NCF Nation: Kellen Moore

If you’re a Big Ten fan, then you’ve been looking forward to a certain Week 2 matchup all offseason: No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 8 Michigan State.

It’s offense vs. defense, Marcus Mariota vs. Shilique Calhoun, unstoppable force vs. immovable object. There’s a lot to be excited about, even on a national scale. Since 2005, only nine games have featured two top-10 teams duking it out this early. There’s a reason "College GameDay" has decided to descend upon Eugene, Oregon, after all.

Can the underdog Spartans pull it off? Will Oregon’s offense run rampant? Those answers won’t come for another few days, so we decided to take a closer look at those other nine games. Historically, how have games of this magnitude gone down, how often does the underdog win -- and how often do these teams move on to success?

Take a look:

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson -- Aug. 31, 2013

The favorite: Georgia by 2.5 points

The outcome: Clemson 38-35. This lived up to its hype of being a closely fought shootout. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd proved to be the difference-maker. He threw for three TDs, rushed for two more and totaled 312 yards.

End of season ranking (Clemson): No. 8 (11-2, 7-1 ACC). Beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl, 40-35.

End of season ranking (Georgia): unranked (8-5, 5-3 SEC). Lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl, 24-19.




No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 1, 2012

The favorite: Alabama by 11

The outcome: Alabama 41-14. The Crimson Tide opened the game on a 31-0 run, and Michigan never really stood a chance. The Wolverines’ first six possessions ended with four punts and two interceptions. They moved the ball 24 yards on those drives.

End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (13-1, 7-1 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Notre Dame for the national championship, 42-14.

End of season ranking (Michigan): No. 24 (8-5, 6-2 Big Ten). Lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl, 33-28.




No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 3, 2011

The favorite: Oregon by 3.5

The outcome: LSU 40-27. This was billed as a top defense (LSU was No. 12 in total D the year before) vs. a top offense. But the game came apart for the Ducks when De'Anthony Thomas fumbled on consecutive drives deep in his own territory. LSU scored touchdowns on both possessions.

End of season ranking (LSU): No. 2 (13-1, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship but lost to Alabama in the national championship, 21-0.

End of season ranking (Oregon): No. 4 (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12). Won the Pac-12 championship and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.




No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (Landover, Maryland) -- Sept. 3, 2010

The favorite: Boise State by 1.5

The outcome: Boise State 33-30. This one could’ve gone either way. With 1:47 left, Boise State QB Kellen Moore engineered a five-play, 56-yard touchdown drive to give the Broncos the advantage. Virginia Tech turned the ball over on downs on its next possession.

End of season ranking (Boise State): No. 9 (12-1, 7-1 WAC). Lone blemish was a 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. Beat Utah in Maaco Bowl, 26-3.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 16 (11-3, 8-0 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Stanford in Orange Bowl, 40-12.




No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech (Atlanta) -- Sept. 5, 2009

The favorite: Alabama by 6.5

The outcome: Alabama 34-24. The Hokies led 17-16 after three quarters, but the fourth quarter was all Alabama. The Tide outscored Virginia Tech 18-7 in the final 15 minutes. A fumble on a kick return didn’t help matters for Tech.

End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (14-0, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Texas in the national championship, 37-21.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 10 (10-3, 6-2 ACC). Beat Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, 37-14.




No. 3 USC at No. 8 Ohio State -- Sept. 12, 2009

The favorite: USC by 6.5

The outcome: USC 18-15. With 7:29 left in the game, Matt Barkley drove the Trojans downfield for a touchdown and two-point conversion. They ate up 6:10 on the drive, and Ohio State responded with a turnover on downs.

End of season ranking (USC): No. 22 (9-4, 5-4 Pac-10). Beat Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, 24-13.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 5 (11-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten and defeated Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 26-17.




