MWC Championship Game Pits Strength vs. Strength
By Ken Pomponio
The Mountain West Conference championship game is upon us, but the road here didn't exactly follow the map.
We didn’t get the anticipated Boise State-Fresno State rematch; instead it’ll be the West Division champion Bulldogs hosting Mountain Division winner Utah State.
There are no BCS bowl implications on the line either as Fresno State’s perfect season — not to mention a potential MWC windfall — was wiped away in a 62-52 loss last Friday to San Jose State.
So what’s there to look forward to Saturday evening in Fresno?
Plenty, you’ll discover, as we break things down...
Who: Utah State (8-4, 7-1 MWC) at Fresno State (10-1, 7-1)
When: 7 p.m. PT Saturday
Where: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, Calif.
Odds: FSU -3.5; O/U 60
Coaches: Matt Wells (8-4 in first season with USU); Tim DeRuyter (19-5 in second season at FSU)
Series History: FSU leads, 16-10-1, including a 12-2-1 mark and 11 straight in Fresno
Last Meeting: FSU beat visiting USU, 31-21, on Oct. 15, 2011
USU Players To Watch: Fr. QB Darell Garretson (5-0 as starter since taking over for the injured Chuckie Keeton); Sr. TB Joey DeMartino (Fifth in MWC with 85.3 rushing yards per game); Sr. LB Jake Doughty (Third in MWC, Eighth in FBS with 10.8 total tackles per game)
FSU Players To Watch: Sr. QB Derek Carr (leads FBS with 405.6 passing yards per game and 45 TD passes); Soph. WR Davante Adams (leads FBS with 113 receptions and 22 TD catches); Jr. FS Derron Smith (tied for MWC lead with five INTs)
Numbers To Know: 12 – straight home wins for FSU; 11 – consecutive road victories for USU vs. conference opponents; 47.3 – points per game for FSU, which has scored at least 35 in each of its 11 contests; 16.6 – points per game allowed by USU, which hasn’t allowed more than 34 in any one outing.
The Case For USU: With the Bulldogs’ perfect run ruined and their FBS hopes dashed, the Aggies might be catching them at the perfect time. In any case, the weakest unit on the field is the FSU defense, which allows a walloping 436.9 yards per game to rank 100th nationally, and even without Keeton, Utah State can take advantage.
The Case For FSU: Letdown? Playing one more game in front of the Red Wave will be sure to lift the Dogs’ spirits as Fresno averaged a MWC-leading 37,843 fans per home game. The Aggies, meanwhile, took full advantage of a weak conference schedule, beating the likes of New Mexico, Hawaii and Wyoming, to overtake Boise State during a closing 5-0 stretch, but the Bulldogs will prove to be a different beast.
Prediction: The after-effects of the SJSU loss will linger early for Fresno, but it’s hard to see Carr coming up short in his home finale, even against the best defense he’s encountered all season. Fresno State, 34-30.