Fiesta Bowl: TCU – Boise State Preview
By JUSTIN EINHORN, STATS Senior Editor
TCU and Boise State both got a BCS bowl as they desired. Only one of those teams doesn’t mind they’ll be facing each other – again.
A crack at a major conference powerhouse eluded these programs despite their perfect records, resulting in the third-ranked Horned Frogs and No. 6 Broncos squaring off in a second consecutive postseason at the Fiesta Bowl on Monday.
“The thing is, we’ve played (Boise),” TCU receiver Bart Johnson said. “I’d love to play somebody like a Florida or someone like that where we could really showcase and show the nation what we’re all about.”
This is the first time two unbeaten teams will play in a BCS bowl other than the national championship game. Three days before SEC power Alabama and Big 12 stalwart Texas meet for the BCS crown, the Mountain West champion Horned Frogs (12-0) and WAC winner Boise State (13-0) take the field in Glendale, Ariz.
“We’d love to go against a team on a bigger stage,” TCU cornerback Rafael Priest said. “(Boise) is a good team. They’re 13-0. You don’t come across that too much, so you’ve got to give them all their respect. Both are BCS busters. We’re going to take our opportunity and make the best of it.”
The Horned Frogs would have liked an elite conference opponent for their first BCS game, like Boise State got at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl when it stunned Oklahoma 43-42 with a 2-point conversion on a trick play in overtime.
The Broncos are just happy to be back in a BCS bowl – and with a chance for some revenge. They took a 12-0 record into last season’s Poinsettia Bowl against TCU, blowing a fourth-quarter lead to lose 17-16.
Some Boise State fans were unhappy to not be facing a BCS conference foe, but they can’t complain much considering their team is the first from a non-automatic qualifying conference to receive an at-large BCS bid.
“We got what we wanted,” coach Chris Petersen said. “We’re playing a great opponent. With tough opponents there is great opportunity.
“I just think there is so much respect out there for TCU. People say they should be playing in the national championship game. Maybe they should. I think that just adds to the excitement for us.”
TCU nearly had everything go its way on the final day of the regular season to make the BCS title game. Instead, No. 4 Cincinnati rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh, then Texas pulled off a 13-12 win over Nebraska in a stunning finish to the Big 12 title game.
Still, the Horned Frogs could make a case to be playing for a national championship. They’ve blown out each of their last six opponents, including wins over ranked conference foes BYU and Utah by a combined 58 points. Their resume also includes a road victory over ACC Atlantic Division champ Clemson, which was ranked as recently as late November.
Boise boasts an equally impressive victory, opening the season with a 19-8 win over eventual Pac-10 champion Oregon. However, the Broncos did not have to beat another Top 25 team and their WAC schedule wasn’t particularly challenging, but three of those wins came by 11 points or less.
Each of the Horned Frogs’ last seven wins were by at least 27 points.
“Our whole deal is we’re going to have to show the nation in this next bowl game that we belong, that we’re one of the top two teams in the nation,” said Gary Patterson, the AP Coach of the Year who recently agreed to a contract extension to stay at TCU through 2016.
“You can still win the AP (championship), so that’s what our whole goal is.”
That seems unlikely, considering the Texas-Alabama winner will probably claim that crown. However, the Horned Frogs can complete their first undefeated season since 1938, when they won their only AP national title.
That’s also the year TCU set a school record with 14 consecutive victories, a run this Horned Frogs team has matched.
These teams combined for only 33 points last December, but some foresee that total not being enough to win this game. Boise State led the country with 44.2 points per game and ranked eighth in total offense, averaging 460.5 yards, while TCU ranked fourth in both categories (40.7 ppg, 478.5 ypg).
It was the Horned Frogs’ defense that was the deciding factor last year, limiting Boise State to 250 total yards – 28 on the ground. That unit was ranked second nationally going into the Poinsettia Bowl but it’s No. 1 this time, allowing 233.3 yards a game.
Keying that success has been end Jerry Hughes, the Horned Frogs’ only All-American after finishing with 11 1/2 sacks.
Now Hughes tries to chase down Kellen Moore, the nation’s top-rated passer who has been sacked five times all season – none in the last five games.
Moore finished second nationally with 39 touchdown passes while throwing three interceptions. The last time he didn’t throw a TD pass was against TCU.
His biggest scoring threat this season, however, could be missing. Austin Pettis led the WAC with 14 touchdown receptions, making 62 catches for 850 yards, but his status remains uncertain after he missed most of the last two games with a lower leg fracture.
“He’s got that attacking ability that he can go up and make some plays,” Moore said of the first-team all-WAC selection. “Every once in a while you throw a ball where maybe you didn’t throw it as accurate as you would’ve hoped and he still comes up with it.”
Boise State also has a potent ground game with Jeremy Avery gaining 1,131 yards and Doug Martin adding 723 with 14 touchdowns.
TCU’s offense has an equally good balance led by Andy Dalton, who has thrown for 2,484 yards with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s one of four players to have run for at least 500 yards for a rushing attack which ranked fifth nationally with 265.5 yards per game.
Moore and Dalton had similar numbers in last year’s bowl game, both going 22 of 35 with no touchdowns and one interception.
“I think when we played those guys last year it was one of the better teams we had matched up with in a long time,” Petersen said. “I think TCU’s gotten even better than last year and taken the next step in their progress with their program and what they’re doing. It’ll be a tremendous challenge … for us to hang in there and play with those guys.”