GAME PREVIEW: Highly Ranked Utes & Broncos Ready To Roll

Many calling this year's matchup the best in Las Vegas Bowl history.


LAS VEGAS - Wow, what a matchup!

A year after offering its first faceoff of two ranked teams, the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas is staging one doozey of an encore. Pitting schools that are a combined 4-0 in BCS games, No. 10 Boise State takes on No. 19 Utah in our city's annual postseason football showcase.

The Broncos (12-1 overall), who are in town as an at-large selection because the Pac-10 Conference didn't qualify a team this time around, have a record amount of wins coming in and are the highest-ranked club to ever play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Their opponent has plenty to boast about, as well, as the Utes own the nation's longest bowl-game winning streak at nine games, which is just two short of the all-time NCAA record set by Florida State from 1985-96.

Want more? How about both sides feature a first team All-American? Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore was not only tabbed to the Football Writers Association of America team but also becomes the first Heisman Trophy Finalist to play in the Las Vegas Bowl. After coming in fourth in the voting, Moore can look to follow the path of former USC signal caller Carson Palmer, who in 2001 played the Utes on this very stage one season before taking home the Heisman as a senior. Utah's first teamer is sensational kick returner Shaky Smithson, who was selected to the Walter Camp team after leading the nation with a 19.7-yard average on punts, including two that went for touchdowns.

Ranked 10th in both polls and the BCS, Boise State (which is the home team in the all-blue jerseys) is actually looking to win its first game in the Entertainment Capital of the World. In fact, the Broncos make their debut appearance in our game and their first in Southern Nevada since traveling here to take on UNLV in 1973, '74 and '76, losing all three of those battles with the Rebels. While their fans have waited since the Bicentennial the return to Las Vegas, Boise State is scheduled to become a regular visitor to Sam Boyd Stadium with its move from the Western Athletic to the Mountain West Conference next season.

After winning its first four bowl games, Boise State now sits 6-4 in the postseason since moving up to the FBS in 1996. The Broncos have won two BCS games in the last four years (both Fiesta Bowl victories), including last season's matchup with MWC champion TCU in Glendale, Ariz. In fact, Boise State has faced a current MWC program in three bowl dates ? all vs. TCU ? and is 2-1 in those games. Head Coach Chris Petersen brings in a 2-2 bowl record with the Broncos.

Ranked 20th by the Associated Press and 19th by the coaches and in the BCS Standings, Utah (10-2 overall) is 8-2 all-time in games played in Las Vegas (6-2 vs. UNLV and 2-0 in bowls) but has not appeared in our bowl in nine years. The Utes' nine-game postseason streak started right here with a victory over Fresno State in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl, which also marked the their only bowl appearance against a team from its former conference, the WAC.

Overall, Utah is 12-3 in bowl games, including victories in the Fiesta and Sugar, and its 80-percent postseason success rate is the best in the nation among teams that have played in at least 10 bowl games. With a victory over Boise State, the Utes would tie BYU for the most Las Vegas Bowl victories with three. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham brings in a perfect 5-0 mark in bowl games while leading a program that moves to the Pac-10 in 2011.

Since the first Las Vegas Bowl was played in 1992, seven of the current nine MWC teams have appeared in the game a combined 14 times, compiling an 8-6 record, including 6-4 since the league was formed in 1999. Boise State, which is the fourth squad to play here as a representative of the WAC, will try to become the first such team to win one as Air Force lost to Oregon in 1997, San Diego State lost in 1998 and Fresno State fell in 1999.

''We welcome Boise State to our game for the first time and by pairing two powerhouse western programs in the Broncos and Utes, our committee put together one of the top matchups of the entire bowl season,'' said MAACO Bowl Las Vegas Executive Director Kunzer-Murphy. ''This is the one everyone wanted ? to see two ranked teams playing their final game as members of their respective conferences.''

Indeed, this 19th edition of the game features a matchup that has been heralded across the nation as one of the best of the bowl season. Three different outlets ranked the game tops among all non-January bowls and in the top 10 overall (ESPN.com - seventh out of 35 bowls, SI.com ? seventh, and Rivals.com - eighth). It is also one of only four non-BCS bowl games to feature a contest between teams both ranked in the latest AP poll.

The MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, which is owned and operated by ESPN Regional Television (ERT), will be televised nationally on ESPN HD. Last year's game attracted 40,018 fans, which marked the fifth consecutive sellout crowd.