No. 9 Virginia Tech at No. 2 LSU -- Sept. 8, 2007

The favorite: LSU by 11

The outcome: LSU 48-7. LSU racked up 598 yards of offense, and this was a snoozer from the beginning. LSU found itself up 14-0 just 10 minutes into the game, and the Hokies converted just two third downs the entire game.

End of season ranking (LSU): No. 1 (12-2, 6-2 SEC). Won SEC championship and beat Ohio State in national championship, 38-24.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 9 (11-3, 7-1 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Kansas in Orange Bowl, 24-21.




No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas -- Sept. 9, 2006

The favorite: Texas by 3

The outcome: Ohio State 24-7. It was the first regular-season No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in a decade, and the Buckeyes never trailed in this game. Troy Smith threw for 269 yards and two TDs, while the defense held Texas to less than 20 points for the first time in 21 games.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 2 (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten championship but lost to Florida in the national championship, 41-14.

End of season ranking (Texas): No. 13 (10-3, 6-2 Big 12). Beat Iowa in Alamo Bowl, 26-24.




No. 2 Texas at No. 4 Ohio State -- Sept. 10, 2005

The favorite: Texas by 1.5

The outcome: Texas 25-22. With 2:37 left in the game, Longhorns QB Vince Young found Limas Sweed for the go-ahead 24-yard TD. It was a back-and-forth affair; Texas jumped out to a 10-0 lead but the Buckeyes led at halftime 16-13.

End of season ranking (Texas): No. 1 (13-0, 8-0 Big 12). Won the Big 12 championship and beat USC in the national championship, 41-38.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 4 (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won part of the Big Ten championship and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 34-20.


Michigan State overcame four turnovers and rode Le'Veon Bell and a stifling defense to edge a plucky Boise State squad 17-13 in the opener.

Let's take a closer look.

It was over when: Michigan State converted two third downs and received a first-down run from Bell inside the Boise State 5-yard line with 1:37 left. The Spartans then ran out the clock.

Game ball goes to: Bell. Who else? The junior was Michigan State's offense Friday night, recording an insane 50 touches. He had a career-high 44 carries for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He added six receptions for 55 yards and provided a huge help to shaky quarterback Andrew Maxwell in Maxwell's first start. Forget Montee Ball or Denard Robinson. Bell might be the Big Ten's top Heisman Trophy candidate. He helped his cause and earned a long soak in the tub.

Stat of the game: Michigan State outgained Boise State 348-179 in the first three quarters and held the ball for more than 28 of the first 45 minutes but trailed 13-10 entering the fourth quarter thanks to the turnovers, one of which led directly to a Broncos touchdown (Jeremy Ioane interception return).

Best call: Despite Bell's dominance, Michigan State needed to mix in passes down the stretch and featured its tight ends. On third-and-3 from the Michigan State 49-yard line in the closing minutes, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar called a nifty pass to tight end Andrew Gleichert, who recently received a scholarship. Top tight end Dion Sims also had a big performance (7 receptions, 65 yards).

What Michigan State learned: It has a championship-level defense with a ferocious line and two talented cornerbacks in Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. It also has a championship-level running back in Bell. It doesn't have a championship-level quarterback or offense yet, although Maxwell can build off the opener. But the Spartans can't expect to give Bell 50 touches each game.

What Boise State learned: The rebuilding process isn't easy when you lose a player such as Kellen Moore. The Broncos' defense certainly came to play, but they couldn't run the ball between the tackles and failed to hit on several big-play opportunities against the Spartans. Boise State's Joe Southwick will get better and should take some positives from Friday night's game, but the Broncos have some work to do.

What it means: Boise State showed it still can hang with the big dogs, even after going through a dramatic roster overhaul. But Michigan State is the better team and proved it in the fourth quarter. First-time starting quarterbacks Maxwell and Southwick both looked the part and will need to improve going forward, although there were some bright spots. Michigan State secured a signature victory it absolutely had to have with Rose Bowl aspirations. Boise State's chances to bust the BCS again likely went up in smoke, as it failed to score an offensive touchdown.
The knock against Boise State year after year is always its schedule.

