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Brad Rock: Utes, Broncos similar in every way but one

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 10:45 p.m. MST

Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky (5) hands the ball off behind his back to tailback Ian Johnson, left, for the famous Statue-of-Liberty play for a two-point conversion that won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. (Associated Press) Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky (5) hands the ball off behind his back to tailback Ian Johnson, left, for the famous Statue-of-Liberty play for a two-point conversion that won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. (Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS — Boise State running back Doug Martin hesitated momentarily when asked to describe his team, but recovered nicely.

"Blue collar," he said resolutely.

After which he immediately began getting into the spirit of the assignment.

"Tough," he continued. "Disciplined, coachable guys who know how to play football."

Which is exactly how the Utes usually describe themselves, too.

That's kind of how life is — endless comparisons. Five Guys vs. In-N-Out. Audi vs. BMW. Cape Cod vs. Colonial. Sometimes it's a stretch. Can you really compare Barry Bonds to Babe Ruth? Different eras, different bats, different baseballs.

But Boise State vs. Utah?

Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky (5) hands the ball off behind his back to tailback Ian Johnson, left, for the famous Statue-of-Liberty play for a two-point conversion that won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky (5) hands the ball off behind his back to tailback Ian Johnson, left, for the famous Statue-of-Liberty play for a two-point conversion that won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

It's a natural.

"Yeah, I look at them kind of as a cousin or something," said Ute offensive lineman Zane Taylor. "You know what I mean? We don't really see each other a lot, don't really get to compete, but I see a lot of similarities in their program. I always respected them a ton for what they do. They were able to get to the big BCS bowl games in the past, like us, so I always respected them. So I think it's a great way to end the season."

Let the comparisons fly, because here it comes. Finally. The direct, head-to-head matchup both teams have been waiting for, Wednesday in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"There's a lot of parallels to our programs, our philosophy," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. "We recruit the same type of guys ... maybe a little underrated. But there are a lot of parallels."

Despite preparing to join the Pac-12, the Utes find themselves considerable underdogs. Both see themselves as the under-appreciated little guys.

"It's a natural comparison, because of the non-AQ status, and both went to BCS bowls, so I think it's a comparison people make," said Utah quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. "They do a great job with their program and they have for a long time."

"They (the Utes) are not non-BCS anymore," Petersen noted on Tuesday.

Still, the comparisons persist. For instance, the Utes have had two undefeated seasons in the last 10 years (2004, 2008) and BSU two (2006, 2009). Both have two BCS bowl wins. The biggest difference is that BSU's big bowl wins were far closer. While the Utes were busy dismantling Pitt (35-7) and Alabama (31-17), BSU entertained itself by beating Oklahoma in overtime and TCU by a touchdown.

The Broncos' wins might not have been as convincing, but they were definitely sexier.

"True," said Taylor. "People remember that last-second victory more than the blowouts. I know more people will remember that blocked field goal against BYU than when we blew them out 48-24 a couple of years ago. So as long as we get a victory, I don't really care how it ends."

Who could argue with the hook-and-ladder (2006), the Statue-of-Liberty (2006) or the daring fourth-quarter fake punt (2009)?

That's like arguing against extra frosting.

"They do make it look good," said Utah's Tony Bergstrom.

There is one area where BSU has a clear advantage: big seasons. While the Utes have tended to wax and wane, BSU has had eight 10-win seasons in the last decade, Utah five. Yet Utah had 21 players listed on NFL rosters as of last July, BSU 10.

Utah is 21-12 against teams from automatic qualifying conferences since the BCS began in 1998, BSU 8-12, though the Broncos have won four straight and six of the last seven.

Utah has been ranked during five of the last 10 seasons, BSU in each of the last nine.

Asked if the two programs have kept an eye on one another, BSU receiver Ryan Winterswyk said, "Of course. They're not that far away from us location-wise. They were the first ones to break down the BCS door, things like that. That's a good program to look up to."

Which again raises the inevitable question: Which overall program is more attractive?

That was apparently settled last summer when Utah got invited to the Pac-12, while BSU went to the Mountain West.

In that department, it's clearly not a contest.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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