The neon-lit Princess Theatre is on the main drag in Prosser, Wash., a hamlet tucked away in the Yakima Valley. In the 1920s the Princess staged vaudeville and circus acts. Now it shows an entirely different spectacle: Boise State football, the greatest show on (blue) turf. Last Saturday afternoon, as Boise State played Idaho some 300 miles away in Bronco Stadium, a packed house at the Princess gazed up at the big screen and roared as Prosser High grad and Boise State sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore floated a perfect 20-yard pass to wideout Austin Pettis for his fourth touchdown throw ... of the first half. With another splendid performance by the hometown kid (299 yards, a career-high-tying five touchdown passes, no picks) and another Broncos beat-down (63--25 over the Vandals), it was a very good day in Prosser, where "you can't go out without seeing someone in blue and orange, and you can't turn on the doggone TV without hearing someone gushing over Kellen Moore," says the head of the local chamber of commerce, Jim Milne. "Here in Mayberry, we go geeky over stuff like this."
It's about time the rest of America went geeky over Moore and unbeaten Boise State. After thumping Idaho, the Broncos are 10--0 and ranked sixth in the BCS standings. But they are still on the outside looking in at a BCS bowl berth, especially after No. 4 TCU's impressive 55--28 victory over No. 16 Utah on Saturday, a command performance that positioned the unbeaten Mountain West Conference kings as this season's BCS crashers.
If TCU and Boise finish the regular season perfect (of the teams' remaining five opponents, only Nevada, the Broncos' Nov. 27 foe, is a serious threat), would the BCS suits hand out two of their four at-large invitations to—gasp!—teams from outside the six power conferences? Or would lower-ranked Boise State, which has pummeled all but one of its victims by double digits and trounced Pac-10 front-runner Oregon, get passed over?
The Broncos, who were left out of the BCS last year after going 12--0 (and then lost to TCU 17--16 in the Poinsettia Bowl), have long given up trying to figure out a system that Edwin Hubble would have a hard time understanding. After the win over Idaho—Boise State's fifth victory by at least five touchdowns—coach Chris Petersen deadpanned, "I think we'll probably drop three or four notches."
Like his team, Moore deserves more love. In an autumn without a clear Heisman front-runner, Moore should be included in the discussion for the stiff-arming statue for this simple reason: No quarterback is having a better season—not Florida's Tim Tebow, not Texas's Colt McCoy, not Moore's text-messaging pal at Houston, Case Keenum. Moore leads the country in passing efficiency (172.5) and touchdown passes (32), and has thrown for 2,558 yards with only three interceptions. Not that the mellow, soft-spoken quarterback is counting. "The other day I asked Kellen how many touchdowns he had, and he had no idea," says junior tight end Tommy Gallarda, one of Moore's roommates. "He just goes about his business, and he couldn't care less if he gets any recognition."
During his career at Prosser High, where he played for his father, Tom, Moore completed more passes and threw for more touchdowns than any other quarterback in Washington high school history, yet because of his size (6 feet, 170 pounds) only three schools—Boise State, Eastern Washington and Idaho—offered him a scholarship. (The Broncos did so reluctantly, only after defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Moore's primary recruiter, told Petersen he would give up a scholarship on defense if the quarterback didn't pan out.) The scouting report on Moore read: so-so arm, below-average athleticism, too small, too slow. "The first time I saw Kellen [in the spring of 2006], he came with his younger brother, Kirby, and I'm thinking, O.K, he's not that small, we can work with this," recalls Petersen. "But then I realize I'm looking at Kirby. I look at the other guy and think, Oh, so that's Kellen?"
But he has turned out to be the perfect player to run Petersen's complex offense, even if in his second year as a starter he looks more like a hipster barista than a football stud, still baby-faced and mop-topped. "I've always known my limitations," says Moore, "but I've also known there are things you can take advantage of to be successful, and that's to be as prepared as possible."
Early mornings at the Boise football facility, Moore closes the door in the cramped video room, puts on headphones ("usually Jack Johnson or Matt Nathanson, something mellow," he says) and hunkers down for two or three hours of film review before comparing notes with coaches. He watches more football when he gets home; the TiVo he shares with his roommates is full of football games. "We came home one day, and a bunch of Family Guy episodes were deleted," says Gallarda. "We're like, Did you really need to see the Houston-Tulsa game that badly?"
Moore has always been, as Wilcox calls him, "a football nerd." He hung out with his dad at Prosser High practices as soon as he could walk. He was ordering NFL playbooks online as early as the sixth grade. He would buy game video with money he saved up. "He always had a notebook with him, drawing up plays as he watched," says Tom. By the time Kellen was being recruited by Boise State, he knew the Broncos' playbook inside out. (He had bought it as a freshman in high school.) Kellen and his father were in the stands for Boise's stunning 43--42 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in January 2007. When the Broncos lined up for the winning two-point conversion in overtime, Kellen recognized the formation. "Statue of Liberty," he said to his dad before Boise converted the trick play.
When Petersen announced that he was tapping a redshirt freshman as his starting quarterback before the start of the 2008 season, the coach says he had a "gut feeling," one that came primarily from watching Moore's day-to-day preparation. "The first time I knew that Kellen was going to be something special was when we were preparing for our bowl game [against East Carolina in 2007]," says Petersen. "I'm looking in to a meeting with our coaches and our offensive players. There's Kellen, in Hawaii during his redshirt year. It's obvious there's no chance he's going to get in the game. Most guys would sit back, but he's hanging on every word from the coaches, taking down notes, absorbing everything. I'm thinking, This kid's an animal."