Boise State and Washington have only met once, but they're about to get a lot more familiar with each other.
The 20th-ranked Broncos face the Huskies in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas on Saturday, the first of three meetings in as many years.
"I think it can become one of those classic rivalries that get set up," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Everybody loves a good rematch, you know? Somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose this first one. Then we are going to come back nine months later to see who can win the second one."
Washington will open next season at renovated Husky Stadium against the Broncos on Aug. 31, and it travels to Boise in 2015 to complete the home-and-home series.
Boise State (10-2) is quite familiar with Las Vegas, having won the last two MAACO Bowls against Utah and Arizona State by a combined 55 points.
Unlike those Broncos teams, Boise State relied on its defense much more in 2012 to post its seventh straight 10-win season - the longest active streak in the country.
The Broncos aren't exactly weak on offense, averaging 30.4 points, but that number pales in comparison to the 44.7 they produced over the last two seasons. Boise State was limited to fewer than 21 points four times this year after not being held below that mark in the past two.
Defense has been the key, as the Broncos rank in the top 10 in the FBS with 14.9 points and 304.7 yards allowed per game. The unit is led by first-team All-Mountain West selections Demarcus Lawrence (9 1/2 sacks, 13 1/2 tackles for loss), J.C. Percy (team-high 101 tackles), Jamar Taylor and Mike Atkinson.
The Broncos held Nevada 17 points below its average in a 27-21 road win Dec. 1 to clinch a share of the Mountain West title. Boise State allowed 90 yards in the first half while taking a 17-0 lead.
"The defense has been so stellar all year, and has carried us for most of the way," coach Chris Petersen said.
Washington (7-5) is making its third straight bowl appearance, but the Huskies are coming off a bitter loss. They fell 31-28 in overtime to Washington State in the Apple Cup on Nov. 23, blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead to allow the largest comeback in the history of the rivalry.
The Huskies, who had won four straight, have one more chance to post their highest victory total since going 8-4 in 2001.
"It's upsetting that we lost to our rival and the way we lost it is unacceptable, but no one is really hanging their head on it anymore," tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said. "We are still playing and that's all that counts."
Quarterback Keith Price may have a more difficult time ridding himself of memories of the defeat. His fumble in the fourth quarter helped set up a Washington State touchdown that trimmed the lead to 28-25, and he threw an interception on the first play of OT that led to the winning field goal.
"A lot of guys have been down," Price said. "Obviously, you don't want to finish the season like that but we have another chance to kind of redeem ourselves."
Boise State's pass defense should pose a strong test. The Broncos are allowing 163.4 passing yards per game, tied for 12th in the nation, and they've yielded three touchdowns through the air all season.
Price's Boise State counterpart, Joe Southwick, ended the season in strong fashion. He threw seven touchdowns with no interceptions in the final three games after recording 10 TDs and seven picks in the first nine.
"I think he's been playing a little bit different level," Petersen said. "It's all about being consistent and improving ... and I think he's done those things."
Petersen will see a familiar face on the Washington coaching staff. First-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox held the same position at Boise State from 2006-09, helping the Broncos win two Fiesta Bowls.
Washington is giving up 23.8 points and 353.3 yards a game - improvements of 15.1 and 137.8 from last year's rough defensive performance.
"He's a darn good coach," Petersen said of Wilcox. "So you know wherever he is, they're going to play good defense, without question."
Boise State fell to Jake Locker and Washington 24-10 in 2007 at Seattle, ending the Broncos' 14-game winning streak.
Boise State will be trying for its fourth straight bowl victory. Washington fell 67-56 to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl last year.