by Dave Congrove
There are plenty of people who try to dismiss Boise State's accomplishments because it plays in the WAC and, admittedly, the conference compares more closely to the Sun Belt than to the SEC. But wouldn't you think that, at some point, the constant winning would drown out the constant whining from the detractors?
One loss away from a perfect season, Boise State is relegated to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
The Broncos were two games away from their fourth perfect regular season in seven years when Nevada rallied from a 24-7 deficit to a 34-31 overtime upset win. To its credit, Boise State rebounded to wallop Utah State 50-14 the following week and wrapped up its 5th consecutive season of one loss or less. It has been a remarkable ride and one which doesn't appear as though it will end anytime soon.
Next season, Boise State will play in the Mountain West. It would have been a tremendous upgrade for the Broncos had the following course of events not taken place - Utah accepted an invitation to join the PAC-10 on June 18, just 7 days after Boise State made its announcement; On September 1, Brigham Young said it will become an independent in football; and on November 30, TCU said it would be moving to the Big East.
In between, the Mountain West invited the WAC's other top football programs, leading to the reunion of Fresno State, Nevada, Hawaii and Boise State when all the maneuvers are finally cemented by the summer of 2012. The Mountain West became little more than the new WAC, and the WAC became irrelevant.
It will be interesting to see how the events of that eight-day stretch in June will impact this particular bowl game.
Boise State always plays with a chip on its shoulder and likely won't settle for anything less than a rout of the Utes. The fact that Utah chose to leave the Mountain West within days of Boise State joining the conference adds extra incentive.
The Broncos have some work to do if they are to meet the public's expectations for the outcome of this game. Vegas oddsmakers installed Boise State as a 15-point favorite at the opening and the Congrove Computer Rankings project the Broncos as an 18.60-point winner. The computer is 11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS with the Broncos this year.
However, Utah also has much to prove. The Utes would like to show the country that they weren't simply the benefactor of a weak slate when they charged to an 8-0 record while manhandling the likes of San Jose State, Colorado State and Wyoming. Indeed, teams such as Air Force and Pitt were sprinkled in, and a 68-27 win at Iowa State was pretty impressive.
But Utah appeared to be exposed when it received a 47-7 shellacking in its own stadium at the hands of TCU and then looked incapable of scoring in a 28-3 setback at Notre Dame. A team that was averaging 45 points per game suddenly needed two full games to tally 10 paltry points.
Utah closed out the season with narrow wins over San Diego State and BYU, each of whom are playing in postseason games, but a 10-2 regular season record has done nothing to sway critics.
If statistics mean anything, this game may not help sway the critics either. Boise State ranks 4th on offense and defense. Utah ranks 41st on offense and 20th on defense.
Utah definitely has this stat going for it - it's been unbeatable in bowl games for the last 11 years. The Utes currently own the nation's longest bowl winning streak at 9 games and possess a 13-3 bowl record overall. Boise State is 6-4 in bowl games, and just 2-4 in its last six.
These are the only members of non-BCS automatic qualifying conferences to win a BCS bowl game, and each has won a pair. Utah clobbered Pitt 35-7 in the 2004 season Fiesta Bowl and stunned Alabama 31-17 in the 2008 season Sugar Bowl. Boise State had the scintillating 43-42 overtime win vs. Oklahoma at the 2006 season Fiesta Bowl and topped TCU 17-10 in last season's Fiesta Bowl.
This will be the first meeting of these teams in a bowl game. It is Boise State's first appearance in this particular affair. Utah is 2-0 here with victories in 1999 and 2001.
These teams haven't met since 2006 when Boise State clobbered Utah 36-3 in Salt Lake City. The Utes' only wins in six previous tries came in 1985 and 1987. In between, Boise State secured wins in 1998 and 1999. The Broncos also won the first meeting in 1980.
This year's game will air on ESPN on Wednesday, December 22 at 8 p.m. ET.