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NCF Nation: 2012 Las Vegas Bowl

Pregame: MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

December, 22, 2012
Washington (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) vs. Boise State (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West)

Who to watch: After his "Hello, world" moment against Baylor in a 67-56 loss in the Valero Alamo Bowl last year, Washington quarterback Keith Price seems to have regressed this year. His completion percentage is down and he's thrown 18 touchdowns compared to 29 at this point last year. He has the same number of interceptions, 11. After some early struggles and inconsistencies, Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick seems to have finally settled into his role as "the guy after Kellen Moore." He's completing 66.7 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the last three games he's completed 70 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

What to watch: How does the Boise State defense defend Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins? The Mackey Award finalist has game-changing size and speed. Maybe more to the point -- how does Washington use him? If Seferian-Jenkins gets 7-10 touches, it could be the difference in the game. But Boise State is stingy against the pass, having allowed an FBS-leading three touchdown passes in 337 attempts this season. The Broncos rank in the top 10 in pass defense and pass-efficiency defense.

Why to watch: Boise State has won its past three bowl games -- the last loss coming to TCU in the 2008 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. If the right Washington team shows up -- the one that knocked off Stanford and Oregon State -- this could be one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season. If the Huskies still have a hangover from their Apple Cup loss, Boise could cruise.

Prediction: Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has made a world of difference at Washington this season. He knows Chris Petersen and how he preps -- having served on his staff as defensive coordinator. Plus, Washington has played a far more vigorous schedule -- going 2-2 against top-10 teams. Boise State has seen just one Top 25 team and that was in the season-opening loss to Michigan State. Washington 24, Boise State 17.

Instant analysis: Boise State 56, ASU 24

December, 22, 2011
Arizona State showed some fight, but that might make the final 56-24 margin in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas smart even more for Boise State.

How the game was won: Boise State dominated on both sides of the ball. It was the better team in every aspect. And let the Pac-12 blog officially voice its opinion -- late to a loud chorus -- that the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl instead of a BCS bowl is a travesty. Yes, Allstate Sugar Bowl, we are talking to you. You should be ashamed.

Turning point: Boise State's Doug Martin took the opening kickoff 100 yards for a TD. Other than 0-all just before that, 7-0 would be the closest the Sun Devils got all night. So the turning point was Boise State walking into the stadium.

Stat of the game: Arizona State was outrushed 162 yards to minus-11. Wow. What can you say about that?

Player of the game: Boise State QB Kellen Moore didn't have his best game -- he threw two interceptions -- but his 50th win capped one of the greatest careers in college football history. With him behind center, Boise State became the first Football Bowl Subdivision program to win 50 games in four years. One word from all of college football, Kellen: Thanks.

What Arizona State learned: Some Sun Devils showed fight -- QB Brock Osweiler and receiver Gerell Robinson being two -- but this is a program that needs to transform itself. Sloppy, me-first play needs to end. Doing the exact wrong thing at critical moments needs to end. New coach Todd Graham has inherited a considerable challenge.

Record performance: Osweiler, after throwing for 395 yards, set a school single-season record for yards this season.

Las Vegas Bowl: Three keys for ASU

December, 22, 2011
Three keys for Arizona State (6-6) if it's going to shock the world and upset Boise State.

1. Fast and physical: All things being equal, it's not unreasonable to at least mostly subscribe to AQ conference snobbism -- Arizona State should have bigger, faster players than Boise State. That obviously didn't help Georgia when the Broncos took the lumber to the Bulldogs in the season opener, but the Sun Devils should be able to win many one-on-one matchups and make plays in space. Somehow, they need to exploit that superiority. Or is it mythical superiority?

2. Disrupt Boise State's rhythm: Boise State is 10th in the nation in scoring defense and ninth in scoring offense. The Broncos pretty much do everything well. The Sun Devils need to take away what they most want to do on both sides of the ball and force them into a plan B. Easier said than done against a team with no obvious weaknesses. We were going to say the Sun Devils need to force turnovers and pressure Kellen Moore, but the Broncos are 15th in the nation in turnover margin -- they protect the football -- and are No. 1 in sacks allowed, surrendering fewer than one per game. Arizona State should try to do those things, sure, but most other teams have failed.

