Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
"Who's the bigger winner here tonight? …" — Trent, from the movie "Swingers"
I guess it would be fair to say that the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl is the big winner this bowl season. Instead of having a Mountain West team going up against an unranked Pac-10 opponent, as has been the case several times in the last few years, the folks in Vegas get two nationally ranked programs — Utah and Boise State — that have both busted the BCS twice each in recent years.
While both Ute and Bronco fans spent much of the season dreaming of BCS payouts and New Year's Day bowl games, they are now headed to Sin City three days before Christmas in a matchup of the two most notable non-AQ programs in the country.
Despite the disappointment both fan bases feel in playing before Christmas, there are some very intriguing storylines building in this game.
For Utah: The nation's longest current bowl winning streak is on the line, as Utah looks to make it 10 straight. The Utes will also be without their starting quarterback, Jordan Wynn, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. How will Terrance Cain, 9-1 as a starter at Utah, respond to being given the starting assignment?
For Boise State: Can the Broncos put the disappointment of missing out on a BCS bowl berth behind them? What happens with senior kicker Kyle Brotzman, who has missed three field goals in his last two games, if a crucial kick is needed?
I like to check the betting lines on games from time to time (for entertainment purposes only, of course) and I was shocked to see the Utes as a 17-point underdog in this game against the Broncos.
I'm not saying the "line" is gospel, but those guys who set it generally know some things. They don't keep records on these things, but I have a hard time remembering the last time Utah went into a game as this big of an underdog. I'm pretty sure that line will be mentioned once or twice in meetings and practices between now and Dec. 22.
More on this game and the Broncos in my column next week.
For those of you that haven't been to the Huntsman Center this year to see Jim Boylen's Runnin' Utes, give me just a second to tell you what you are missing out on.
First, a much-improved Utah basketball team is 6-2 and has won three straight games. Boylen has his team playing a much more entertaining brand of basketball this season. He's attempting to put the Runnin' back into the Runnin' Utes.
Two of the biggest reasons for the resurgence in the program are a pair of JUCO transfers, Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins. Clyburn is simply a guy who can score the basketball in a variety of ways and is averaging over 20 points a game so far this season. Watkins, better known as Jiggy, gives Boylen something that he hasn't had in his first four seasons on the hill — a true point guard with the ability to score, get to the basket and guard opponents.
It's probably too early in the season to tell just how good this team will be, especially when it begins conference play in January. But I can tell you this much: The talent level is much better, the team chemistry is light years better than a year ago and this team continues to improve. Ute fans should get out and see an improving and entertaining product.
I'm heading to Ann Arbor for Friday night's game with Michigan — talk to you from Crisler Arena on Friday.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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