|No. 25 Boise State goes for seventh straight vs. Air Force|
Boise State, after a 2-2 start and lacking a marquee out-of-conference game the rest of the way, has been tucked away, out of sight and out of college football fans' minds.
And then the Broncos popped up at No. 25 on Tuesday night in the rankings of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
While many weren't paying attention, the Broncos (8-2, 6-0 Mountain West) ripped off six consecutive victories, including a 31-14 win at early-season darling San Diego State on Oct. 14 and a 59-52 overtime decision at Colorado State last Saturday, when Boise State overcame a 25-point deficit.
Boise State can clinch the league's Mountain Division on Saturday -- either with a Fresno State victory over Wyoming during the day, or by beating Air Force (4-6, 3-3) on Saturday night in Boise.
The Falcons have been a nemesis in recent seasons, winning three consecutive games against the Broncos, including 27-20 last season, when Air Force made a late goal-line stand and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. The loss, in the regular-season finale, prevented Boise State from playing in the league title game.
"No motivation needed as far as that goes," Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said about the matchup with Air Force.
"We respect their team tremendously. We respect their players tremendously because of who they are and where they're at and also because of the competition we've had every single year. This is always a good football team."
Boise State's six-game surge this season has coincided with the rise of sophomore running back Alexander Mattison. He has four 100-yard outings in the past six games after none through the 2-2 start.
Mattison blasted Colorado State last week for 242 yards on 23 carries. With an additional 44 receiving yards, he set a school record with 286 yards from scrimmage.
"He's a dude, man," junior quarterback Brett Rypien said after Saturday's game.
"I mean, he unbelievable. His ability to come back every single week -- everybody is banged up at this time of year and he's still running hard, putting his head down, running guys over. It's a testament to his character and his toughness. We're glad to have him."
Boise State leads the Mountain West with 33.9 points per game. Rypien, a two-time first-team all-conference quarterback has been up and down, but he helped direct the big comeback last week with two touchdown passes in the final 1:41 of regulation. He ended up completing 23 of 43 passes for 331 yards, with four touchdowns.
The Broncos also have effectively used Kansas transfer quarterback Montell Cozart as a running threat. He is second on the team with 329 rushing yards. He has completed 64.6 percent of his 82 passes.
"You look at how effective running Cozart has been, the way it stretches the repetition allocation you have in your preparation ... and yet he has completed a bunch of balls, too," said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.
The one to watch on Boise State's defense is junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, a former walk-on who has a team-high 99 tackles. He has forced three fumbles, intercepted two passes and has 5.5 tackles for loss.
Air Force has dropped two consecutive games, shut out by Army and losing 28-14 last week to Wyoming. The Falcons, with their triple-option attack, average 310.1 yards per game on the ground, fifth-best in the nation.
Junior quarterback Arion Worthman has completed 54 of 109 passes for 1,100 yards, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, in 10 games while leading the team with 821 rushing yards and 13 TDs on the ground.
He rushed for 80 yards last season against Boise State as part of a 314-yard ground game from the Falcons.
Air Force last season became the first team since Nevada from 1996 to 1998 to beat Boise State in three consecutive seasons.
"If we have to come out there and motivate guys to play in this game ... at home, Senior Night, there's a lot of things going into this game," Harsin said. "So, really, the motivational part of it, it should be there. If not, there's something wrong with us."
By appearing in this week's CFP rankings, Boise State extended its streak of appearing in one of the major polls to 16 years.
Boise State finishes the regular season next week at Fresno State. Depending on how Saturday's games go, that matchup could be a preview of the Mountain West title game a week later.