Too weak, the critics say. Play with the big boys, they yell. No credibility, they howl. The argument has always been a lazy one, steeped in superficiality and ignorance.

This past weekend proved it.

Boise State had a school-record six players drafted, including two in the first round. For those scoring at home, only Alabama (eight), Georgia and Oklahoma (seven each) had more. Ten Boise State players have been drafted in the past three years. To put that into context, Boise State had 10 players drafted between 2002-08, a span of seven years.

[+] EnlargeBoise State's Chris Petersen
Kyle Terada/US PRESSWIREChris Petersen has been churning out victories and NFL talent at Boise State.
So it turns out, going 50-3 over the past four seasons was not so much a product of a lousy schedule, but a product of some darn good football players, and some excellent coaching.

Consider: Boise State never lands Top 25 recruiting classes. In fact, Boise State and five-star commitments go together -- never. Coach Chris Petersen is perhaps the most underrated coach in America when you consider the talent level of the players he has to work with when they arrive on campus.

Shea McClellin went No. 19 overall to the Bears. In the class of 2007, he was unheralded and unranked out of a tiny town in Idaho. Doug Martin went No. 31 overall to Tampa Bay. In the class of 2007, ESPN ranked him the No. 248 running back in the nation. They are about as unlikely a pair of first-round picks as you will find in the draft. And yet NFL teams, NFL coaches and NFL scouts seemed to have no problem with the competition they faced.

Anybody who has bothered to watch Boise State play under Petersen appreciates the type of players he has been able to develop. Three of the four starting defensive linemen on last year's team were drafted, and that is no big surprise. Boise State dominated up front the past several years -- as Georgia will attest to after getting walloped in the season opener last season. McClellin and Billy Winn (sixth round, Cleveland) were stalwarts on that unit.

Tyrone Crawford moved into the starting unit in 2011, but he has been a significant contributor over the past two seasons, as the team's leader in tackles for loss. Crawford is another player with an unlikely story. He hails from Canada, and only began playing in ninth grade at the request of his physical education teacher. He was picked in the third round by the Cowboys.

We have not even talked about quarterback Kellen Moore, who went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions. Moore helped engineer all those victories with his leadership, his skill and his incredible knowledge of the offense. He is talented, yes. But he is undersized and lacking in some of the key measurables teams want in a quarterback, so he was passed over despite the intangible values he brings to the quarterback position.

Whether he should have been drafted is another topic. The point is that NFL teams and scouts are not simply enamored with college success, enough to overlook deficiencies or potential stumbling blocks for that particular player on the next level. These NFL teams do an inordinate amount of homework and research when they make their selections. They are looking for talent and potential when they watch tape, not the strength of the opposition.

Nobody is going to argue that Boise State has played the quality schedule Alabama has played. But the argument that Boise State is simply lucky and not any good must end. The Broncos have proven they have way too much talent to be undercut with such a silly notion.
  1. “A Memorial for Joe” will honor the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno on Thursday, 29 years to the day that former Alabama coach Bear Bryant died only four weeks after his final game. The fact that both coaching icons died so soon after they left coaching has been noted time and again this week. The coincidences continue to pile up. Both Bryant and Paterno won their last victory against Illinois. Paterno’s last loss ever came to Alabama in September.
  2. You can’t quibble with the success of Boise State coach Chris Petersen. The Broncos went 50-3 the last four seasons with Kellen Moore at quarterback, and is 73-6 overall. But now comes Petersen’s biggest test. According to PhilSteele.com, Boise State is dead last among FBS schools in returning starters with six. Depth is usually the last thing that mid-majors can count on. Then again, with the Big East on the horizon, we won’t be able to call Boise State a mid-major for much longer.
  3. You know that a head coach has made it when he keeps winning even as his assistants depart. With that in mind, keep an eye on Wisconsin next fall. Head coach Bret Bielema is in the process of replacing six of his nine assistant coaches in this offseason. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst became head coach at Pitt and took three coaches with him. Bielema may be young – he turned 42 this month – but he’s developing a coaching tree. Dave Doeren left his staff last year to become head coach at Northern Illinois.
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore kicks off his quest to prove he is a bona fide NFL quarterback this week as he begins practicing at the Senior Bowl.

