A mismatch in a pre-Christmas bowl normally wouldn't be appointment viewing, but Thursday night's Las Vegas Bowl is a different matter.
If you appreciate a program that has maximized its potential, you will tune in to see Boise State. If you're tired of underachievers and respect overachievers, you'll watch Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore play his final college game. And if you suspect that a special era may be passing before our eyes, you'll lock those eyes on Chris Petersen's program as it takes on Arizona State.
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I firmly believe Boise will remain an implausibly successful program for as long as Petersen is its coach, and I hope he stays there forever. The fit is perfect, and it's simply been fun to have such a complete outlier – no long-standing tradition, no natural recruiting base – rise up to prominence in a sport that flagrantly discriminates against the have-nots. But the future is not guaranteed.
That's why this game is important – it could be the end of one of the great runs in recent college football history. The last night of the Boise dynasty, if you will. At least potentially.
Boise has been the "Made You Look" program of the past six seasons. And the "Made You Think" program, as it dared aspire to a status as a national-title contender. Never has a college with this profile spurred such strong feelings, pro and con. The Broncos are the little lightning rod that could.
They could have – and should have – played in a BCS bowl this season. The Sugar Bowl, to be precise, which took inferior teams with bigger fan bases (Michigan and Virginia Tech). That bowl sold out quality for full hotels and restaurants – exactly the kind of shenanigans bowls have gotten away with for years, because they can.
Boise has won at least 10 games in six consecutive seasons and has won two BCS bowls in that time. Those facts alone are amazing. But if the Broncos beat the 6-6 Sun Devils on Thursday, they will have at least 12 victories in each of Moore's four seasons as a starter.
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He's the winningest quarterback in FBS history, going for victory No. 50 in this game. The only thing separating him and the rest of the Broncos from three consecutive unbeaten seasons – from 40-0 – is bad kicking. Two botched short field goals by Kyle Brotzman led to an overtime loss to Nevada last season, and a missed 39-yard field goal by Dan Goodale on the final play of the game led to a one-point loss to TCU this season.
Goodale's miss might be the only thing keeping Boise from the mid-major Holy Grail: a berth in the BCS championship game against LSU.
Unless you are a big-school snob who refuses to give credit to the strivers among us, you can see what a remarkable run this has been. The question is how long it lasts going forward.
Boise has survived losing talented coordinators (former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to Tennessee, former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to Texas). The player losses could be more significant.
There has been a strong correlation between Boise State football and Butler basketball in recent years, and it could continue here. Butler coach Brad Stevens is brilliant, one of the best in the country – but he's significantly more brilliant with Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard than without them.
With them, Butler went to consecutive national championship games. Without them this season, the Bulldogs are 5-7.
Keep an eye on Boise for a potential similar dip. Nothing against quarterback heir apparent Joe Southwick, but he's got big shoes to fill – and so do other Broncos.
"A lot of awesome players who have played a lot of football for us will be walking out after this game," Petersen said this week.
In addition to Moore, there are a dozen other senior starters playing their last games for the Broncos against Arizona State. Many of them are multi-year starters who rank among the best players at their positions in Boise history, and many of them play on either the offensive or defensive line. There will be a significant transition in the trenches in 2012.
The best starting quarterback in school history, one of the best in college history, is leaving. So are many of the linemen who protected him and who anchored a good defense. But they'll get one more game in a Bronco uniform first.
After that? Boise State is rebuilding, and it may never have a run this good again.
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