3. Smart and efficient play, yes, but playing loose and frenzied, too: Simply, if Arizona State has a bunch of turnovers and penalties it's going to get stomped. But the Sun Devils under Dennis Erickson have always been edgy and messy. They posted some of their better wins by mixing athletic, big plays with boneheaded ones. It's unlikely they reinvent themselves on the final day of his tenure. So go crazy, Sun Devils. Jump around. Play until the echo of the whistle. Perhaps get Boise State off its game with extracurriculars. If both teams are sloppy, you'd like the Sun Devils' chances a lot better.

Will ASU show up against Boise State?

December, 21, 2011
Is the Arizona State team that whipped USC 43-22 still somewhere inside the Arizona State team that lost 31-27 to Arizona? That Sun Devils squad that lost four in a row to finish the season -- cumulative record of foes: 21-28 -- can't possibly transform back into the hard-nosed, opportunistic unit that won 35-14 at Utah, can it?

Other than Illinois, which beat Arizona State during a 6-0 start but lost its final six games, no other team in the country captures that whole Jekyll-and-Hyde thing quite like the Sun Devils.

They started 6-2, earned a national ranking and were almost certain to win the Pac-12 South Division title. Then they completely collapsed. It's still difficult to figure out exactly what happened.

"It's not one thing you can put your finger on," senior linebacker Colin Parker said. "It was a combination of things. Every game was different. Sometimes our problems were on special teams. Sometimes our problems were on defense. Sometimes our problems were on offense. It was never the same."

The current problem the Sun Devils have is Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State went 11-1. It is ranked eighth. It is unhappy to be in Las Vegas -- again -- instead of the BCS bowl game it deserved, but the Broncos are not the sort of program that mopes and whines and turns in a flat performance. In fact, when the Broncos see an AQ-conference team on the opposite side of the field, they go all Bruce Banner-to-Incredible Hulk.

They last lost to one on Sept. 8, 2007 -- Washington, of all teams.

Meanwhile, it's reasonable to ask if the Sun Devils, a 14-point underdog, will show up. We already know that defensive end Junior Onyeali won't. He's been suspended. And we don't know what will happen with linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whose been running with the second team since he got benched against California in the season finale for a pair of personal foul penalties.

And, of course, this will be Dennis Erickson's last game as Sun Devils coach before Todd Graham takes over. Players might want to win one for Erickson, or they might not care because he's out the door.

Parker says the Sun Devils will be motivated.

"It's about sending the seniors out and especially the coaching staff out," Parker said. "Everybody here has only played for Coach Erickson and his staff. We've grown close together and none of us want to see him go. But it is what it is."

Parker said the time off away from the field has helped the team heal mentally and refocus.

"We've cleared our minds a little bit," he said. "We know what we are capable of. We've just got to go out and play like we did our first six games. We feel like we can play with anybody in the country."

The team that started 6-2 certainly could go nose-to-nose with Boise State. The team that went 0-4 in November, however, doesn't stand a chance.

So who shows up?
Larry Scott has worked magic in many areas since taking over as Pac-12 commissioner, but one of the next key areas for him to wave his magic commissioner's wand doesn't offer any obvious solutions: Conference bowl contracts.

It's one of the most popular complaints among Pac-12 fans: Why are the conference bowl tie-ins so mediocre? Why can't the Pac-12 play the SEC in a bowl game?

Before we, again, look at that, let's consider what Ryan McGee thinks about their Pac-12 bowl tie-ins. One word: Lame. He ranks them fifth among BCS conferences.

Here's his breakdown.
5. Pac-12

Tie-ins: 7

January games: 1

Bowls: BCS (Rose), Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Maaco, Kraft Fight Hunger, New Mexico

2011 bowl teams: 7

All-time BCS at-large berths: 4

If the bowl fall-off for the Big 12 is a cliff, then for the Pac-12 it's a canyon. Win the conference, and you're headed to the Rose Bowl or better. Finish second and if you haven't secured a BCS at-large berth, which has happened only four times, then you're playing in San Antonio on Dec. 29.

Don't get me wrong, the Alamo Bowl is a solid game, but is the Big 12's third option really where the Pac-12's conference runner-up should be?

The good news is the Rose Bowl. It's the best bowl game, and it's so much better than all the others that I'd rank the Fiesta No. 3, leaving No. 2 blank so everyone understands that that the Grandaddy is the Big Daddy.

Second, nothing major can happen here for a while. The Pac-12 bowl contracts run through the 2013 season. And who knows what college football will look like heading into 2014? You might have noticed how things have been a-changing lately.

But as far as the present frustration, considered for the sake of considering it: What's the solution for the Pac-12? Get better bowl contracts, right? Which ones? Are there bowl games in this region?