You get the feeling he is going to be one of the more talked about prospects. Not only is Boise State one of the most polarizing schools in the nation, there is also a major curiosity about whether Moore can play in the NFL given his size (5-foot-11) and arm strength. Can those questions be answered during a week's worth of practice and the game on Saturday?

Todd McShay breaks down his top storylines for the big collegiate all-star game, and Moore happens to one of the quarterbacks he lists with plenty on the line.

McShay says, "The closer Moore is to 6-foot the better it will be for his stock. He's also looking to show NFL scouts he's capable of finding passing windows and reading [the] entire field from inside the pocket."

Among the other players McShay is going to keep an eye on from the non-AQ ranks:

San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley. McShay writes: "He has been working on being more consistent with his mechanics, and Lindley has a chance to improve his draft stock if his accuracy is better during the practice week. He currently projects as a Day 3 pick."

Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green and Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner are two of his under the radar prospects. McShay says Green has a chance to really raise his stock if he proves he can make plays against a higher level of competition. Wagner is "quick, tough and instinctive but scouts will want to see how well he stacks and sheds against bigger blockers in phone-booth situations."

Top 10 non-AQ moments of 2011

January, 12, 2012
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Let's take a look back at some of the top moments from the non-AQs in 2011, both good and bad.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesQB Casey Pachall and TCU stopped Boise State's 65-game regular-season home win streak en route to a third straight Mountain West title.
1. A missed field goal strikes again. Everybody knew the Boise State-TCU game would have major implications in the national picture. No. 5 Boise State came in undefeated, with a 65-game regular-season home winning streak and veteran Kellen Moore leading the way. But the Horned Frogs are never an easy out, as Boise State has learned through the years. Casey Pachall rallied his team from a fourth-quarter deficit with 1:05 to go when he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Carter. Rather than go for the extra point to tie the game at 35, Gary Patterson went for 2. It was a bold move, but it was one he felt was necessary if he wanted to win in regulation. Pachall converted with a pass to Josh Boyce and TCU went up 36-35. Moore wasn't done. He guided the Broncos into position for the game-winning field goal. But for the second straight year, they missed. This time, it was Dan Goodale's 39-yard kick sailing wide right, denying Boise State a shot at a BCS game. TCU left the Mountain West with its third straight conference title.

2. Houston collapses. All Houston had to do to secure its first BCS berth was beat Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game. The Cougars were the favorite, having gone undefeated in the regular season with Case Keenum behind center. Southern Miss had lost to UAB. So yeah, most everybody expected the Cougars to romp. Instead, the Golden Eagles pulled one of the biggest upsets of the season, shutting down Keenum and winning 49-28 in a game they dominated from start to finish. Keenum threw two interceptions and was harassed all day long. The end result: Houston ended up in the TicketCity Bowl, a far cry from one of the major BCS games. Southern Miss won its first C-USA title game.

3. Records broken. The two best non-AQ players this year ended up breaking two of the most meaningful stats for quarterbacks. Moore ended his career as the NCAA all-time wins leader with 50, passing Colt McCoy of Texas; Keenum ended his career with several NCAA marks -- 19,217 passing yards; 20,114 yards of total offense; 155 passing touchdowns; and 1,546 completions. They both did all they could to lead their teams with maturity and class, and were great representatives for their respective programs.

4. No BCS. For the first time since the BCS expanded to five games, there were no non-AQ teams represented. Much was made about a one-loss No. 7 Boise State team getting passed over for an at-large selection in favor of two teams ranked lower in the BCS standings (Michigan and Virginia Tech). Though four non-AQs finished the season ranked in the AP poll (Boise State, TCU, Houston, Southern Miss), this season will be remembered as one in which there were no undefeated non-AQs for the first time since 2005.

