Las Vegas Bowl Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Boise State Broncos

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIDecember 21, 2011

Las Vegas Bowl Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Boise State Broncos

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    This year’s Las Vegas Bowl features the Arizona State Sun Devils versus the Boise State Broncos.

    The Broncos are always an entertaining draw, although they certainly deserve to be playing in a much more reputable bowl game than the Las Vegas Bowl. The Arizona State Sun Devils will be the first team from one of the six major conferences to play in a bowl game this year.

    The game will be played on Dec. 22 at 8 p.m. ET in Las Vegas, Nevada at Sam Boyd Stadium. It will be televised on ESPN.

    Note: Rankings used are from my National Top 25 rankings.

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Record: 6-6 (4-5 Pac-12)

    Biggest win: vs No. 7 USC, 43-22, Sept. 22

    Worst loss: at Washington State, 27-37, Nov. 12

    When Arizona State downed the USC Trojans in a three-touchdown victory, it appeared the Sun Devils were well on their way to a good season. With subsequent victories over Oregon State and Utah, they improved to 5-1, and were the favorite to win the Pac-12 South.

    Then, everything fell apart.

    The Sun Devils lost five of their last six games, including their final four. The first of those four losses came against UCLA—a game which allowed UCLA to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game over the Sun Devils. The next two losses came against two teams with losing records—Washington State and Arizona—and the season ended with a loss to California.

    The Arizona State Sun Devils’ season is certainly a major disappointment. They are a talented team—led by one of the nation’s best defensive players in middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who had the potential to do much more with their season.

    Even with Burfict, it has been a very rough year for the Arizona State defense, which ranks 89th in total defense with 419.5 yards allowed per game. The Sun Devils’ strength is their passing game, which ranks 11th nationally with 310.2 yards per game.

Boise State Broncos

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    Ranking in my National Top 25: No. 8

    Record: 11-1 (7-1 MWC)

    Biggest win: at No. 11 Georgia, 35-21, Sept. 3

    Worst loss: vs No. 18 TCU, 35-36, Nov. 12

    For the second year in a row, field goal kicking woes doomed Boise State’s national championship chances. This year, it was sophomore Dan Goodall who missed a 39-yard field goal as time expired in a defeat to TCU.

    It truly is unfortunate for the Broncos. This year, only one team finished undefeated, and there will be a rematch played in the BCS National Championship Game.

    This was Boise State’s best chance ever to get to that game.

    Had they gone undefeated, chances are good they would be playing LSU in New Orleans for a national championship. Instead, they get to play in the Las Vegas Bowl.

    Aside from the loss to TCU, Boise State had another good season, highlighted by the win in their season opener over eventual SEC East champion Georgia. Boise State is a very well-rounded team: They rank ninth nationally in total offense and 16th nationally in total defense.

Players To Watch

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    Arizona State MLB Vontaze Burfict, Junior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 1

    Although it has been a very rough year for the Arizona State defense, that unit does feature the best player who will be on the field for either team in this contest. That player is Arizona State middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a potential first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Burfict’s motor is questionable, but when he is on his game, he can be an absolute animal. Burfict is a big, athletic middle linebacker who hits hard, and is both a menacing run stopper and a skilled pass-rusher.

    Burfict leads the Sun Devils with 68 tackles, seven tackles for loss and five sacks this season. While the Sun Devils’ defense is likely to allow alot of yardage to the Boise State offense, they are going to need Burfict to have a big game for any chance at an upset over the Broncos.

    Burfict can make plays from sideline to sideline, and this could be his last game as a Sun Devil if he is to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. He will need to have a big game to impress the NFL scouts, and prove he is worthy of a first-round selection after a subpar season. 


    Boise State QB Kellen Moore, Senior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 4

    Kellen Moore has had quite a tremendous career for the Boise State Broncos. Moore has been a starter at Boise State since he was a redshirt freshman. In that time, Moore has started 52 games. He has won 49 of them—losing just three—and became the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback along the way.

    In his final collegiate start, Moore will be pursuing his 50th victory of his career as the Broncos look to win a bowl game for the third consecutive year. Moore has had another tremendous season, leading the Broncos to a 11-1 record. Moore ranks second nationally with 41 touchdown passes, and fourth nationally in passer ratings.

    Even with all of Moore’s collegiate success, his stock as an NFL Draft prospect is very uncertain, due to concerns about his height, mechanics and arm strength. That said, I think Moore is worthy of a fourth-round selection. He is a very accurate passer who makes smart decisions, and will be able to absorb and learn an NFL offense quickly, which makes him an ideal backup quarterback.

    Moore will look to further his tremendous mark of success with his 50th collegiate win in the Las Vegas Bowl, and make his final big pitch to the NFL scouts with a strong performance. 


    Boise State DE Shea McClellin, Senior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 3-4

    All four of Boise State’s defensive linemen are seniors, and all four of them—defensive ends Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford and defensive tackles Billy Winn and Chase Baker—have potential NFL futures.

    They are all worth watching in this game, but keep a special eye on McClellin.

    McClellin has 46 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks this season. Shea often lines up in stand-up rather than as a down lineman, but is an athletic edge rusher. He is the Broncos’ most skilled pass-rusher, and is able to go inside to make plays as well as track down runners outside.

    As an NFL Draft prospect, he is very comparable as a hybrid outside linebacker to Brooks Reed. Like Reed, his collegiate statistics do not jump off the page, but he makes a consistent impact up front, and has high upside as an athletic pass-rusher.

    In his final collegiate game, look for McClellin to be an impact player as a leader of the Boise State defense.

Comparing the Two Teams

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    Arizona State’s passing offense: 11th in nation, 310.2 yards per game

    Boise State’s passing defense: 25th in nation, 195.5 yards per game

    Boise State’s total offense: Ninth in nation, 483.1 yards per game

    Arizona State’s total defense: 89th in nation, 419.5 yards per game

Prediction Analysis

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    Boise State deserves to be playing in a much better bowl game than the Las Vegas Bowl.

    That leaves room for grumblings that Boise State “does not want to be there”—especially considering head coach Chris Petersen finally spoke out against the BCS—but I do not believe that will come into play for this game.

    Every time the Broncos get to play against a team from one of the big six conferences, they have something to prove to the nation, and that is what they will look to do against Arizona State. Additionally, while Kellen Moore certainly would prefer to be playing for a BCS National Championship, the allure of winning his 50th collegiate game should certainly be attractive to him. It should drive him to lead the Broncos to victory in this game.

    The Arizona State Sun Devils lost their final four games of the season, and head coach Dennis Erickson has been fired. This team fell completely in the wrong direction and does not have the defense to slow down Kellen Moore and Boise State’s powerful offensive game.

    The Sun Devils are a better team than they showed in the second half of the season, but I do not see them turning things around for a victory over Boise State.


    Final Score Prediction: Boise State 43, Arizona State 24

    Thanks for reading! For more coverage of this season's bowl games, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.