That's the first problem: Geography. If the Pac-12 wants better West Coast bowls, it's either going to have to get someone to create one or elevate one of its current games to a higher level. That's complicated.

The reason the ACC rates ahead of the Pac-12 twofold: 1. Geography; 2. It's been a 12-team league for longer than the Pac-12.

Geography: The best bowls are on the East Coast, many of them close to ACC schools. And the Pac-12 negotiated its bowl contracts when it was a 10-team league (other than the New Mexico Bowl last summer).

Of course — 10 or 12 teams — the Pac-12 didn't fill all its seven bowl contracts, which is why you forgot all about the New Mexico Bowl.

The reasons the Big 12 has better bowl games is simple: The Cotton Bowl. It's a nature Texas tie-in, and bowl games love signing up the SEC. The Cotton Bowl is widely viewed as the most likely candidate to become a fifth BCS bowl destination, in large part because you can't beat the venue: Cowboys Stadium.

The Pac-12 playing in the Cotton Bowl just doesn't seem like a possibility. And the Cotton Bowl gives the Big 12 a leg up on the Pac-12 in the postseason.

Here's the reality folks: The Pac-12 as it is presently configured won't get better bowl games than the SEC and Big 10. Those conferences combined to fill 17 of the top-25 spots in the attendance rankings in 2010. Those numbers translate to bowl games in terms of travel, selling tickets and filling up hotel rooms, which is the primary task of bowls.

Of course, what I am giving you is the conventional wisdom — the why not. Scott isn't much of a conventional wisdom guy. He's a "what if" thinker.

Which means it's not unreasonable to hold out hope that the Pac-12 will have better bowl agreements in the future.

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6) vs. Boise State Broncos (11-1)

Dec. 22, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Arizona State take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: After a strong start, Arizona State crashed and burned, and that's why coach Dennis Erickson is out of a job.

And if the Sun Devils are unfocused against Boise State, they will get crushed, losing a fifth consecutive game and thereby finishing with a losing record. That would be no way to send Erickson off into the sunset.

On Oct. 29, things seemed so different. With the Sun Devils at 6-2 and nationally ranked, Erickson seemed due for a contract extension. Heck, even a raise. Quarterback Brock Osweiler was putting up big numbers and an opportunistic defense was forcing turnovers and getting red zone stops. The South Division title seemed a certainty. And the schedule eased up, so it was reasonable to project 10 wins.

But things went haywire at UCLA, and the Sun Devils never recovered. After losing to the Bruins, ASU went down at Washington State and lost to rival Arizona, which was playing with an interim coach after firing Mike Stoops. The season-ending loss at home to Cal was played in front of an embarrassing number of empty seats. The defense went belly-up during the losing streak.

Most Sun Devils fans are focused on who the team's next coach will be. The Sun Devils better focus on Boise State or they could get embarrassed.

Boise State take by Nation blogger Andrea Adelson: For the second straight year, Boise State is left to lament a missed field goal. This year, it was Dan Goodale’s 39-yard miss as time expired against TCU, and Boise State lost 36-35. The loss snapped a 65-game regular-season home winning streak and any hopes for Boise State to get back to a BCS game. Last year, it was Kyle Brotzman who missed field goals in regulation and overtime in a loss to Nevada, also costing the Broncos a BCS shot.

The Broncos may have finished as the highest-ranked non-AQ team, but you are not guaranteed an automatic spot into the BCS unless you are a conference champion. It is really hard to believe that a second-straight 11-1 season could end with so much disappointment. But only in Boise are 11-win seasons disappointments when you don’t have access to the big stage.

Still, this senior group has won 49 games in its career and has a chance to set the record for most wins by a class in the bowl game. Quarterback Kellen Moore topped himself with another fine season, throwing for 3,507 yards, 41 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He did it without his top two receivers from a season ago, turning a group of unknowns into his go-to guys.

Tyler Shoemaker had 15 touchdown catches to lead the way. The defense was perhaps not as crisp as in years past. The defensive line was unable to get consistent pressure up front, and the secondary has been ravaged by one injury after another. The Broncos played against TCU without their top three cornerbacks and had to rely on freshmen against some very talented skill players. Doug Martin was banged up this year as well. Still, you have to give credit to this program for its recent run of success over the last four years -- one BCS appearance, plus three other teams completely worthy of getting in. Remember the undefeated regular-season team of 2008 was left out of the BCS, and now back-to-back seasons have been decided by a field goal.