Participating in the postseason for the 10th straight year, the Boise State Broncos find themselves locked up against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the 20th annual Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium in Sin City.
Already 1-0 in this particular bowl, the Broncos had hoped for a better placement in the postseason seeing as how they finished with a record of 11-1, are ranked eighth in the AP poll and seventh in the BCS standings, but once again Boise State had to bow to the powers that be and accept an invitation to a game that doesn't truly reflect their accomplishments on the field in 2011. Nevertheless, head coach Chris Petersen has tried to put on a happy face when talking about the meeting with Arizona State.
"We are excited about returning to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and to again face a tough opponent like Arizona State," Petersen said after the school accepted the invitation. "We had a great bowl experience last year and I know the hospitality for our team and fans will again be outstanding. This senior class is excited about playing in another bowl and they will work hard in getting the team ready for the game."
But make no mistake, the usually soft-spoken head coach has made it clear that he feels the BCS, like so many other coaches and officials, needs an overhaul in order for it to better serve teams outside of the automatic qualifying conferences, especially since this is the fourth time that Boise State has finished in the top 10 of the BCS rankings and been passed over for one of the elite, more profitable, bowl games.
"Everybody is just very tired of the BCS...I think that's the bottom line. Everybody is frustrated. Everybody doesn't really know what to do anymore. It doesn't make sense to anybody. I don't think anybody is happy anywhere."
Over on the other side, a team like the Sun Devils has to be happy just to be asked to participate in the postseason, given what has gone on in Tempe during the course of this season.
Arizona State appeared to be well on its way to making a big splash during 2011, winning six of the first eight games on the schedule, but then the bottom fell out and the squad limped to a mediocre 6-6 finish following four consecutive defeats to Pac-12 Conference opponents. Playing in their 25th bowl game since 1940 and sporting a record of 12-11-1 after losing the most recent postseason outing, 52-34 to Texas in the 2007 Holiday Bowl, the Sun Devils are trying to close out the campaign on a positive note and send head coach Dennis Erickson, who was fired at the end of November, out with one last victory.
"The goal at the beginning of the year for any college football team is to play in a bowl game," coach Erickson said after ASU accepted the bid to play against the Broncos. "I am so proud of our players and my coaching staff. We are grateful to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and the city of Las Vegas for giving us this opportunity. We are honored to be a part of it. We are playing one of the nation's top teams in Boise State as well."
Already ASU has a new head coach lined up for next season in Todd Graham, but even that hire has raised a few eyebrows given his nomadic journey over the last few years which has seen him make stops at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh, the job with the Panthers lasting just one season and ending with Graham texting his players about his leaving.
With regard to an all-time series between these two programs, this is just the second meeting after a 56-7 blowout win for the Sun Devils back in 1996 when they were ranked fifth in the nation. For the Broncos, a positive angle is the fact that they've put together a three-game win streak against opponents from the Pac-12 Conference, the most recent of those triumphs coming against nationally-ranked Oregon State last season (37-24).
Boise State, which has a bowl record of 7-4 thanks to a 26-3 rout of Utah here last season, played on this very field the first week of November and crushed UNLV by a score of 48-21 in Mountain West Conference action.
This season, the Sun Devils put most of their faith in their passing attack as Brock Osweiler threw for an average of 303.4 ypg and delivered 24 touchdowns, spreading the wealth among many receivers. Gerell Robinson and Jamal Miles were the top two targets down the field as they reeled in 64 and 60 passes, respectively, both of them landing in the end zone six times. However, the big difference between the two was that Robinson generated 1,156 yards, compared to a mere 361 yards for Miles.
On the ground, the program leaned heavily on Cameron Marshall who logged 1,038 yards and 18 TDs on 219 carries, ranking sixth in the conference with 86.5 ypg, but still the Sun Devils placed just 78th nationally as a whole with an average of 140.8 ypg rushing.
The pass defense had its problems this season as the ASU secondary surrendered 270.9 ypg to rank 10th in the conference and 107th in the country, even as Clint Floyd and Alden Darby tied for the team high with three interceptions apiece. Another player capable of creating turnovers for the Sun Devils was Colin Parker who not only forced four fumbles, he also placed second on the team with 67 total tackles.
While the Sun Devils were just barely getting by, Boise State was again showing why it is one of the top non-AQ programs in the nation, thanks to the efforts of quarterback Kellen Moore who already holds the record for most career wins in college football as a starting quarterback with 49. Now second on the all-time NCAA TD passing list with 140, Moore set school records with 41 TDs and 300 completions this season for the Broncos and was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year in the team's first campaign in the league since coming over from the Western Athletic Conference. A finalist for both the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Maxwell Awards, and a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, Moore made it look easy for the Broncos as they suffered just one loss, a 36-35 setback to TCU, on the season.
Behind one of the top offensive lines in the nation, which allowed a mere 0.67 sacks per game, Moore was able to sit back and pick apart defenses with ease, and when he wasn't the one holding the ball it was running back Doug Martin who was taking care of business with his 1,148 yards and 15 TDs on the ground. After missing almost two complete games in early November, Martin bounced back to post three straight contests with at least 100 yards and a pair of rushing TDs.
There were a couple of stumbling blocks for the BSU defense this season as the team allowed 36 and 35 points in back-to-back outings against TCU and San Diego State, yet the group still finished first in the MWC and 10th in the country in points allowed at 18.3 ppg. The run defense permitted just 120.1 ppg, again first in the conference, but some of that had to do with the fact that so many opponents were being forced to come from behind on a regular basis and could not afford to chip away at huge Boise State leads and watch time run off the clock.
Nevertheless, the pass defense still stood tall for the Broncos as 11 different players recorded an interception, tying the team with Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State for the most in the country. With 14 picks overall, the Broncos ranked 24th nationally and some of that credit has to be given to guys like Tyrone Crawford and Shea McClellin, who were applying pressure along the line of scrimmage and finished with 6.5 and 6.0 sacks, respectively.