5. Expansion. One of the biggest storylines to eclipse the entire season was expansion, and its impact on the non-AQs. The Mountain West and Conference USA announced they were forming an alliance in the hopes of gaining an automatic bid, and bolstering itself in the event they lost teams. Well, the inevitable happened and they both lost teams. Boise State and San Diego State are leaving the MWC for the Big East, along with UCF, Houston and SMU of C-USA. With TCU going to the Big 12, you can say the non-AQs have been stripped of nearly every single one of their most consistently good teams. There is no word on the future of the alliance between the MWC and C-USA.

[+] EnlargePat Hill
AP Photo/Gary KazanjianPat Hill won 112 games and made 11 bowl appearances in 15 seasons at Fresno State.
6. End of an era. Pat Hill had become an institution at Fresno, guiding the Bulldogs to some of their most important victories in the past 15 years while putting this program on the national map. But this team has slid in recent years and hit rock bottom in 2011 -- going 4-9, tying the mark for most losses in school history. The administration decided it was time for Hill to go and fired him after winning 112 games and going to 11 bowl games in his career there.

7. End of an era, Part II. Many wondered how good TCU would be this season with Andy Dalton headed to the NFL. After a few early-season struggles, the Horned Frogs proved they would be just fine. TCU ended its Mountain West reign with its third straight conference title; 11 victories; and yet another top 15 ranking. In fact, TCU is one of just four schools (Alabama, Boise State and Oregon) to finish in the top 15 of both major polls over the past four seasons. On top of that, TCU and Boise State are the only schools to win at least 11 games each of the past four years.

8. Navy streak ends. For the past eight years, we have come to expect Navy in a bowl game. But it was not meant to be this season. The Midshipmen lost one heartbreaking game after another -- five games by three points or fewer. The last one of those was a 27-24 setback to San Jose State in the second-to-last game of the season. Navy led going into the fourth quarter, but could not hold on. A victory in that game would have ensured a bowl appearance, because Navy finished the season with its 10th straight win over Army.

9. Got any D? The wildest game in college football happened in the MAC this year, between Northern Illinois and Toledo. Now this game is what MAC-tion is all about. The Huskies outlasted the Rockets 63-60 in a game that featured eight lead changes, 1,121 combined yards of offense and a MAC-record 17 touchdowns. Chandler Harnish won the game when he threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Perez Ashford with 19 seconds left. The victory gave Northern Illinois the MAC West title, and allowed the Huskies to make it to the conference title game, where they won their first title since 1983. They also ended up tying the school record with 11 victories.

10. Turn it around. This season, the Sun Belt literally turned itself upside down. Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky went a combined 9-27 in 2010. This season, they went 26-12 and each finished with a winning record. Arkansas State won the league and finished 10-3; ULL went 9-4. Both teams made bowl games. Western Kentucky, which went winless in 2009, finished 7-5 but was left out of a bowl.
Time to put a bow on non-AQ bowl season and look at what we learned.

1. Boise State should have been in a BCS game. We already knew that going into bowl season, but Boise State's 56-24 dismantling of Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas just served as a fresh reminder that the Broncos were done an injustice. Combine that with the mistake-filled Allstate Sugar Bowl between Michigan and Virginia Tech, and you get that "woulda, shoulda, coulda" feeling all over again. Playing in the Vegas bowl game was not only unfair to the Broncos, who had to bid farewell to Kellen Moore on a weeknight in December, it was unfair to the Sun Devils. Both teams deserved a chance to play a team more on their own level. Being paired up against San Diego State would have made a much better game for Arizona State; A Michigan-Boise State matchup would have been much more appealing as well. Instead, Boise State is left with an unsatisfying end to the season.

