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R. Marsh Starks, Maaco Bowl Las Vegas
University of Utah player Jason Gardner celebrates winning a pie-eating contest. __University of Utah linebacker Nai Fotu plays a drum inside the Cirque du Soleil Mystere Theatre on Sunday.

LAS VEGAS — Showgirls and an Elvis impersonator were on hand as the pomp and circumstance for MAACO Bowl Las Vegas officially kicked off.

Sunday's gathering at the Hard Rock Café on The Strip included a press conference with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Boise State coach Chris Petersen, a magician and friendly banter between the teams.

Wednesday's game, though, remained the focal point.

When asked about oddsmakers expecting his team to prevail by more than two touchdowns, Petersen noted that he was surprised.

"Obviously somebody's not studying tape. We study tape and I know this is a very even matchup," Petersen said. "And I think we'll have to play our best if we hope to win."

Whittingham, meanwhile, acknowledged that the Utes have been reminded "many times" about being heavy underdogs.

"We know that not a lot of people expect us to do well," he said.

The Utes, Whittingham added, had a good practice Saturday at UNLV and they got some good work in.

"So far everything has gone well with the preparation," Whittingham said.

MEETING IN THE MIDDLE: After media interviews, Utah running back Eddie Wide and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore had a brief conversation.

"He's a good guy. We just talked about practice and like how we didn't have practice (Sunday) and they did," Wide said. "That kind of stinks for them but it's good for us."

Wide, a Las Vegas native, is thrilled to be back in his hometown for his final college football game.

"I've had a great time being here," Wide said. "It's really exciting for me because I have my friends and family that are going to be at the game."

WHAT IF?: Whittingham was asked how the Mountain West Conference would have looked in the eyes of the Bowl Championship Series had Boise State joined the league with Utah, BYU and TCU still playing in it.

"I'm not an expert of how that formula all works," he said. "But I've got to believe that we would have been a strong, strong candidate to become an AQ (automatic qualifying) conference."

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes attended Mystere by Cirque Du Soleil at Treasure Island after dinner Sunday night. ... Speaking of dinner, a minor skirmish between Utah and Boise State players took place at the Hard Rock Café. The brief exchange of words led to the Utes returning to their team hotel a little early ... Utah is scheduled to practice at UNLV this afternoon.

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com