45F Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
Boise State's Kellen Moore is the winningest quarterback in college football history, but if not for his team missing a few last-second field goals, Moore's legacy might have been even more spectacular.
Being denied a second straight BCS berth after another one-loss season was particularly tough for the Broncos to take.
One failed 39-yard field goal away from a near-certain spot in the BCS title game, eighth-ranked Boise State will try to summon the motivation to send Moore out on a high note as he closes his collegiate career Thursday in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas against Arizona State.
Chris Petersen helped put the Broncos (11-1) on the map when he arrived in December 2005, leading his team to a memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma just 16 months later, but it's been Moore's presence the past four years that's kept Boise State a fixture in the BCS conversation.
Moore helped give Petersen his second unbeaten season as a sophomore in 2009, capping a 14-0 run with another Fiesta Bowl win, and he did all he could as a junior and senior to duplicate that feat.
But two failed chip-shot field goals cost the Broncos in their only loss of 2010 at Nevada, keeping them out of the BCS, and Dan Goodale's missed 39-yarder as time expired doomed Boise State in a 36-35 home loss to TCU on Nov. 12.
Had that kick gone through - or had the Broncos held on to a 17-0 lead - they'd almost definitely be facing LSU on Jan. 9 in the BCS championship game. Instead, they were left out of the BCS entirely for the third time in four years.
"Everybody is just very tired of the BCS," Petersen said in a Dec. 5 press conference. "I think that's the bottom line. Everybody's frustrated. Nobody even really knows what to do anymore. It doesn't make sense to anybody. I don't think anyone's happy anywhere."
"The whole thing needs to be changed, there's no question about it."
It won't be changed in time to give Moore another shot at a BCS game, but the Broncos have one more chance to add to his legacy. Moore passed Colt McCoy as the winningest quarterback in NCAA history Nov. 5 at UNLV with his 46th win, and he added three more after the loss to the Horned Frogs.
A career-high 41 of Moore's 140 TD pass have come this season.
"This is his best year, without question," Petersen said after Boise State's 45-0 rout of New Mexico on Dec. 3. "He set the standard for quarterback play throughout the country for four years. He just hasn't flinched, but he's gotten better every year."
Petersen said "this team is as good as any of the teams that we've had" after beating the Lobos, and Moore certainly isn't the only reason. Running back Doug Martin, also part of Petersen's 2006 recruiting class, has topped 1,350 yards from scrimmage each of the past two seasons while totaling 31 touchdowns.
The Broncos may have trouble finding motivation to play in a non-BCS bowl, but they certainly won't lack for familiarity. Boise State played in the MAACO Bowl just 12 months ago, riding 339 passing yards from Moore and 147 on the ground from Martin to a 26-3 win over Utah.
While the Broncos have been a model of consistency during Petersen's tenure, Arizona State (6-6) returns to the postseason for the first time since a 2007 Holiday Bowl loss.
That was Dennis Erickson's first year as coach, and that 10-3 finish also represented the high point of his tenure in Tempe. Erickson was fired Nov. 28 after the Sun Devils collapsed with four consecutive losses following a 6-2 start, though the school will let him coach this game.
"It was difficult because of the dramatic change from how we played (early) to how we played (late)," athletic director Lisa Love said. "The big shift was not something that I had witnessed before and, according to Dennis, he's never witnessed it before.
"But it became prevalent in the program, it became some kind of challenge or issue that we were having a hard time ridding ourselves of."
Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham will replace Erickson next season after leading the Panthers to a 6-6 mark this year.
On the field, the Sun Devils' porous defense seems like a bad matchup for the Broncos. Arizona State allows 419.5 yards per game - 89th in the nation - and gave up 36.0 points per contest during its November collapse.
It's also unclear how much time the defense's best player will see. Star linebacker Vontaze Burfict was benched in the team's Nov. 25 loss to Cal for a personal foul and later reportedly refused to go back in the game, but Erickson said he'll at least travel to Las Vegas.
That means the Sun Devils likely will have to rely on Brock Osweiler to match touchdowns with Moore. The junior averaged 303.4 passing yards per game - ninth in the nation, three spots ahead of Moore - but also threw 12 interceptions.
The 6-foot-8 Osweiler is 237 yards shy of surpassing Andrew Walter's 2002 school record for passing yards in a single season.
Boise State is 7-4 all-time in bowl games, while Arizona State is 12-11-1. The schools have met once, a 56-7 Sun Devils win in Tempe on Oct. 5, 1996.