[+] EnlargeHouston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum
Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIREHouston quarterback Case Keenum and the Cougars completely dominated in their bowl win over Penn State.
2. Houston was fired up. OK maybe that was an understatement. Houston came out with its full passing arsenal and completely obliterated Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. It was a bigger rout than the 30-14 final score indicates, as Houston led 24-7 at halftime. Despite losing a shot to play in the BCS, and then losing head coach Kevin Sumlin, the Cougars clearly felt they had something to prove. Case Keenum threw for 532 yards and three touchdowns on a defense that was giving up an average of 162 yards through the air headed into the game. The bowl performance capped Keenum's NCAA record-breaking career, and also allowed Houston to complete the best season in school history at 13-1.

3. MWC not as dominant. Last season, the Mountain West rolled to a 4-1 bowl record and its fourth Bowl Challenge Cup. But the success was not replicated this year. The Mountain West went 2-3 in its bowl games, with two losses to the MAC (Wyoming to Temple, Air Force to Toledo) and one loss to the Sun Belt (San Diego State to Louisiana-Lafayette). If you fashion yourself as one of the top conferences in the country, you have got to win all your bowl games against non-AQ competition. Boise State and TCU once again held up their end of the bargain, but the story of this conference has been and will continue to be its lack of quality depth top to bottom. You can add in Nevada, which joins in 2012, and the Mountain West went 2-4 -- 1-4 against non-AQ competition.

4. MAC, C-USA shine. On the other end of the spectrum, bravo to the MAC and C-USA for putting together 4-1 marks during bowl season. C-USA went 2-0 against competition from the AQ conferences, with wins for Houston over Penn State, and SMU over Pitt. In the MAC, the Toledo-Air Force game was perhaps one of the best of the entire bowl season, with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun calling a fake extra point attempt to win the game instead of heading to overtime. Toledo was prepared, and the 42-41 win gave 32-year-old Rockets head coach Matt Campbell his first victory. Ohio pulled a come-from-behind stunner on Utah State to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 24-23 -- the first bowl win in school history. Northern Illinois ended the season with its ninth straight win, and Temple cruised.

5. BYU ends with 10 wins. Closing Year 1 as an independent with a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, meant the Cougars notched their fifth bowl win in the last six season and ended with 10 victories. How much fun was it to see Riley Nelson unleash the fake spike just before throwing the winning touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman? That win earned them a No. 25 ranking in the final coaches' poll, also the fifth time in the last six seasons they ended in the Top 25. BYU is one of only 11 programs nationally to be ranked in at least one of the two major polls during five of the last six seasons.

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas: Three keys

December, 22, 2011
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Here are three keys for Boise State headed into the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against Arizona State on Thursday night:

1. Protect against the deep pass. The Sun Devils might have posted a disappointing season, but they do have one of the most prolific passing offenses in the nation with Brock Osweiler under center. Arizona State ranks No. 11 in the nation in passing, averaging 310 yards a game, and pass defense has been the biggest area of weakness for Boise State this season because injuries have really hurt the secondary. The good news is that starting cornerback Jamar Taylor is expected to play for the first time since the Nov. 12 game against TCU.

2. Protect Kellen Moore. The Boise State offensive line is one of the best in the nation once again, but it's preparing to face a big test in Arizona State. During interviews this week in Las Vegas, several Boise State linemen said this defensive front is the best one the Broncos will face this year. Left guard Joe Kellogg called the group "special." You know Arizona State is going to try to come after Moore to get this offense out of its rhythm, so the line has got to be as good as always in order to give Moore the time he needs to throw and keep the offense moving.

3. Prove it again. Boise State deserves to be playing in a BCS game, but there really is no issue in getting this team motivated to play in a bowl that is a notch below. The Broncos did it in this very game last year and beat Utah. They have something very special on the line in this one -- the opportunity to win the 50th game for the senior class, a mark that would set a new school record. Getting to do it against a team from an AQ conference -- even if it is one that went a disappointing 6-6 -- would be just as important. Boise State has won five straight against teams from AQ conferences, and the current seniors are 3-0 against teams from the Pac-12. If you count Utah last year, the Broncos are 4-0.

