When Boise State was sitting at 3-2 for the second straight season, the idea of being in position to host the Mountain West Conference title game seemed far-fetched.
Yet the 23rd-ranked Broncos only need wins over New Mexico on Friday night and No. 14 Utah State next week and the conference title game will be decided on the blue turf.
The matchup against Utah State could have major implications for not just the conference but the New Year’s Six bowl games. But the game against the Aggies only takes on that magnitude if the Broncos don’t stumble in Albuquerque.
“A lot of work goes into where we are right now, it’s a chance to finish it right and it starts with New Mexico this week,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “It’s a matter of fact, we know what our goal is, to play in that championship game, and you have to win games to get into it.”
The Broncos (8-2, 5-1 MWC) have won five straight and find themselves with a shot at the conference title thanks to last week’s 24-17 win over Fresno State. The Broncos trailed 17-3 at one point, before scoring the final 21 points of the game and ending Fresno State’s perfect run in conference play.
They may end up seeing the Bulldogs again in the conference title game. But it Boise State gets there, last week’s victory ensured it would be a home game.
“Every year you have to find a way to win your division to put yourself into that game,” Harsin said.
The Broncos’ rally was largely due to the running of Alexander Mattison. In the biggest game of the season to date, Mattison came through with 144 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the best defense in the Mountain West. Mattison rushed for 91 yards in the second half and the Broncos got the big throw they needed from Brett Rypien when he hit Khalil Shakir on a 49-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter for the deciding points.
While Boise State is rolling toward the end of the season, New Mexico (3-7, 1-5) is floundering. The Lobos have lost five straight, including last week’s 42-24 loss at Air Force. The Lobos were competitive in losses to San Diego State and Colorado State but were blown out by Utah State and Fresno State, and last week wore down against the Falcons.
“I think we’ve played hard. We haven’t been consistent enough probably because we’re not good enough truthfully,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “And we have two weeks here to hopefully put our best performances together to win a game or two here at the end.”
Here are other things to know heading into the 10th all-time meeting between the schools:
BRONCO RALLY: Last week’s win over Fresno State was notable because of how rare it’s been for Boise State to face a big deficit at home. It was the first time the Broncos overcame a deficit of 14 or more points at home since the 2014 season, when San Diego State built a 20-0 lead only to see Boise State rally for a 38-29 victory.
QB QUESTION: New Mexico intends to use both Sheriron Jones and Coltin Gerhart at quarterback against the Broncos. Jones has been the primary passer, throwing for 1,311 yards and 13 touchdowns, but Gerhart got the start against Air Force and has played significant snaps in each of the past three games.
LEFT TURN AT ALBUQUERQUE: While New Mexico pulled a stunning upset in 2015, winning 31-24 in Boise, the Broncos have mostly enjoyed their trips to Albuquerque. Boise State has averaged 43 points per game in four games at New Mexico since becoming Mountain West members. Boise State scored 60 in 2014 and 49 in its last trip to Albuquerque.
RECORD SETTER: New Mexico right guard Aaron Jenkins will set a school record for most games played on Friday night. Jenkins will play in his 51st career game when the Lobos host Boise State. He was injured two games into his freshman season and earned a medical redshirt, allowing him to play as many games as he has. Jenkins has started 48 consecutive games.
“To be able to have that kind of consistent career that he’s had … he deserves every bit of recognition that he’s gotten,” Davie said.
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