Utah State (9-3) at (25) Boise State (9-2) (ET)
GAME NOTES: In charge of their own destiny, the 25th-ranked Boise State Broncos can win the Mountain Division title in the Mountain West Conference with a victory over the Utah State Aggies in the regular-season finale on Saturday night.
Early on in the season it appeared as if the Broncos were headed for mediocrity, first losing to Ole Miss in the opener on a neutral field and then being tripped up by Air Force in their second conference game. After five games the team was just 3-2, but that's when the alarm went off.
Beginning with a 51-46 win against Nevada the first week of October, Boise State has been perfect in terms of the win column, putting up six consecutive victories while enduring some shaky play from time to time. Thanks to a 63-14 thrashing of Wyoming on the road last weekend, BSU not only entered the national rankings, it made the jump to No. 23 on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee Rankings as well, which means it is the highest-ranked squad outside of the Power 5 Conferences at the moment.
Just as important for the Broncos is the fact that they can earn a spot in the MWC Championship game in December with a win this weekend, in no need of any other team's help in order to make the leap.
As for the Aggies, they too still hold out hope for capturing the division title, but in order to make that happen they must not only defeat BSU, but have Air Force take down nationally-ranked Colorado State as well. Utah State, which has had to deal with several injuries at the quarterback position this season, has been rather hot in spite of all those issues, winning five in a row and seven of the last eight.
Last week, the team closed out its home schedule with a resounding 41-7 romp over San Jose State in order to move to 6-1 in conference play, matching both the Broncos and Rams in that department.
BSU leads the all-time series by a 14-4 margin, thanks in part to a 34-23 win in last year's clash on the road in Logan.
Apparently the Aggies have cornered the market on quarterbacks, having four different starters this season, each of whom could carry the squad to victory. The latest on that list is Kent Myers who not only converted 15-of-22 passes for 108 yards and a score, but also carried the ball four times for another 92 yards and three touchdowns in the rout of San Jose State.
On the ground, USU produced 313 yards and five TDs on 42 rushing attempts, easily dominating the Spartans.
"I thought our team played really well in the first half," said SJSU head coach Ron Caragher. "I think in the second half they wore us down. I am not an excuse-maker, but we've got some young guys playing and I think our guys played hard. Unfortunately it just got away in the second half."
Clamping down on the SJSU offense were Zach and Nick Vigil, the former posting 19 tackles, including 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and 1.5 sacks, the latter coming away with 12 stops and two TFL.
The Vigil boys have been a tremendous one-two punch for USU, combining for 236 tackles, of which 32.5 have been in the opponent's backfield. The duo has also accounted for 14 sacks, almost one-third of the unit's 43 sacks on the season. B.J. Larsen is responsible for 12.5 TFL and 8.0 sacks, even though he has made a total of only 31 stops.
Myers has completed an impressive 73.4 percent of his pass attempts for 127.8 ypg, resulting in five TDs and only a single interception, so if nothing else the youngster is not making major mistakes that could potentially cost the Aggies.
No matter who it has been under center for the Aggies, the logical target down the field has always been Hunter Sharp who has 61 catches for 898 yards and seven touchdowns. A solid backup option is JoJo Natson who has not only posted 46 catches for 437 yards and two TDs, he has also accounted for 461 yards and three TDs on just 41 rushing attempts.
Like the Aggies, Boise State made a major statement last week as it ripped through the Wyoming Cowboys as if they were not even on the field in Laramie. Quarterback Grant Hedrick missed just six of his 19 pass attempts, resulting in both 246 yards and three touchdowns, shredding the Wyoming defense at every turn.
On the ground, Jay Ajayi again grabbed some of the spotlight with 110 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts, adding another 92 yards and a score on just two receptions as well.
"Jay looked good," Boise State coach Bryan Harsin noted. "Guys did a great job blocking for him, but when he got between the backers and the safety, he looked fast and he hit hard."
Even the defense and special teams got in on the scoring for the Broncos, as Darian Thompson returned an interception 36 yards for a score and Donte Deayon brought back a punt 75 yards to the end zone.
"We were great in all three phases," Ajayi commented. "Defense, we scored. Offense, we scored. Special teams, we scored. That's really all you can ask."
For BSU, scoring on offense, defense and special teams was an accomplishment last achieved against Arizona State during the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl. Thanks to that all-around effort, the Broncos have now scored at least 50 points in four of the last six games, and that has elevated the squad to 40.0 ppg which ranks the group ninth in the nation this week.
Ajayi, who is a semifinalist for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, given annually to the top offensive player in collegiate football with ties to the state of Texas, has run for 126.4 ypg and a total of 19 touchdowns on the ground, not to mention coming up with 44 receptions for another 535 yards and four scores.
With the level of aggressiveness displayed by the Boise State defense lately, Myers has to be on top of his reads immediately or the hosts will make him pay for his indecision. On the other side, as long as Ajayi again refrains from putting the ball on the ground, another strong win should be in store for the Broncos this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Boise State 45, Utah State 28