Boise State (8-4) and Oregon State (6-6) may not be playing in a BCS bowl game, but their 2013 Hawaii Bowl matchup on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET) will be the perfect stage for each team's top players to shine.
The Beavers have lost five straight, as their struggles up and down the roster have led to defeats at the likes of Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon. Their passing game is top-notch, though, and quarterback Sean Mannion will look to get his team back to its winning ways.
The Broncos are coming off a 45-17 win over New Mexico that saw two of their best offensive stars—running back Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Matt Miller—go off for big numbers. Both playmakers will need to duplicate their performances at the Hawaii Bowl.
There is a lot of talent in this non-BCS bowl matchup, so expect the star players to take over right from the start.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
The sophomore running back was dynamic this season. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and racked up 1,328 yards on the ground. He was the go-to option in red-zone situations, and finished the regular season with 17 rushing touchdowns.
While not particularly active in the passing game, Ajayi did total 189 yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions this season.
Primarily a running team, Boise State will lean on Ajayi against Oregon State. The sophomore is coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances and he has five touchdowns in his last three contests. It's usually a good sign for the Broncos when he crosses the goal line.
If Ajayi can't keep the chains moving, then Boise State will be forced to lean on the passing game or far inferior options at running back. That hasn't worked for them this season, so Ajayi will need to have a big game.
Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Even though he has thrown 14 interceptions and taken 25 sacks in just 12 games, quarterback Sean Mannion has been the key cog in the Beavers' lethal passing attack.
Mannion has accumulated 4,403 yards passing and 36 touchdowns this season. Mannion is strictly a pocket passer and doesn't have great mobility outside of the pocket, which is the reason for the 25 sacks he has taken.
Mannion's inefficiencies of late have led to the Beavers' struggles. He has thrown 11 interceptions compared to just six touchdowns in the past four games. Oregon State hasn't been able to sustain or take leads after turning the ball over so many times.
Mannion has a big arm and has big-play ability, but keeping the ball in his team's hands will be the key for him in this one. He can take over the game if he's on.
Matt Miller, Boise State
The junior wide receiver is the favorite target in the passing game for Boise State, having hauled in 77 passes for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Miller stands 6'3" and is a popular target in the end zone, but he also has good speed and the ability to make plays over the top of secondaries.
Nine of his 11 touchdowns have come in the last four games, which speaks to the inconsistencies he has experienced this season. He reached double-digit receptions just once while notching eight or nine receptions three times and had five catches or fewer in five games.
He had four receiving games of more than 100 yards, but also totaled 55 yards or less on five other occasions. If Miller can run his routes well and get open, then he can leave his mark on the Oregon State defense.
If not, he'll serve as nothing more than an end-zone decoy.
Brandin Cook, Oregon State
At 5'10", Brandin Cook isn't your typical big-play wide receiver. He's not like Miller, who can rise up in traffic and make a tough grab. Instead, Cook relies on his speed and quickness to reel off huge plays.
This season, Cook caught 120 passes for 1,670 yards and 15 touchdowns. There was a five-game stretch from Sept. 14 to Oct. 19 that saw him grab 56 catches for 878 yards and eight touchdowns.
He is, far and away, Mannion's favorite target through the air. Not even Mannion's recent struggles have prevented Cook from putting up great numbers. In his last four contests, Cook has 35 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns.
The junior wideout will make plays in this one—it's just a matter of how many.