Posted by Adam Jacobi
Why to Watch: This is a no-brainer. We've got a Top-20 matchup between two teams that had spent time in the Top 5 late in the season, both of whom can put points up in bunches. Boise State has a lot to prove after seeing its BCS dreams fly wide of the uprights at Nevada, and what would be a better sendoff for Utah as it heads to the Pac-10 than to knock off a powerhouse like Boise?
Keys to victory for Boise State: It seems like this game would be a cakewalk for Boise State, and it might well be one at the end of the day, but one of the uncomfortable truths about the Broncos is that they don't exactly show up for bowl games on a consistent basis. They're 6-4 in bowl games, and those losses have come against some unspectacular competition: 11-1 Louisville , 9-3 Boston College , 8-5 East Carolina , and 11-2 TCU. Oh sure, Boise has also taken out an undefeated TCU and a loaded Oklahoma squad in that unforgettable 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but by and large the overall resume isn't that impressive -- especially when Boise's not playing on the home Smurf Turf in the Humanitarian Bowl. In fact, every bowl the Broncos have ever played away from Boise has been decided by seven points or less.
So with a feisty Utah squad facing it, Boise State needs to jump out early and bury the Utes. Kellen Moore has no shortage of weapons to make that happen, of course; Titus Young and Austin Pettis have been making cornerbacks look silly all season long, and Boise's troika of tailbacks gives the Broncos the ability to grind out touchdowns or take a simple halfback counter to the house.
Keys to victory for Utah: Everything that happened against TCU and Notre Dame? Yeah, Utah's going to need the opposite of that. Utah's two losses on the season were both disastrous blowouts, dropping a 47-7 home game to the Horned Frogs, then following it up with a 28-3 drubbing in South Bend that didn't even seem all that close. That's the type of collapse that can send a team reeling, but the Utes managed to win their last two games against bowl teams San Diego State and BYU -- both games where the Utes mounted double-digit fourth quarter comebacks. Which is to say, the fight's still there, and Utah's going to need it yet again in this bowl.
If the Utes want to stay in position to compete for all 60 minutes, they won't be able to do it by winning a shooting match with the Broncos. Boise's defense is too good for that, and Jordan Wynn isn't a good enough quarterback to hang 30 points on the Broncos yet. Therefore, Utah's going to need to at least slow down the Bronco attack, which is a lot easier said than done. Young and Pettis should be early deep targets, and Kellen Moore's deadly accuracy off play action means that simply staying with a seven-man front isn't going to be enough to neutralize the Boise passing game. Still, Utah's rush defense has been solid all season long, and if the Utes commit to taking away the pass (as best as one team can against Moore, anyway), the score should stay low enough that Utah could potentially make a game of it. Boise State's aforementioned habit of keeping bowl games close ought to work in Utah's favor. Or maybe Boise State's just overdue for a blowout. Time to see.
The Las Vegas Bowl is like: Vegas, baby. An entertaining, high-powered bowl with elite performers in the middle of the first week of bowl season is about as likely as an entertaining, high-powered city with elite performers in the middle of the desert in the Southwest. Of course, Las Vegas features gambling and we'd rather you didn't gamble on this bowl game -- just let the kids play ball, y'know? -- but there's no such thing as a perfect analogy so let's just let that detail slide and enjoy the game for what it is: the best December bowl of the season.