It is almost but assured: win against New Mexico Nov. 23 at Bulldog Stadium, and Fresno State – ranked No. 14 in the BCS standings – will represent the West Division in the Mountain West Conference’s inaugural championship game on Dec. 7.
The title game is hosted at the home site of the divisional champion with the highest BCS ranking. The Bulldogs have been the only ranked BCS team in the conference this season.
The path to the conference championship game seems well-paved for Fresno State.
Win at home against the Lobos (3-6 overall, 1-4 in Mountain West play and fifth in the Mountain Division standings) and on the road against San Jose State (5-4, 4-2 in conference play and third in West Division standings) and the Bulldogs will have the rare delight of hosting a game at Bulldog Stadium in December – the Mountain West championship.
It’s simple. Just win.
The fuzziness in the Mountain West championship game picture lies on the Mountain Division side.
Technically, Utah State is first in the Mountain Division. The Aggies are 5-1 in the conference (6-4 overall) and currently own a half-game lead over Boise State, which beat the Aggies 34-23 on Oct. 12 to gain a tiebreaker advantage over the Aggies should the two teams finish the season with matching conference records.
But Utah State arguably has an easier remaining schedule – it has a bye this week and concludes the season with two home games against Colorado State (Nov. 23), which it will have had two weeks to prepare against, and Wyoming (Nov. 30).
None of that will matter if Boise State (6-3, 4-1 MWC) wins out – though that doesn’t seem like a certainty. The Broncos, who host Wyoming on Saturday after having last week off, finish the season at San Diego State and at home against struggling New Mexico.
Like last year, this season’s interdivision meeting between Boise State and San Diego State will have championship-altering ramifications.
Last season, Fresno State needed help to secure its first conference championship since winning a share of the Western Conference Athletic title in a three-way split.
San Diego State provided it in 21-19 road win against the Broncos, which created a three-way championship split between the Aztecs, Broncos and Bulldogs (who beat San Diego State but lost to Boise State) – squashing the idea of an outright champion.
This year, that won’t be the case. There won’t be a tie to end the conference’s season. An outright Mountain West champion will be crowned on Dec. 7.
But, again, it seems that this year’s meeting between the Aztecs and Broncos will affect the conference championship picture, with Fresno State being in the driver’s seat this time.
It should be noted: this was the San Diego State team that gave the Bulldogs all they could the past two seasons (a 52-40 come-from-behind shootout win at home in 2012 and a 35-28 overtime victory on the road this season for the Bulldogs).
Boise State, like Utah State, has been without its starting quarterback.
Fresno State isn’t counting its chickens before they hatch, with the goal to go 1-0 each week permeated within the psyche of the undefeated Bulldogs.
But unlike last year, Fresno State (9-0, 6-0 MWC) doesn’t need help to reach the conference championship.
It’s in control of its own destiny.