cap their rebound season with the title it will mean besting the Broncos (9-3, 7-1) on their blue turf just a week after beating them in Fresno.
It’s a rare and unlikely scheduling quirk that saw the Bulldogs beat the Broncos 28-17 in the regular-season finale and then have to turn around and travel to Boise for the title game. The Broncos ended up hosting by having a higher ranking in the average of four computer rankings even though the Bulldogs are ranked in the AP Top 25 , the College Football Playoff and won the head-to-head regular-season meeting.
”It’s a new game, it’s a different game. I’m fully aware of their tradition there, they’re (Boise State) a great football team, and they’re very tough at home,” Tedford said.
According to Fresno State, this is just the second time since 1935 that teams have faced off in the regular-season finale and then the conference title game the following week. In 2012, Stanford and UCLA met in the final week of the regular season and again in the conference title game. Stanford won 35-17 in the regular season and 27-24 in the Pac-12 title game.
Fresno State would like to see that scenario repeated. Meanwhile, the Broncos aren’t about to apologize for getting an additional home game even if the Bulldogs seem more worthy of hosting.
”The body of work that we have put in this entire season earned us the opportunity to have this game at home, that’s the reality,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Here are other things to watch in Saturday’s rematch:
MARVELOUS MARCUS: One of the biggest reasons for Fresno State’s turnaround has been the emergence of transfer quarterback Marcus McMaryion. After starting his career at Oregon State, McMaryion has started the past nine games for the Bulldogs and led them to an 8-1 mark. McMaryion threw for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Broncos, including an 81-yard strike to KeeSean Johnson in the fourth quarter after the Broncos had trimmed the lead to 19-17.
GROUND CONTROL: Boise State saw its streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher extended to nine straight seasons when Alexander Mattison rushed for 63 yards last week, bringing his season total to 1,024. But it was the second straight week that Mattison had been held in check. He had just 42 yards in a victory over Air Force. Mattison is only two games removed from a career-best 242 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado State.
SCORING DEFENSE: While the improvement of the Bulldogs offense has drawn attention, their defense has been equally impressive. Fresno State has allowed more than 21 points to only one conference opponent; UNLV had 26 in the Bulldogs’ only conference loss. The Bulldogs shut out New Mexico, held San Diego State to three points and allowed just seven to Wyoming.
BEST OF MOUNTAIN WEST: Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was named the Mountain West defensive player of the year this week. He was third in the conference with 113 tackles along with three sacks and two interceptions. Vander Esch was the first Boise State defensive player to be honored as conference player of the year since Korey Hall in 2006.
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