For the third straight season, the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas will feature Boise State (10-2, 7-1 MWC). This year however, the game should be far more competitive than the previous two Bronco blowouts.
This season however, the competition is more evenly matched, and should be a much closer contest.
The Washington Huskies (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) are a tough, defensive team, with a chip on their shoulder. In the last game of the season, the Huskies gave up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter to in-state rival Washington State in the Apple Cup. The game then went into overtime where the Cougars finished the upset with a field goal.
You have to believe that loss is not sitting well with Washington. You also have to believe they will be extra motivated to win the Maaco Bowl and salvage a season that certainly had its share of great moments.
Washington upset Stanford and Oregon State in 2012, both ranked in the top 10 when the Huskies played them. They also beat the only common opponent the Broncos and Huskies share when in the season's opening game they downed San Diego State 21-12. The Broncos lost to the Aztecs 21-19 late in the season.
The Maaco Bowl should be a good game. It will most likely be a defensive battle, but both offenses will need to do their part as well.
With that in mind, let's look at the five key players for the Broncos in this game. How these five play should go a long way in determining the outcome.
The Boise State defense has been incredible all season long, and one of the reasons it has been so effective is first year junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence. This sophomore has certainly made his presence known.
On the season, according to Broncosports.com, Lawrence has 9.5 sacks, 48 tackles, four forced fumbles, a blocked kick, an interception and a touchdown. He has also harassed, chased and made life miserable for several opposing quarterbacks.
If Demarcus Lawrence is able to do what he has done all season long against the Huskies in Las Vegas, let's just say that Washington will not be looking forward to seeing him again in next season's opening game.
The problem with keying on Lawrence is that there is so much other talent around him on that defense. If Washington focuses too much on him, they will find the dam breaking in other spots. If the Huskies can't contain Lawrence, they will be seeing No. 8 in their nightmares.
Lawrence should be a real key as to how the Broncos defense performs in the Maaco Bowl. If he has success early, it could help to set the pace and be a real key to a Boise State victory.
Senior linebacker J.C. Percy has been incredible all year. His 101 tackles, yes that is correct, his 101 tackles this season lead the team as they enter the Maaco Bowl.
Percy is a real presence in the middle of the Boise State defense. He flies around, makes tackles and does a great job of containment. That should continue in Las Vegas.
Washington has a very good running back in Bishop Sankey. They also have a decent quarterback who can be mobile when he needs to be in Keith Price. However, one of their biggest weapons is their tight end, sophomore Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The Huskies like to use the big tight end in various ways, but he will certainly get his number called in the middle of the field. Percy and the rest of the Boise State defense must contain this guy, and you have to believe they are up for the challenge.
A real key to this game will be how Percy and the others do in limiting the rushing attack and contain the talented tight end of the Huskies.
If Washington is shut down rushing the ball they may go to the air. However, the Broncos secondary has been stellar this season, and that most likely continues in Las Vegas.
Senior cornerback Jamar Taylor is a legitimate NFL prospect that has played very well all year long for Boise State.
On the season, Taylor has 47 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, eight pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He does his job in dominating fashion, and that should continue in the bowl game.
Price can pass the ball for the Huskies, and he has completed 61.8 percent of his passes this season. He has a couple of solid targets as well in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams.
Look for Taylor to key on Williams all game long. Williams is the Huskies leading receiver with 71 catches on the year. He averages 11 yards per grab, but don't expect that to happen in Vegas.
With Taylor, and the rest of that amazing defensive secondary of the Broncos, you can expect averages like that to be less than usual in the Maaco Bowl.
Running back D.J. Harper certainly wants to go out in style. The talented ball carrier has had a long and, at times, painful journey at Boise State. In his sixth-year or eligibility because of two season ending knee injuries, the senior running back has seen quite a bit in his time with the Broncos.
For Harper to finish his college career in a big way would be a fitting end to a story that is a great example of heart, determination and hard work.
It is truly amazing what Harper has done in his time as a Bronco, and you have to believe he is primed to finish well. Look for him to play inspired and with the same kind of heart he has always displayed. He should be a key indicator of the Broncos success early in the contest.
If Harper is able to do his thing, break tackles and chew up yardage, Washington will be in trouble. However, even if the Huskies have early success against the Boise State running attack, that could change as the game goes on.
Harper doesn't quit, and even if he is slowed early, he will continue to work hard all game long. It will be very difficult for Washington to limit what Harper does in Las Vegas. His success should be a strong indicator in the outcome of the game.
Junior quarterback Joe Southwick will need to perform with the kind of determination and confidence he displayed in the last few regular season games.
If Southwick comes out playing with confidence and is throwing with accuracy, the Huskies could be in trouble. The junior quarterback has led his team to a 10-2 record, but in his first season as a starter, has been criticized for his less than expected performance.
Boise State fans are used to high powered offenses with quick strike capability. However, that has not been the case, at least consistently, this season for the Broncos. Still, Southwick led his team to another double-digit winning record and a share of the Mountain West Conference title.
A solid performance and a big win in Las Vegas could help Joe Southwick in many ways. First, his own confidence going into the 2013 season would be boosted. He probably has a heated quarterback battle going into next year's camp, and a solid performance puts him in a great position.
Also, a great game in Vegas probably helps the perception of the fan base. If he finishes strong, along with an 11 win season, it will go a long way in silencing some of his critics. However, a dismal game probably only makes those voices louder.
The way he finished the season, the elevated confidence and his overall improvements bode well for Southwick in the Maaco Bowl. Look for the junior to come out confident and play like the veteran he now is.
Boise State has an extremely talented receiving corp, and they should put them to work in Vegas. Look for Matt Miller, Kirby Moore, Chris Potter, Aaron Burks, Geraldo Boldewijn and maybe even Mitch Burroughs to make Southwick's job much easier on Saturday.
D.J. Harper, Jay Ajayi, Shane Williams-Rhodes and the rushing attack should assist Southwick as well.
If Joe comes out and establishes his presence early, it will be difficult for Washington to keep up. Boise State's defense should do a great job containing and shutting down a Huskies offense that isn't lighting up score boards this season.
If that happens, all the Broncos need to do is be consistent and steady on offense. Look for that to happen in Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday.
What is your prediction?
Boise State should win this game. However, it will be a battle. Look for both defenses to have some success, but in the end the Broncos should have the edge.
Look for Joe Southwick, D.J. Harper and the rest of the offense for Boise State to have a good game. They have been playing better as a unit, and Joe Southwick seems to be coming into his own.
The Boise State defense should hold Washington to 13 points or less, but look for a late touchdown to give them 20.
The Boise State offense should have a very solid game, even against a very good defense. Special teams will also play a factor and Chris Potter and Trevor Harman should help the Broncos win the field position battle all game long.
Look for a possible special teams or defensive score, and look for the Broncos to put up at least 31 points on the board.
Final score prediction: Boise State 31, Washington 20.
Look for more Bleacher Report articles leading up to the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas this Saturday.