Las Vegas Bowl: Three keys for ASU

December, 22, 2011
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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.
The Pac-12 bowl season kicks off Thursday night in Vegas, as Arizona State tries to save face after a late-season collapse when it takes on Boise State.

Here's a quick preview of the matchup:

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. This is Kellen Moore's final game for Boise State after one of the best careers in college football history. To hear the skeptics who question his NFL potential, this might be the last start of his football career. He had another brilliant season, but -- not unlike his team -- fell off the national radar after a loss to TCU. A remarkably consistent performer, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't go out strong. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils' offense flows through Brock Osweiler. He'll need to be at his best against a sound, statistically impressive defense.

WHAT TO WATCH: Both teams' fire. Arizona State lost its final four games and its coach, Dennis Erickson, was let go. Boise State was expecting a berth in a BCS bowl, not one before Christmas against a .500 team that fired its coach. The general expectation is a disciplined, businesslike Broncos team will do its usual thing while the Sun Devils won't be able to stay focused and intense after their ruined season. But it's possible the opposite will happen, right, with Boise State playing without interest and the Sun Devils trying to prove the pundits wrong?

WHY TO WATCH: Moore, for one. He's enough of a reason. And there has to be some curiosity about whether Arizona State will show up, not to mention whether linebacker Vontaze Burfict will play -- and, if so, how well and with how much discipline. Further, it's a Boise State matchup with an AQ-conference team. That always raises an eyebrow.

PREDICTION: Boise State 41, Arizona State 24. It's possible that the Sun Devils might try to win one for Erickson on his way out. Or that they might adopt an "us against the world" mentality and play with fire we haven't seen since October. But even at their best, the Sun Devils would be underdogs. Hard to imagine they'll be at their best after losing four in a row to end the regular season, blowing the South Division title and getting their coach fired.

3-point stance: Courageous Spartans

December, 20, 2011
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1. Michigan State fifth-year senior Arthur Ray Jr., spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons fighting bone cancer in his left leg. After spending nearly two years on crutches, Ray returned to play in three games this season. The Football Writers Association of America named Ray the winner Monday of the Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Someone should create an award for Spartans; left guard Joel Foreman, who gave up his streak of 22 straight starts so that Ray could start the 2011 opener against Youngstown State.

2. Former ESPN announcer Craig James announced Monday that he is running in the Republican primary for the 2012 U.S. Senate in Texas. If the former SMU tailback is elected, he will join a very short list of senators who played college football. Sen. Joe Manchin (D.-W.Va.) went to West Virginia on a football scholarship but got hurt. Former senators John Culver of Iowa and the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts were teammates at Harvard. I know I must be missing others. Let me know at Ivan.Maisel@espn.com.

3. Coaches love to use bowl practices as a pre-spring practice for next season. At Boise State, for example, sophomore Joe Southwick and freshman Grant Hedrick prepared for replacing Kellen Moore, the winningest quarterback in FBS history. Brent Pease, the Broncos’ quarterback coach, said he must figure out what they know and how well they know it. “What [will] they understand in the heat of the moment?” Pease asked. “None of them have really been [in when] the game’s on the line.”

What to watch in the non-AQs: Bowls

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
10:15
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Here is what I will be watching from the non-AQ teams once bowl season begins:

1. Last hurrah for Kellen Moore. Boise State closes out the season in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas next week against Arizona State, bringing to a close the final chapter for Moore, the best player in school history. Moore already holds the NCAA record for career victories. Another win will mean he and his senior class will set the school mark for most victories by a group with 50. What Moore has achieved is simply remarkable — four-year starter, 3,000-yard passing seasons in each of his four seasons and only once did he throw double-digit interceptions (his freshman year, 10). He led this team to four top-10 finishes in the BCS standings, one BCS appearance and one undefeated season. His critics will point out that the strength of schedule has not been impossible, but it is hard to knock what this young man has accomplished with his consistency, his football IQ and his ability to will his team to victory. Boise State has lost three games in his time as a starter, and all three were by a field goal or less. Moore has elevated this program, and whoever replaces him will have an enormous legacy to match.

