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December 23, 2008

Poinsettia Bowl features two powerful teams

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage


TCU (10-2) vs. Boise State (12-0)

WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 23.
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.
TV: ESPN (Rece Davis will do play-by-play, with Lou Holtz and Mark May as the analysts).
RECORD VS. BOWL TEAMS: Boise State 6-0, TCU 3-2.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Boise State 75th, TCU T-41st.
BCS RANKINGS: Boise State 9th, TCU 11th.
COACHES: TCU − Gary Patterson (4-3 in bowls); Boise State − Chris Petersen (1-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This arguably is the top non-BCS bowl game. Many argue that Boise State merits playing in a BCS bowl. TCU's two losses came at Oklahoma and at Utah, teams that are playing in BCS bowls.
KEY STATS: Boise State features the 13th-best offense in the nation (456.8 ypg), while TCU ranks No. 2 in the nation in total defense (215.1 ypg). TCU allowed more than 297 yards of offense once this season, against Oklahoma, and the Horned Frogs held seven opponents to fewer than 200 yards. Boise State has had at least 340 yards in each game and reached 484 yards in each of its final five regular-season games.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes is a beast off the edge, and he needs to come up big if the Horned Frogs hope to win. Hughes leads the nation with 14 sacks, and he needs to harass Boise State QB Kellen Moore to keep the Broncos' attack from getting in a rhythm. Both of Boise's starting offensive tackles are freshmen. If the Frogs can stuff the run and make Moore pass, TCU could be in business. This is what the Horned Frogs did in a thrashing of BYU.
It just doesn't seem right.

Boise State goes 12-0, making it one of the just two unbeaten teams in the FBS (Division I-A), and all the Broncos get is a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl?

"I feel bad because we've got very, very good football teams in this country that are not members of BCS conferences," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said after his Bulldogs were beaten by Boise State in the regular-season finale. "And I think that's getting shown more all the time."

Utah, which also is 12-0, finished higher in the final BCS standings and was thus picked to play in the BCS - in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Boise State was passed over by the Fiesta Bowl, which selected Ohio State (10-2) to play Texas.

"They're a BCS-caliber football team," TCU coach Gary Patterson said of Boise State. "They're a good football team."

As a result of the BCS bypassing Boise State, the Poinsettia Bowl gained a marquee matchup. The Broncos will be pitted against TCU (10-2) in what shapes up as perhaps the top non-BCS bowl.

"It should be a great game with a lot of national interest," Patterson said. Patterson is correct. And it makes you wonder what would happen if the non-"Big Six" schools broke away and formed their own division, complete with an eight- or a 16-team playoff?

It's unlikely to happen. Still, the BCS should consider altering its format to guarantee non-"Big Six" teams that finish in, say, the top 10 of the final BCS standings a BCS bowl berth. It seems disingenuous to award a lower-ranking "Big Six" conference champion an automatic BCS bowl berth over a higher-ranking non-"Big Six" team.

That's why Boise State and TCU find themselves here instead of playing in a BCS bowl. Boise finished No. 9 in the BCS standings and TCU was 11th. Conversely, Big East champ Cincinnati was 12th and ACC champ Virginia Tech was 19th.

Who has the edge?

TCU run offense vs. Boise State run defense The Horned Frogs have a tough, nasty and physical ground game that churns out 215.7 yards per game. But the Broncos counter with a rugged defense that ranks 15th in the nation against the run (104.9 ypg). It's important for TCU to control the ball to keep it away from Boise's strong offense. If TCU doesn't run effectively, it's not going to win.
Edge: Even.

TCU pass offense vs. Boise State pass defense Horned Frogs QB Andy Dalton isn't a dynamic passer. Dalton has just 11 TD passes, but he does a little bit of everything well in a varied attack. Witness his 358 rushing yards and eight TDs on the ground. Still, Dalton could find few holes to exploit against a Broncos defense led by CB Kyle Wilson. Boise has picked off 20 passes and allowed only a 51.3 percent completion percentage.
Edge: Boise State.

Boise State run offense vs. TCU run defense Ian "Will you marry me?" Johnson is a formidable runner who knows how to deliver in big games. But good luck finding room to run against a TCU defense that allows foes just 48.7 rushing yards per game, the fewest in the nation.
Edge: TCU.

Boise State pass offense vs. TCU pass defense Is there a better freshman quarterback in the nation than Boise's Kellen Moore? He has completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,264 yards and 25 TDs. He'll test a salty Horned Frogs secondary with a plethora of targets, including Jeremy Childs, Vinny Perretta and Julian Hawkins. But quarterbacks have completed just 49 percent of their passes, with eight touchdowns and 14 picks, against TCU. The Horned Frogs are ninth in the nation in pass defense (166.4 ypg).
Edge: Even.

TCU special teams vs. Boise State special teams Boise State has a killer weapon in Kyle Brotzman, who pulls double-duty for the Broncos as a punter and kicker. Boise State has been one of the nation's best at blocking kicks, deflecting 15 the past two years. TCU has the athletes to cover, and kicker Ross Evans is an emerging weapon. However, he missed on two big kicks in a loss at Utah.
Edge: Boise State.

TCU coaches vs. Boise State coaches TCU's Gary Patterson and Boise State's Chris Petersen are two of the best coaches in America. Patterson is a defensive mastermind whose teams are renowned for their toughness. Petersen is a brilliant offensive tactician and primo game planner who figures to have a few special tricks cooked up for the game. Remember that win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago?
Edge: Even.

X-factor: Keep an eye on Boise punt returner Kyle Wilson. In what looks like a tight game, Wilson could be a difference-maker with a big runback. He has returned three punts for TDs this season the most in the nation and is averaging 14.7 yards per return.

TCU will win if: The Horned Frogs need to run well and score more than 30 points. The Horned Frogs tallied 32 points in a big win over BYU. TCU moved the ball against Oklahoma and Utah, but the Horned Frogs scored just 10 points in each loss.

Boise State will win if: When people talk about Boise State, they always gush about the offense. But the Broncos have a strong defense. If the unit plays with the passion and aggressiveness it has shown all season, the Broncos should mute a pedestrian TCU offense and could blow out the Horned Frogs.

The Picks
Tom Dienhart: TCU 33, Boise State 31.
Mike Huguenin: TCU 21, Boise State 17.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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