Isaac Brekken, Associated Press
Utah running back Eddie Wide, left, and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore chat during a news conference Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010, in Las Vegas. Utah is scheduled to face Boise State in the MAACO Bowl NCAA college football game, on Dec. 22.
LAS VEGAS — Austin Pettis and his teammates say all the right things, if only because they have no other choice. No need to disrespect Utah or the early bowl game in this gambling city, even if they would rather be smelling roses somewhere else.
What might have been for Boise State ended with two missed field goals against Nevada that cost the Broncos an expected bid to the Rose Bowl. Now they must overcome crushed expectations and perform like a BCS team against the No. 20 Utes to try and set the stage for another magical run next season.
"It's not like we didn't try or didn't try and go out there to win the game," Pettis said of the 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. "Everyone played their best and sometimes it doesn't work out the way we wanted to. It's not like we're in a bad situation. We still have a nice bowl game."
Nice, perhaps. But playing in the desert before Christmas isn't the same as playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day no matter how Boise's players and coaches try to spin it.
Still, there's next year to think about. And a big win over Utah (10-2), which has won nine straight bowl games, could go a long way toward retaining the national respect Boise State have built up and set the Broncos up for a higher ranking entering the 2011 season.
"I do feel pressure to finish this season off with a win," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "I think it's really important to finish this season off like we want to."
That's exactly what the Broncos did last year, beating Texas Christian 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl to cap an undefeated season. With this year's loss to Nevada, though, TCU got the spot in the Rose Bowl and Boise State was shut out of the BCS all together.
At least the Broncos got a Top-25 opponent Wednesday night in Utah, though oddsmakers still make Boise State (11-1) a 17-point favorite to win the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
"Going out and still proving we're a top team in the nation," Pettis said of Boise State's goal. "We've had one slip up. We're a couple points away from still being in that top-five teams and this opportunity for us as this team to play together one more time is big. I know this senior class the past four years have done a lot of things. The seniors themselves and the other guys want to make sure we all go out with a bang."
Going out with a bang would be appropriate for the BCS-busting school that has lost only one game over the last two years and is 50-2 since Pettis, their star receiver, started playing as a freshman. And no one would like to go out with a bigger bang than kicker Kyle Brotzman, who at 431 career points is just two points shy of tying the NCAA's all-time leader in points.
It was Brotzman, of course, who missed the chip shot that would have won the Nevada game in regulation, then missed another in overtime that cost the Broncos so dearly.
"He's going to make some big kicks in this game," quarterback Kellen Moore said. "And if we're down by two and the game is on the line, we're going to send him out there and he'll make it. He's fine. He's in good spirits."
Boise State is likely more concerned with stopping Utah's Terrance Cain, who will start as quarterback after Jordan Wynn went down with shoulder surgery following Utah's win over rival BYU. Cain, who started two games when Wynn was out with a thumb injury earlier this year, is more mobile than Wynn and could cause some problems for a Boise State defense that was shredded for 239 second half yards on the ground by Nevada.
"Obviously he's a much more mobile quarterback than Jordan, who was the prototypical pocket passer, but Terrance has got speed and athleticism and that's one of his strong suits," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
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Like Boise State, Utah has something to prove in the game, too. The Utes were riding high before losses to TCU and Notre Dame dropped them down in the poll, and would like to finish on an up note before leaving the Mountain West Conference for the Pac-12 next season.
Boise State is also relocating next season. The MAACO Bowl will be the Broncos last game as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Next season, they'll be in the Mountain West.
At one time during the season the Broncos and Utes were ranked No. 2 and No. 6 respectively before slipping.
"It is an intriguing matchup," Whittingham said. "I read where other than the national championship this is the next best game according to a lot of people."