NCAA Football Mountain West Football

Five Keys to the Game: Fresno State Bulldogs at Boise State Broncos

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Fresno State (4-2) (2-0) at Boise State (4-1) (1-0) Sat 3:30 PM Eastern

Brian Losness-US Presswire

OK, so it isn't the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers. No one will mistake Saturday's game in Boise, Idaho as the Red River Rivalry also taking place this weekend.

Regardless of national attention, this is a big one. The biggest game in the Mountain West Conference to this point in 2012 features the Boise State Broncos and the Fresno State Bulldogs.

While the contest will not carry National Championship implications it will likely determine the Mountain West champ. With the Broncos currently ranked 24 in the AP Top 25 and 22 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, the ballgame will have a national ranking on the line as well.

The Dogs may not nab a national ranking with a win, but it will go a long way toward getting central California's premier program back on the map. The magnitude of Saturday's game is not lost on Fresno State first year head coach Tim DeRuyter who was quoted in the Chicago Tribune praising Boise State.

"They've done an excellent job up there in Boise and really have set the standard regardless of what league they've been in, that If you want to contend for a conference championship it has to go through Boise and our guys realize that."

Finally, the game Mountain West fans have circled on the calendar is here. Here are the five keys to the game.


James Gomez is a Pac-12 and Mountain West columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America. You can follow James on Twitter as well.

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5. Boise State's Youth Must Step Up

Andrew Weber-US Presswire

Broncos head coach Chris Petersen has 18 underclassmen on his two deep. How does the coach describe the youth on the BSU roster? Petersen told the media at his weekly presser its the unpredictability that worries him most.

"You just need young guys to step up, you know its scary, because the freshman are a little bit inconsistent, they're making progress. You aren't exactly sure what you are gonna get, but they are making progress."

Mental mistakes will kill the Broncos against an aggressive Dogs defense and versatile offense.

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4. The Broncos Might Want to Establish a Run Game

Brian Losness-US Preswire

If the Broncos are going to take pressure off quarterback Joe Southwick, picking up yards on the ground would be a good way to go. So far BSU is averaging 4.4 yards per rush. Starting RB D.J. Harper is right on the average with 4.5 a carry. Coach Petersen would like to see better run blocking. If Harper and freshman back Jay Ajayi can get in a rhythm, the Broncos chances will skyrocket.

There's talent at the running back position for BSU. Missed blocks resulting in tackles for loss, or short gains are a recipe for disaster. Southwick has yet to prove himself as a QB that can stay behind the chains and pick up first downs.

Needless to say, the Broncos' running backs have attracted the attention of Fresno State Defensive Coordinator Nick Roth especially the starter Harper. Roth told the Fresno Bee as much.

"I see a running back that is extremely special, that No. 7 (D.J. Harper) that they’ve got is a really good player..."

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3. Fresno State Scoring Early

Troy Babbitt-US Presswire

If Derek Carr can lead drives resulting in touchdowns early and often, that will force Southwick to throw the ball, giving the Dogs a big advantage. That is a big "if" because the Broncos have held their last three opponents scoreless in the first half. Yes, Fresno State is superior to the past three, but a close ballgame favors the home team.

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2. The Dogs Must Avoid The Blues

Kirby Lee-US Presswire

How good is Boise at home? Since 2000 no team has the best home winning percentage of any FCS program in the friendly confines. On the blue turf the Broncos have lost three games since 2000. Count it again, three.

During that stretch Fresno State has been walloped each visit with the Broncos putting up 67, 33, 45, 61, and 51 on the scoreboard. FSU has been outscored 257-68 in those past five trips to Boise if you're counting.

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1. Turnovers

Troy Babbitt-US Presswire

It's the easiest way to lose a game. Turnovers. I'll go out on a limb and predict that whoever wins the turnover battle will be the victor when the dust settles. No two programs are having as much success at forcing turnovers than the two in question. Fresno State is first in the FBS with 18 and Boise State is second with 17.

So who do I have? Check out my Mountain West predictions for the week. Game on!