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December 21, 2010(AP) -- As recently as late November, Boise State was hoping to earn a berth in the final bowl of the season. A stunning loss has instead relegated the Broncos to playing in one of the first.
With its dreams of busting into the BCS title game shattered, No. 10 Boise State is left to try and close its season on a high note when it faces 20th-ranked Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl on Wednesday night.
After going undefeated last season and beating TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State (11-1) had its sights set on becoming the first team from a non-BCS conference to play for the national championship. The Broncos knew they had to go unbeaten again to have any chance, and were on track to do so - until they played at then-No. 19 Nevada on Nov. 26.
Ranked third at the time, Boise State blew a 24-7 halftime lead and fell 34-31 to end its bid for a berth in Glendale - and giving ammunition to those who believe that teams from non-BCS conferences simply aren't good enough to be considered for the title game.
Boise State's presence in the Western Athletic Conference - which it will leave for the more prestigious Mountain West next season - left it no margin for error.
"We said all along, at the end of the season we will see where we are and go from there," coach Chris Petersen said after his team had its 24-game winning streak snapped.
Las Vegas is where Boise State will be to participate in the fifth game of the bowl season instead of playing in Arizona on Jan. 10. The Broncos finished their schedule with a 50-14 victory over Utah State on Dec. 4.
While Petersen's team may be dwelling on what might have been, Boise State certainly doesn't want to close the year with a defeat, and that means re-focusing in time to play Utah (10-2).
The Utes, who depart the Mountain West for the Pac-12 next season, will be facing a Broncos squad that's second in the FBS with 46.7 points per game - trailing only second-ranked Oregon - and fourth with 519.5 yards and sixth with 319.4 passing yards.
That high-powered attack is driven by Kellen Moore. The junior has turned in another stellar season with 3,506 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, five interceptions, a 71.0 completion percentage and a 185.0 passer rating - second in the country behind Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn.
Moore, who was named a third-team All-American for the second straight year and finished fourth in the Heisman voting, has lost twice in his 39 games as Boise State's quarterback.
"People are recognizing that we play such a good quality game up here, we play good football and we've played it this way for a long time," he said. "This isn't a program that just came out of nowhere and had a couple of good seasons."
Moore's prolific passing may pose a big problem for Utah, which is giving up 215.5 yards per game though the air. The Utes, though, have surrendered just 104.5 yards on the ground, which could allow them to focus on stopping Moore and a potent passing game that features receivers Titus Young (1,151 yards, nine TDs) and Austin Pettis (804, nine).
While Boise State will be trying to bounce back from a crushing loss, Utah already has proved it can respond to adversity. The Utes, who opened 8-0 and climbed as high as No. 6 in the AP poll, had their eyes on a BCS berth before back-to-back losses to TCU and Notre Dame.
Utah bounced back by holding off San Diego State 38-34 on Nov. 20 and Brigham Young 17-16 on Nov. 27 en route to a third consecutive bowl appearance. The Utes have won nine straight bowl games - the first two victories in that streak coming in the Las Vegas Bowl in 1999 and 2001.
"We're a comeback squad," said junior Brandon Burton, whose blocked field-goal attempt gave Utah the win over the Cougars. "We never give up. This team has so much fight."
Utah's balanced offense is paced by Jordan Wynn, who has passed for 2,334 yards with 17 TDs and 10 INTs in 10 games, while Eddie Wide (706 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Matt Asiata (680, eight) lead the ground game.
They'll be facing a top defensive team in Boise State, which is allowing 13.6 points and 259.3 yards per game - both fourth in the country - and 155.8 yards passing, third-lowest in the FBS.
"It's been a while since we have played a bowl game in Las Vegas and our players and coaches are looking forward to the opportunity," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The Broncos lead the series 4-2 and have won the last three meetings, the most recent a 36-3 victory in 2006.