No. 23 Fresno State, Boise State ready for big showdown

Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Marcus McMaryion will take aim at Boise State on Friday.Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

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No. 23 Fresno State and Boise State, again the cream of the Mountain West Conference, are headed for another showdown.

Fresno and Boise met in the conference championship game last season, and their matchup on the blue Boise turf Friday just might be a prelude to a return game, as it was in 2017.

Fresno State (8-1, 5-0 in the Mountain West West division) will bring a seven-game winning streak and a one-game division lead into the third game between the two teams in the last two years.

Boise State (7-2, 4-1 in the Mountain division) is one game behind Utah State in its division and will play the Aggies next week.

“We understand the matchup,” said Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, who has turned the program around in his two seasons.

“Our guys know what it is all about. We know what we’re up against with them. They are a class team, and we’re going to have to play our best.”

Fresno State beat the Broncos at home in the last game of the 2017 regular season but lost in the conference title game the following week in Boise.

The Bulldogs, whose only loss this season was at Minnesota, has maintained its success behind a staunch defense that has given up only 36 points in five league games and a smart offense led by senior quarterback Marcus McMaryion.

McMaryion leads the conference and is ranked No. 9 in the FBS in passing efficiency with a 165.4 rating. He has thrown for 2,416 yards and 20 touchdowns with only three interceptions, and he also has run for seven touchdowns.

The Bulldogs had 466 yards total offense in a 48-3 victory over UNLV last week, when McMaryion threw multiple touchdown passes for the sixth straight game.

“Their quarterback is playing great,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “They rely on him to play well, and he does. Makes good decisions, and he doesn’t take many sacks or put himself in bad situations.

“The guys around him are all doing their jobs, and that’s why they have the record they do and are in the position they are in now.”

Fresno State is ranked No. 14 in the nation in total defense, giving up an average of 307 yards a game, and is tied for second in the FBS while giving up only 12.3 points a game.

The Bulldogs can attack on defense, too — they are tied for the FBS lead with five defensive touchdowns, three fumble returns and two interception returns.

Tedford is doing his best to downplay the national attention.

“A number in front of our name doesn’t mean anything,” Tedford said. “It’s not going to make you play better.”

Fresno State’s defense will face its sternest test of the season in Boise State and senior quarterback Brett Rypien, who is ranked No. 14 in the FBS in passing efficiency with a 159.3 rating.

Rypien has thrown for 2,779 yards and 24 touchdowns with six interceptions. The Broncos are second in the Mountain West and 20th in the FBS in total offense with an average of 468.7 yards a game, 318.9 yards passing. Running back Riley Mattison has 726 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns for an offense that averages 38.0 points a game.

The Broncos will play without leading tackler linebacker Riley Whimpey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 21-16 victory over Brigham Young last week.

If things go normally, Rypien will become the Mountain West career leader in passing yards and completions during the first quarter against Fresno.

Rypien has thrown for 12,655 yards and has 95 completions, and he needs only 36 yards and five completions to pass former San Diego State quarterback and current No. 1 Ryan Lindley in both categories. Rypien has won 34 starts.

“He’s highly competitive,” Tedford said. “He’s really smart, understands what he’s doing, a very accurate passer. He can throw the deep ball, throws the intermediate ball really well, can scramble and extend plays. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”

Rypien was asked about his legacy early in the week.

“My legacy is all going to be about how the guys in the locker room thought about me,” he told the Idaho Statesman.

“We were able to win a championship last year. I wasn’t able to do it my first two years. Hopefully we can finish off strong this year. Ultimately it would be nice to have a storybook end to my senior season.”

The Broncos enter as a slight underdog, the first time that has happened in a conference home game since 1999.