Utes, Broncos ready to rumble in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Utah believed it was disrespected two years ago by Alabama, and the Utes made the point they belonged on the national stage by convincingly beating the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

This time it might be Utah, though again a significant underdog, that has emboldened its bowl opponent.

A pushing and shoving match between players Sunday and an inflammatory Twitter message by a Utah wide receiver Monday could give already potent Boise State plenty of fire when the teams meet at 5 p.m. today at Sam Boyd Stadium.

No. 10 Boise State (11-1) played nice when asked about whether No. 20 Utah (10-2) fired up the Broncos for what is expected to be a wet MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. But there was little doubt Utes coach Kyle Whittingham was unhappy with the tweet by his receiver, Canyon Springs High School graduate DeVonte Christopher, that called Boise State "Girlse State" and "a bunch of cheerleaders."

Whittingham said he and Christopher have spoken. "He knows where I stand on it," Whittingham said.

Boise State's motivation is an issue because bowl victories often come down to which is the hungrier team, and the Broncos hadn't planned to spend pre-Christmas in Las Vegas.

They hoped to spend the holidays preparing for a Bowl Championship Series game, and having reached fourth place in the BCS standings late in the season, the Broncos even made a push to play for the national title.

But then came Black Friday when two teams ranked above Boise State, Auburn and Oregon, won and the Broncos lost their Nov. 26 game at UNR, 34-31 in overtime. They squandered a 24-7 halftime lead and watched two easy field goals -- one at the end of regulation and one in overtime -- sail wide along with their BCS dreams.

"We've put that behind us," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "The good thing about the bowl that we're in is our guys have so much respect for Utah and know what type of team they are and know that type of program they are."

Petersen discounted the importance being a heavy favorite, but oddsmakers posted a 16-point line for a reason.

Actually, for many reasons.

Quarterback Kellen Moore, a Heisman Trophy finalist, has completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,506 yards and 33 touchdowns, with five interceptions. He is 37-2 in three seasons as a starter.

"It seems like he doesn't miss," Utes defensive end Christian Cox said.

Moore doesn't do it by himself, though. He is surrounded by talented wide receivers Titus Young (65 catches for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns) and Austin Pettis (59-804-9) and running back Doug Martin (1,113 yards rushing and 11 TDs).

Boise State is second nationally averaging 46.7 points per game and fourth with a 519.5-yard per game.

The Broncos don't rely on outscoring opponents, however. Led by players such as defensive tackle Billy Winn, a Las Vegas High product, the Broncos allow 13.6 points and 259.3 yards per game, each fourth nationally.

But to dismiss a Utah team that knows how to win this time of year could be a mistake. The Utes possess the nation's longest active streak with nine consecutive bowl victories, which is tied all time with Southern California and two behind leader Florida State.

"If we don't keep that alive, not only would we be letting ourselves down, but we'd be letting down over a decade of Utes who have come through the program and worked hard to keep that alive," Utah center Zane Taylor said.

The Utes will have to win without quarterback Jordan Wynn, who had shoulder surgery Dec. 13. Terrance Cain, 9-1 as a starter, takes his place.

"He runs their offense as well as anyone," Broncos defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said. "I think he's going to be a real dangerous threat out there."

Utah doesn't match up to Boise State statistically, but its offensive (35.6) and defensive (19.8) scoring averages are more than respectable.

"We're going to have to play our best to beat these guys," Petersen said. "They're as good as anybody we've played and better than most."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.