This was supposed to be the year for Boise State – a team that returned almost every starter from last year’s BCS representing squad.  This was the chance at another BCS game (or even a National Championship), flushed away in a painful overtime loss to Nevada in late November.

Instead, the Broncos’ season has come down to the 2010 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas – a pre-Christmas game that will feature Boise State taking on Utah, another team that flirted with the top of the polls during the year.

Here’s how the Las Vegas Bowl stacks up:

How They Got Here

Both teams were cruising through the regular season, and considered to be a threat to reach the National Championship with an unblemished record.

But the Utes (10-2) faltered in back-to-back weeks, getting blown out by both TCU and Notre Dame, then followed those losses with narrow victories over San Diego State and BYU.

Boise State (11-1) had its only blemish in a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Nevada, where by now, any college football fan knows about the missed chip shot field goal by Kyle Brotzman that would have won the game.

Offense

 

Boise State Pass Offense (Rank: 6th) vs. Utah Pass Defense (Rank: 59th)

Boise State Rush Offense (Rank: 24th) vs. Utah Rush Defense (Rank: 8th)

The Broncos have a very potent offensive attack, headlined by Heisman finalist Kellen Moore, who finished second to Cam Newton in QB rating on the season (185.03).  On top of that, Moore also threw for 33 TD and over 3,500 yards, while throwing only 5 picks.

Broncos RB Doug Martin had 1,113 yards on the ground, and receivers Titus Young (1,151 yards, 9 TD) and Austin Pettis (804 yards, 9 TD) both were legit targets in the pass game.

Utah’s top run defense should give the Boise State ground game headaches, but the Utes’ offense – led by Jordan Wynn (17 TD, 10 INT) and DaVonte Christopher – doesn’t have the horses to keep up.

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

Defense

 

Boise State Pass Defense (Rank: 3rd) vs. Utah Pass Offense (Rank: 37th)

Boise State Rush Defense (Rank: 6th) vs. Utah Rush Offense (Rank: 56th)

The Broncos have three players that crack the nation’s top 90 in sacks, specifically Tyrone Crawford, Shea McClellin and Billy Winn.

Boise State also cracks the top six in both pass and run defense, and while a good amount of that has to do with some of its competition, this is still a very talented defense.

Utah has its share of playmakers that will challenge Kellen Moore and company, specifically its leading tackler Chaz Walker, plus CB Brian Blechen (4 INT) and Lamar Chapman (5 ½ sacks).

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

Special Teams

If the Utes want to keep up with the Broncos, they will need to have a very productive day on special teams.

Utah has the playmakers to make this happen, and Shaky Smithson (the nation’s best punt returner, with a return average of 19.72 yards and 2 TD) will be the biggest key.

Chris Potter has also been effective returning punts for the Broncos.

In the kicking game, neither team has an elite punter and Boise State’s Kyle Brotzman (70% FG made) has caught his share of criticism over the last month.

Utah kicker Joe Phillips has only attempted 14 field goals, but he’s made 12 of them.

ADVANTAGE: Utah

Coaching

 

Chris Petersen has a career record of 60-5 while at Boise State, which is pretty incredible in its own right.  What’s more impressive is that the Broncos have been to a bowl game each of the last five seasons under Petersen – and three of those five losses came in 2007.

Kyle Whittingham has also had a solid career at Utah.  Replacing Urban Meyer, Whittingham has managed a 58-19 record while coaching the Utes.

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

Intangibles

There are plenty of intangibles to look at, but the biggest starts with the fact that the Broncos are likely ticked about the late season loss, plus just how close they were to reaching another BCS bowl game.  Boise State also has a major advantage in experience over Utah.

On the other hand, some would argue that the Utes are lucky to even be in this position, considering how the team performed over the last month of the season.  Not only was Utah outscored in its two losses 75-10, but they also managed just four and one point victories during the two weeks following.

kellen moore boise state qb Boise State Bowl Game 2010: Breaking Down the Broncos and Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl

Kellen Moore doesn’t turn the ball over much, and neither do the Broncos

Turnover Margin

Overall in 2010, Boise State is +9 in turnover margin and Utah is -2.

ADVANTAGE: Boise State

Key Matchup

While many may focus on Kellen Moore and the Broncos offense, the biggest key will instead be how Utah’s offense can keep up.  That means the key matchup is how QB Jordan Wynn and the Utah offensive line can handle the Boise State pass rush, which features three players among the top 90 in sacks.  It will also mean Wynn – who has twice as many picks as Kellen Moore – not being pressured into too many mistakes.

Prediction

On paper, Boise State has more offensive firepower and overall balance on both sides of the ball than Utah.  One argument would be the Broncos being disappointed by this bowl slot, but that should be dismissed, as Chris Petersen will have this team more than focused for this game.

Hangover for the Broncos?  Think again.  This one won’t come down to Brotzman’s foot either.  Boise State wins 38-17

* Also posted to my Bleacher Report page

* All stats from cfbstats.com

UPDATE: Per reports, Utah QB Jordan Wynn will miss the bowl game with a shoulder injury.  Terrance Cain will start in his place.

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