The Boise State Broncos, although not playing for a title, will be playing hard tonight.
Over the past eight or so years, the Boise State Broncos, who aren't even supposed to be the best team in Idaho, have become one of the most winning programs in all of college football, and yet they haven't been given the chance to get to the national title game.
In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, they took down Adrian Peterson and the 10th-ranked Sooners with a batch of memorable plays to finish off an undefeated 13-0 season that saw running back Ian Johnson propose to his then-girlfriend on national television.
The game is widely considered as one of the greatest college football games in recent history.
Three years later, standing at 13-0 once more, they returned to Glendale and defeated (the other) unbeaten TCU, and won with a fourth quarter touchdown 17-10.
On November 26, they had their last shot to go to a big-time bowl, and they started off looking like the team everyone thought they would be- flowing offensively and had some great rhythm.
With a 24-7 lead over the 19th-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack with three minutes remaining in the third quarter, it seemed as if the Broncos were about to prove to the world that they finally deserved a shot to be in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.
Kellen Moore had already thrown for a touchdown and 225 yards, and Doug Martin paced the running game with a pair of scores.
Then mayhem ensued, and after a pair of missed field goals by kicker Kyle Brotzman, the Pack won 34-31, ending Boise's 24-game winning streak.
Would Boise have merited a shot at the BCS title if they had beaten Nevada?
Now the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl pins these 10th-ranked, 11-1 Broncos against 19th-ranked Utah, coming into the game at 10-2 and 7-1 in the Mountain West Conference (with losses to TCU and Pittsburgh).
Kellen Moore's numbers (as usual) are astounding, passing for 3506 yards and 33 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions.
Think what you want about Moore, but he knows how to win (he is 37-2 as a starting quarterback) and he knows how to throw touchdowns.
With playmakers like Titus Young, Austin Pettis, and Doug Martin, there is no way Moore and the Broncos are losing to the Utes tonight.
They will be motivated, and when the Broncos offense takes the (not blue) field it will flourish. They were second in the nation in points scored, putting up 46.7 numbers on the board in 2010. They scored over 30 points in all 12 contests this year, and won eight games by at least four scores.
Even a team like Auburn or Oregon would have a difficult time doing all this in the "weak" Western Athletic Conference.
Some say Utah's offense will have a chance against Chris Petersen's club; this is not true. Boise only gave up 13.6 points, fourth least in the nation. The Utes' leader Jordan Wynn is injured, and replacement Terrence Cain will have a tough time passing against their prized defense, and the Broncos will contain the two-headed rushing attack of Eddie Wide and Matt Asiasta.
There is no chance that Utah comes within even a few scores of Boise, and I expect the score to be somewhere around the likes of 42-24 or so, and that might even be a little generous to the Utes.
When Boise takes the field on ESPN in a few hours tonight, I want you as a college football fan, hate them or not, to think of where this team has come. Eight years ago they were a D-I unknown, and fifteen years ago they weren't even in Division I-A (never will I call it the "Bowl Subdivision"). They will have much to celebrate tonight in Boise, regardless of the outcome of the Vegas Bowl.
They beat nationally-ranked Virginia Tech (at a "neutral" site in Washington D.C.) and Oregon State, who were 10th and 24th respectively, in the first three weeks alone. This proved they could hang with the big boys of the big-time conferences.
Coach Petersen and the Broncos should be proud of themselves, as they have produced a great team that may just be another year away from finally getting to that national title game (sigh).