Mountain West Championship Game Preview: Boise State at #24 San Jose State
Can San Jose State win its first MW title?
Will Boise go back-to-back?
Disclaimer: While this is a neutral game preview between two Mountain West Conference opponents, I am a Boise State graduate.
2020 has been an unpredictable year to say the least. Fittingly, the Mountain West will have an unusual matchup and location in the conference championship game. Boise State is back in the championship game for the 4th straight year and will look to defend its championship. The Broncos participation in this game is not too much of a surprise.
The same cannot be said for their opponent, the San Jose State Spartans, who are ranked and undefeated. San Jose State, by virtue of being ahead of Boise State in the computer rankings used by the conference, will host this matchup. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County, California, the game will be played in the Spartan’s temporary home of Las Vegas.
Due to the global pandemic and its effect on the college sports world, this season was anything but ordinary. Very few non-conference games took place and the Mountain West eliminated divisions for this season. Most teams in the conference did not play the same number of games due to COVID-19 related cancellations. San Jose State played six conference games and won them all while Boise State played five conference games and went undefeated there, but also suffered a brutal loss at home to #17 Brigham Young University early in the season.
Lastly of note, Boise State was set to host San Jose State earlier in the season and the Spartans did make the trip to Boise, but the Broncos had to cancel a few hours before kickoff because they did not have enough healthy players. These two teams will now face off this week in the conference championship game.
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, NV (this game is considered a home game for San Jose State)
When: December 19, 2020 — 1:30 PM Pacific/2:30 PM Mountain
Spread: Boise State -6.5
ESPN FPI Win Predictor: 68% Boise State Victory
Weather: 60°, partly cloudy with slight winds and no chance of rain
Stream: FuboTV – Get a free seven-day trial
Head to Head Record: Boise State 14 wins, San Jose State 0 wins
Previous Meeting: Broncos 52, Spartans 42 on November 2, 2019 in San Jose, CA
Mountain West Conference Titles: Boise State 4 (2019, 2017, 2014, and 2012*) *split championship, San Jose State 0
Boise State Season Rewind
Boise State opened up the season right where the left off last year with two easy conference victories versus Utah State and Air Force. However, there was a toll to be paid as Boise State suffered from numerous injuries and COVID-19 spread amongst the players. The Broncos were then humiliated on the Blue Turf against BYU by a score of 51-17.
Boise State recovered with wins against Colorado State and Hawaii, but the COVID19 spread became too much at that point and the Broncos were forced to cancel their next two matchups against San Jose State and Nevada, Las Vegas. The Broncos and head coach Bryan Harsin finished the season with a close road victory against Wyoming.
San Jose State Season Rewind
Head coach Brent Brennan has done a fantastic job in his four years at San Jose State and has taken a laughingstock program to national relevancy. Brennan was the MWC Coach of the Year winner in 2020.
The Spartans raced out to four straight conference victories against Air Force, New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV before COVID-19 reared its ugly head and forced back to back game cancellations against Fresno State and the Broncos. San Jose State was also sent packing from their own home due to local pandemic restrictions and relocated to Las Vegas.
The Spartans would then go to Hawaii for another win and finish their season with a statement victory against Nevada in a game that had a Mountain West Championship game berth on the line.
San Jose State currently sits at #24 in the College Football Playoff rankings, their first time ranked in the CFP. The Spartans also hold the 25th spot in both the Associated Press poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Meanwhile, the Broncos are on the outside of all three major polls but are receiving votes in both the AP and Coaches Poll. Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings, meanwhile, have Boise State at 33rd and San Jose State at 72nd nationally.
Predictions (my prediction can be found at the bottom of this article)
- Jeremy Mauss (Mountain West Wire Manager): San Jose State 28, Boise State 20
- Matt Kenerly (Mountain West Wire Editor): San Jose State 24, Boise State 23
- Erik Smiley (Mountain West Wire Boise State Contributor): Boise State 24, San Jose State 21
- Collin Clovis (Mountain West Wire Boise State Contributor): Boise State 34, San Jose State 17
- Matt Wadleigh (Mountain West Wire Fresno State Contributor): San Jose State 38, Boise State 34 (2OT)
- Josh Fredlund (Mountain West Wire Colorado State Contributor): San Jose State 27, Boise State 24
- Roger Holien (Mountain West Wire New Mexico Contributor): San Jose State 28, Boise State 24
- Ted McGovern (Mountain West Wire San Diego State Contributor): Boise State 42, San Jose State 38
- Logan Jones (Mountain West Wire Utah State Contributor): San Jose State 28, Boise State 27
- Jesse Tachiquin (Mountain West Wire Wyoming Contributor): Boise State 27, San Jose State 24
Broncos Offense Update and Notables
With so many teams playing so many different games this year, it is a bit harder to get a read for how a team is doing compared to the national average. With that being said, Boise State averaged 368 yards of offense and 36 points per game. Both numbers are down from a usually explosive Bronco offense. The Broncos showcased a balanced offensive attack with average of 245 yards through the air and 123 yards on the ground. Boise State had a +0.7 turnover differential on the year.
1) Hank Bachmeier, sophomore quarterback
Bachmeier has only played in four games this year and while his numbers were good, they were perhaps not the stats that some hoped for from the talented sophomore. Bachmeier had 929 yards on 116 attempts with an average completion percentage of 65.5%. Bachmeier also had six touchdowns for the year and only threw two interceptions. Bachmeier is not much of a threat to run the ball in the Boise State offense.
2) Khalil Shakir, junior wide receiver (all-conference 1st team)
Shakir can do a bit of everything and reeled in 634 yards through the air and picked up 152 additional yards on the ground, running the ball for a total of six touchdowns. Bachmeier has looked to Shakir over and over when the Bronco offense was sputtering and Shakir will need to have a big game in this contest for Boise State.
Broncos Defense Update and Notables
Boise State and San Jose State both showcase solid defenses. The Broncos have surrendered an average of 353 yards per game and 26 points. Boise State has allowed an average of 184 yards on the ground but has put the clamps on their opponent’s passing attack, allowing just 169 yards through the air per game.
1) Riley Whimpey, senior linebacker (all-conference 2nd team)
The senior linebacker led Boise State with 54 tackles, six of those for loss. Whimpey also had a sack and pass defended for the year and he will be counted upon to be a leader against San Jose State and keep the defense focused and locked in.
2) Jalen Walker, senior defensive back (all-conference 2nd team)
The senior cornerback will likely be matched up against San Jose State’s Bailey Gaither. If Walker can slow down Gaither himself, the Bronco defense will have some room for error. If Gaither can burn Walker, it might be a long night for Boise State. Walker does have good size for a defensive back and is known to play physically.