2. TCU says goodbye. It has been a nice run for the Horned Frogs in the Mountain West, but now it is time for them to say goodbye and move on to their new home in the Big 12. They closed out the conference season with their third straight league title, thanks to a huge win at Boise State, and now have a chance to post 11 wins for the seventh time in the past 10 years. A victory also would be career win No. 109 for coach Gary Patterson, which would tie him with Dutch Meyer as the all-time winningest coach in school history. Meyer was 109-79-13 from 1934 to '52, including national championships in 1935 and 1938.

3. How does Houston respond? One of the biggest questions in all of bowl season is what we will see out of Houston. This is a team that fell one win short of making a BCS game. Now the Cougars are relegated to the TicketCity Bowl against Penn State and will be without coach Kevin Sumlin, who accepted a job to coach Texas A&M. It is hard to know exactly what to expect out of Houston for several reasons. Its performance in the Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss was the worst of the season, it has to fight the distraction of losing its coach and it has to fight the feeling of playing in a lesser bowl game after working so hard to try to bust into the BCS. It will be up to senior quarterback Case Keenum to get his teammates prepared to play and motivated to find a little extra to get them up for this game.

4. Anything to prove? There are four bowl games out of 35 that pit non-AQ teams against those from automatic qualifying conferences: Boise State-Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Western Michigan-Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, SMU-Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and Houston-Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. Bowl season is always a great time for the non-AQs to prove themselves against teams from the bigger conferences, but without a big BCS matchup this season, these matchups fall a little flat. Is anybody going to take notice if the non-AQs go 4-0 with wins over Arizona State (6-6), Pitt (6-6) and Purdue (6-6)?

5. My favorite matchup: BYU vs. Tulsa, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Both teams have had solid seasons. BYU in Year 1 as an independent has a chance for another 10-win season; Tulsa survived a brutal nonconference stretch to open the season to make it back to a bowl game. Starting quarterbacks Riley Nelson and G.J. Kinne can run, and both have good skill position players around them. Tulsa linebacker Curnelius Arnick and BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy have put together great seasons and are fun to watch. When you start to parse the numbers, their wins have not come against the toughest competition. Of BYU's nine wins, only one has come against a bowl team. Of Tulsa's eight wins, only two have come against bowl teams.

Luck wins Maxwell Award

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
11:19
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Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck won the Maxwell Award at "The Home Depot College Football Awards" show, beating out Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore and Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

The Maxwell Award is given to the best all-around player in college football.

"I feel a lot of pride for this award, to have tangible evidence for all of the work on the practice field," Luck said.

Earlier in the evening, Luck missed out on the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, which went to Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Houston's Case Keenum was the other finalist.

Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro was beat out for the Outland Trophy -- which goes to the nation's top interior lineman -- by Alabama offensive tackle Barrett Jones of Alabama. Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still was the third finalist.

In typical Luck fashion, he praised his coaches and teammates for his success.

"(Give credit) to a great scheme," Luck said. "The coaches put us in a great situation and it's trusting the offensive line, the running backs and the wide receivers to make plays. It all comes with practice time."

Come chat with the award finalists

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
1:58
PM ET
On Thursday, we'll be chatting up some college football award finalists in advance of The Home Depot College Football Awards show, which airs Thursday night (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

We'll be setting up shop, mingling with the finalists. So, check in to see who stops by to chat. We'll be grabbing some of the best players from the 2011 college football season, like Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, USC's Robert Woods and Boise State's Kellen Moore.

Video: Moore on Boise State's BCS snub

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
11:00
AM ET


Andrea Adelson speaks with Boise State’s Kellen Moore before The Home Depot College Football Awards show about the Broncos’ BCS snub and what his legacy in Boise will be.

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