Unable to rattle the BCS this year, the Boise State Broncos find themselves in the Las Vegas Bowl for the third straight year, facing yet another representative from the Pac-12 Conference in the Washington Huskies this Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
"We are excited to return to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and face the University of Washington," Bronco head coach Chris Petersen stated. "Coach (Steve) Sarkisian and his staff do an excellent job in preparing their team and we look forward to the challenge of playing a Pac-12 opponent for the second straight year."
Coach Petersen, the winningest active coach at the Football Bowl Subdivision level with a record of 83-8 (.912), has the Broncos playing in the postseason for the 11th straight year. One of only 10 teams in the nation to have a streak that stretches into double digits, Boise State enters the contest with a record of 10-2 overall and a mark of 7-1 in Mountain West Conference play, which was enough to give the program a share of the league's regular season title.
The only two defeats for the Broncos this season came in the opener against Michigan State on the road, 17-13, and a rare home loss to San Diego State, 21-19, in early November which prevented the team from truly shaking up the BCS once again.
As for the Huskies, a team which defeated the aforementioned SDSU Aztecs in the season opener at home, 21-12, they barely made the cut in terms of being bowl eligible. After losing three straight to the likes of Oregon, USC and Arizona, the team managed to post four consecutive league victories before bowing to Washington State on the road, 31-28, in overtime in late November. Washington finished fourth in the Pac-12 North with a mark of 5-4 in league play and 7-5 overall.
The Huskies have a deep history when it comes to bowl games, reaching all the way back to the 1924 Rose Bowl which ended in a 14-14 tie versus Navy. The squad took part in one of the most exciting postseason outings in recent memory just last year when they battled Baylor and Robert Griffin III in a 67-56 loss in the Alamo Bowl.
Washington, which has a record of 16-15-1 in bowl games, is competing in the postseason for the third straight year after a lengthy break following a 34-24 setback versus Purdue in the 2002 Sun Bowl.
"I think that we've found a formula that has been pretty successful, we've performed well in previous bowls," Sarkisian said of his team's trip to Sin City. "When it's football time, it's football time and we'll be locked in and focused for that. We'll enjoy ourselves in the parameters that are set for us. At the end of the day like I said earlier, we are going there to win the game and that is the purpose of this trip."
Boise State has a record of 8-4 in the postseason, dating back to the 1999 Humanitarian Bowl and a 34-31 victory over Louisville. The Broncos have a pair of impressive Fiesta Bowl wins to their credit, one against TCU (17-10) in 2010 and then the monumental 43-42 overtime affair versus Oklahoma that finally gave the program some much-deserved exposure on a national scale.
Last year, the Broncos crushed Arizona State in this same event by a score of 56-24, and a year earlier turned the trick against Utah in a lopsided 26-3 final.
With respect to the all-time series between these two programs, Washington won the only previous encounter by a score of 24-10 in Seattle back in 2007. Following that defeat the Broncos ripped off nine straight victories en route to a 10-3 campaign. The Huskies, on the other hand, won only two more games the rest of the season and posted a dismal 4-9 mark.
Ironically, these two teams are also set to clash in the 2013 season opener at Husky Stadium as well, with Washington returning the favor in September of 2015.
Outside of a pass defense that ranks second in the Pac-12 and 16th in the nation with just 188.9 ypg allowed, most of the stats for the Huskies are rather marginal this year. The team has made huge strides on defense from 2011 to 2012, particularly against the pass, after allowing a whopping 284.6 ypg (116th) just a year earlier, but still there's work to be done on both sides of the ball.
For this game, Shaq Thompson and Marcus Peters will again be spotlighted on the defensive side for the Huskies, after both registered three interceptions and a blocked kick this season. Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley will be asked to apply pressure at the line of scrimmage after sharing the team lead with 6.5 sacks through 12 games, the former also tied for the team lead with 8.5 tackles for loss with Thompson.
Offensively, running back Bishop Sankey finished fifth in the league with 102.8 ypg on the ground but, more importantly, made it a habit of making his way into the end zone with 15 rushing touchdowns, which means the rest of the team accounted for a total of just two rushing scores.
Keith Price, an owner of one of those other rushing TDs, converted close to 62 percent of his pass attempts for 207.0 ypg and a total of 18 touchdowns through the air, six each going to Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The offense for the Broncos underwent a major transition this season as they went from being directed by the most successful starting quarterback in the history of college football (Kellen Moore), to handing the ball to Joe Southwick who experienced more than his share of growing pains. There were a number of instances where Southwick appeared overwhelmed, unsure of himself, as he attempted to keep the BSU program rolling over the competition.
Southwick eventually settled in to complete 66.7 percent of his pass attempts which was good enough for fifth on the school's all-time single-season list. The signal-caller threw for close to 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he also tossed seven interceptions. The fact that the offensive line allowed just nine total sacks was also key for the Broncos to excel again this season.
Like Moore, Southwick tried to spread the wealth across a host of receivers, but it was clear that his favorite target had become Matt Miller who reeled in 60 passes, almost twice as many as his closest teammate, resulting in 679 yards and five touchdowns. Making the most of his 25 catches was Chris Potter who landed in the end zone four times.
Taking charge of the running game was D.J. Harper who averaged five yards per attempt, en route to 1,065 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Pinning their hopes on their defense, the Broncos rose to the occasion as they finished ninth in the nation in yards allowed (304.7 ypg) and sixth in points (14.9 ppg). Turnover margin was another area in which the program was one of the best in football, averaging a plus-1.50 turnovers per game thanks to Darian Thompson and Jamar Taylor who both logged three interceptions, the latter also forcing three fumbles. Demarcus Lawrence, who finished with just 48 total tackles over 11 appearances, led the program with 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, not to mention coming up with their only blocked kick of the campaign as well.