Boise St. (0-0) at Virginia Tech (0-0)

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Wednesday, Sep 1, 2010 Kickoff: 8:00 pm EDT Mon Sep 6, 2010

After years of trying to prove it belongs among the elite programs in the nation, Boise State’s new goal is to justify its lofty status.

The third-ranked Broncos aren’t wasting much time doing that, either.

Boise State begins its quest for a national championship as it faces No. 10 Virginia Tech for the first time at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Monday night.

Over the last decade, the Broncos have gone from feel-good underdogs to one of the premier teams in the country. They received a first-place vote while getting their highest preseason ranking after going 14-0 and beating then-No. 3 TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl last season.

Boise State finished the season at No. 4 in the AP poll, and coach Chris Petersen isn’t concerned with proving critics wrong any more.

“Let’s prove everyone right,” the Broncos’ fifth-year coach said.

Boise State is again considered a Bowl Championship Series contender, and it plans to maintain that status with its move to the Mountain West Conference next year. This will be the last season for the Broncos in the Western Athletic Conference, which they’ve dominated with a 49-4 record while winning three conference titles in four years under Petersen.

The Broncos have won two BCS bowls in that stretch, and are now looking to take the final step and claim a spot in the national championship game.

“It could happen,” said quarterback Kellen Moore, considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. “Every year there are different variables. Two years ago we were undefeated but there were a handful of undefeated teams. Sometimes you lose out on those things.

“You play well, in the end you’re going to be doing something good.”

Returning all but one starter is a major reason expectations are so high. The offense is intact after tying Houston with 42.2 points per game to lead the nation last year.

In two seasons, Moore is 26-1 and has thrown for 7,022 yards with 64 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His 39 touchdowns to three interceptions last year was the best ratio in NCAA history.

Wide receives Austin Pettis and Titus Young combined for 142 catches and 24 touchdowns, while running back Jeremy Avery rushed for 1,151 yards and six scores.

Boise State is also sound defensively, leading the WAC by holding opponents to an average of 17.1 points.

Just how good the Broncos are in 2010 will be tested immediately by Virginia Tech, which routinely boasts one of the best defenses in the country.

The Hokies ranked ninth in average points allowed (15.6) and 11th in pass defense, giving up 167.1 yards per game with nine TDs.

The unit, however, is a major question mark after losing seven starters from a 10-3 season capped by a 37-14 win over Tennessee in the Chik-fil-A Bowl.

“We’re playing against an offense that, I believe, is running on all cylinders and I’m excited about that because it’s been awhile since we had an offense like that,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.

As opposed to relying heavily on its defense, Virginia Tech is expected to boast a dynamic offense centered around quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who had 2,311 passing yards and 370 rushing in his first full season as starter.

The senior was key to the offense averaging 31.8 points to rank second in the ACC last year.

“I feel the same way with him out there as I did when Michael Vick was out there,” coach Frank Beamer said, speaking of the dual-threat quarterback who led the Hokies to the 1999 national championship game against Florida State. “Any play has a chance of going a long ways.”

Virginia Tech’s offensive success will also hinge on running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Williams ran for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns, breaking the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman yardage record Evans set in 2008 (1,265) before missing last season with an ACL tear.

“Having these two backs behind me, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off my legs and open up lanes for the passing area,” Taylor said. “They’re going to stack the box knowing that we have a great rushing game and that’s going to open things for me and my receivers.”

Taylor has his top three targets back in wide receivers Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts, who combined for 92 catches and 10 touchdowns.

“They’re the show right now,” cornerback Rashad Carmichael said of the offense, “but we have a lot of pride and a lot of tradition, so we’re going to do what we do on that side of the ball.”

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