Broncos return to Las Vegas after BCS snub

Boise State has led a bit of a charmed life in the bowl system -- until this year. The Broncos were snubbed by the BCS with a Top 10 ranking for the fourth time in eight years and for the first time since 2005 they are disappointed with their bowl situation. They were able to play ranked opponents in non-BCS bowls in 2010 and 2008 and go to Hawaii for a little vacation in 2007.

Boise State has led a bit of a charmed life in the bowl system -- until this year. The Broncos were snubbed by the BCS with a Top 10 ranking for the fourth time in eight years and for the first time since 2005 they are disappointed with their bowl situation. They were able to play ranked opponents in non-BCS bowls in 2010 and 2008 and go to Hawaii for a little vacation in 2007.

The Broncos finished No. 7 in the BCS this year and watched the Sugar Bowl select No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 13 Michigan, neither of which had particularly distinguished themselves this year.

Boise State (11-1) will face Arizona State (6-6) in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, the same game the Broncos won last year.

"It's disappointing," interim Athletic Director Curt Apsey said. "I think these seniors deserved a chance and I feel bad for them, I really do. But hey, it's a system that we live in and sometimes it's frustrating. ... We're very excited about Vegas and we're looking forward to the game. We're going to go down there and hopefully play well."

The game is a no-win proposition for the Broncos, in terms of their national image and ranking. A win is expected and any struggle against a 6-6 Pac-12 team will be considered a sign of weakness, even though the Sun Devils steamrolled No. 5 USC earlier this year.

What should motivate the Broncos is that this is the last game for 21 accomplished seniors who can set a school record by earning the 50th win of their careers. The group is 4-0 vs. current members of the Pac-12 -- beating Oregon in 2008 and 2009 and Oregon State and Utah in 2010.

Coach Chris Petersen, in fact, is 7-1 against BCS-conference teams. His loss was in 2007 against Washington. That also is the only time in Petersen's six seasons that the Broncos lost multiple games.

Arizona State should provide a decent test for a team that hasn't been challenged much this season. Georgia and Air Force hung with the Broncos but never threatened and TCU was able to pull out a 36-35 win in Boise. The rest of the games were blowouts.

NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Kellen Moore goes for win No. 50, which would put his FBS record almost out of reach. He is 49-3 in his career, including 2-1 in bowl games. He has completed a career-high 74.1 percent of his passes and thrown a career-high 41 touchdown passes this season. He's rewriting the Boise State record book and carving out a nice niche in the NCAA record book, and this game will finalize those numbers. He'll face a defense ranked 107th against the pass. "It's by far his best year," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "You talk about standards -- he set the standard for quarterback play throughout the country for four years."

--RB Doug Martin finished the season on a roll. If you remove two games in which he barely played because of a sprained ankle, he topped 100 yards in five straight games and scored 11 touchdowns in that stretch, including multiple TDs in each game. His total rushing yards in those games: 717.

--S George Iloka has started at cornerback the past two games after four years as the starting free safety. The move patched the team's hole at cornerback and the Broncos limited their last two opponents to 3.5 yards per play and less than 200 yards each. Junior cornerback Jamar Taylor might return for the bowl game, but it's unclear whether they would keep Iloka at cornerback in place of true freshman Lee Hightower or slide Iloka back to safety. Pass defense will be critical against an Arizona State offense that ranks 11th in passing (310.2 yards per game).

BOWL HISTORY: The Broncos are 7-4 in bowl games. This will be their 10th straight appearance. They beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas in the past two seasons. Arizona State will be the Broncos' first bowl opponent from a BCS conference since Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "These guys have a chance to win 50 games. Those expectations are totally unrealistic. You don't expect anyone to do that." -- Boise State coach Chris Petersen, on his senior class

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BOWL BREAKDOWN:
Scouting the running game:
The Broncos average 172.8 rushing yards per game and have been highly effective on the ground since getting off to a slow start. They have 23 rushing touchdowns in the past eight games and Doug Martin or D.J. Harper has rushed for 100 yards in seven straight games. In six of those games, one of them has scored multiple touchdowns. Martin is a physical, explosive runner who is a solid NFL prospect. "If we didn't have Doug, we probably would never run it and just let (quarterback Kellen Moore) throw it every down," coach Chris Petersen said.

Scouting the passing game: Quarterback Kellen Moore has thrown a school-record 41 touchdowns passes, including a school-record 15 to senior wide receiver Tyler Shoemaker. But Moore's secret this season has been his distribution. He has completed a pass to at least eight different receivers in every game. He hit 10 different receivers in the first half against New Mexico. That balance has allowed him to complete 74.1 percent of his passes, a career high by almost three points. The Broncos are 10th in the nation at 310.3 passing yards per game.

Scouting the run defense: The Broncos rank 22nd in rushing defense at 120.1 yards per game. They have limited their past four opponents to 318 yards and two touchdowns on the ground -- and 81 of those yards came on one play. Most notably, the Broncos limited TCU to 33 yards on 26 carries.

Scouting the pass defense: TCU exploited the Broncos' injured secondary to upset the Broncos in Boise and it took a few weeks for them to find the right combination. They moved free safety George Iloka to cornerback for the last two games of the regular season and that seems to have fixed the problem. The secondary will be tested by the Sun Devils, who are 11th in passing offense.

Scouting the special teams: The Broncos' special teams have dominated field position all season with fast, physical play. Special teams coach Jeff Choate is a finalist for the head job at Eastern Illinois, though, which could have an impact if he leaves before the bowl. The Broncos' special-teams flaw is well known -- kicking field goals.

Intangibles: Coach Chris Petersen is 9-2 in season openers and bowl games, which frequently have featured ranked opponents. He and his staff are creative when they have extra time to prepare and often hit opponents with something they're not expecting. Plus, senior quarterback Kellen Moore is one of the coolest players under pressure in the country.

ROSTER REPORT
--DE Tyrone Crawford didn't play
in the regular-season finale. He hit his head in the San Diego State game, played against Wyoming and was scratched against New Mexico. He is expected to play in the bowl game.
--Cornerbacks Jamar Taylor (leg) and Ebo Makinde (hamstring) might return for the bowl game. Taylor is a starter, and he has been missed.




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