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Boise State ties a bittersweet ribbon on its almost-perfect coming of age

Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State 56, Arizona State 24.
Oddsmakers installed the Broncos as the most lopsided favorites in any bowl, a distinction that turned out to be awfully generous to Arizona State. Doug Martin burned the Devils for a 100-yard sprint to the end zone on the opening kickoff, and it was downhill from there.

Boise did more than enough offensively, efficiently churning out 463 total yards and five sustained touchdown drives, but the fact is the Broncos might have won this game without taking an offensive snap. After the opening salvo by Martin, they defense added a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jamar Taylor, and a few minutes took a fumble by Cameron Marshall back to extend the lead to 49-10 just a few seconds into the fourth quarter. Beyond that point, it was a routine scrimmage. As usual.

[ Related: Moore the winningest college QB in history ]

And so the curtain falls on the spectacular career of Kellen Moore, who politely doffs his cap and saunters off to endure the skeptical prodding of NFL scouts with 50 wins, a suitcase full of records and exactly three losses to his name in four years. The first came by one point in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, at the hands of a team that finished No. 7 in the final polls and went on to win its next 25 straight against teams other than Boise State. The second came last year, in overtime, against a team in the midst of the greatest season in school history, courtesy a shocking field goal gaffe that negated arguably the best throw of Moore's career to put the Broncos in position to win.

The third came earlier this year, by one point… courtesy of a shocking field goal gaffe that negated a clutch drive to put the Broncos in position to win.

And that pretty much covers it: Three games, two kickers, five points. That's the gap between Kellen Moore and a perfect career at Boise State, one that includes no such fortune in the Broncos' favor — the outgoing senior class never trailed by more than seven points at any point in its career. With Moore under center, Boise is 6-0 against teams from "Big Six" BCS conferences, collecting scalps from Arizona State, Georgia, Oregon State, Virginia Tech and Oregon on two different occasions. Altogether, those victims alone went on to claim three conference championships in the Pac-10 and ACC, three BCS bowl bids and four top-20 finishes. Somewhere in there, there's also a win over No. 3 TCU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, ruining the Frogs' undefeated season and securing perfection for Boise instead. Every time it was given the opportunity, this team proved it was good enough to win every time it stepped on the field.

Boise State ties a bittersweet ribbon on its almost-perfect coming of ageThe fact that it wasn't quite consistent enough to actually pull it off — even with razor-thin margin of error — only deepens the sense of missed opportunity. In fact, the near-misses make it worse. In 2008 and 2010, two plays cost them perfection. This year, with no other undefeated powerhouse left to challenge No. 1 LSU, a two-point conversion and/or a shanked field goal against TCU is all that stood between the Broncos and a legitimate shot at the BCS Championship Game. No other game was close. 2011 could have been the breakthrough. This could have been that team. Last year's team could have been that team.

Slumming it in no-brainer Las Vegas Bowl routs only emphasizes the point: Boise State deserved much better. If only it had put itself in the position to get it.

With Moore on his way out (along with seven other seniors who were tapped as All-Mountain West picks, for the record), there's finally a new question to ask about the Broncos: Namely, how will they manage to hold onto their niche among the national elite without the deceptively dorky face that's defined one of the most remarkable four-year runs in the history of college football? Boise State football didn't start with Kellen Moore — the Broncos famously finished off an undefeated season with a BCS win a year before he even stepped on campus, and went 45-7 with four consecutive WAC titles and three top-20 finishes in the four seasons prior to that — and it's not going to end with him. Boise is moving to the Big East in 2013, an ostensible promotion that comes with bigger paydays and a few new doors to be unlocked based on the affiliation alone. By all appearances, Chris Petersen will remain the head coach for the foreseeable future. Right now, this is a name-brand program with the staying power to continue to chip away at the glass ceiling.

When the breakthrough comes, though — if the breakthrough comes — it will courtesy of the crack forged by No. 11. Future Boise teams may go further financially and in the BCS standings. But it's going to be a long time before there's one better than what we saw tonight, and what we've been seeing for the last four years.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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