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2010 Fiesta Bowl Preview

#4 TCU Horned Frogs (12-0, Mountain West Champion) versus #6 Boise State Broncos (13-0, WAC Champion)

January 4th, 2010 - FOX - 8:00 PM EST in Glendale, Arizona

 

Compared to the other major bowls, the Fiesta Bowl is somewhat of a recent arrival. The first edition was played in 1969 because the Western Athletic Conference couldn’t find a bowl outlet for their champion. This is extremely appropriate because forty years later the Fiesta Bowl will host the WAC Champion for the 2nd time in four years as the little guy once more attempts to break into the elite of college football.

The Fiesta Bowl rose to prominence in the 1970s as a prime destination for top ten teams that failed to win their conference. This formula helped establish the bowl as a prime postseason destination. However, the rise of the Independents in the 1980s truly pushed the Fiesta Bowl into the elite tier among bowl games. The 1987 matchup between Miami and Penn State, both of whom were independent and undefeated, presented one of the first true National Championship showdowns and Penn State’s victory went down as the most watched college football game in history. That game was a large reason that the Bowl Coalition was formed a few years later: The huge audience and revenue that came with a championship game was too much to pass up.

Since that momentous clash in the desert, the Fiesta Bowl has hosted three pre-BCS National Championship clashes and three BCS Championship affairs, including the first-ever BCS Championship Game in 1998 that saw Tennessee defeat Florida State and the 2002 Championship Game which saw Ohio State defeat Miami in double overtime in one of the greatest football games ever played. With a strong historical tie to creating the best matchups regardless of conference, the original spirit of the Fiesta Bowl can clearly be seen with this year’s matchup of TCU and Boise State, neither of whom plays in a ‘Big Six’ conference but both of whom are ranked in the top six in the country.



YEAR IN REVIEW

#4 Texas Christian (12-0) TCU becomes the 4th different school to earn an automatic bid into the BCS from the non-automatic qualifying conferences. While the program has a lot of history dating back to its glory days in the Southwest Conference, this is the first time that the Horned Frogs have stepped into the national spotlight during the BCS era.

Gary Patterson is one of the country’s most respected defensive minds and he has been the head coach at TCU since 2000. His career record of 85-27 represents the highest winning percentage of any head coach at TCU since the 1930s! During his tenure he has led the Horned Frogs to three conference championships (two Mountain West, one C-USA) and a bowl record of 5-3, including a 4-0 mark since 2005. Finally, he has presided over six teams that have finished in the final AP Top 25 ranking, an amazing feat for a non-BCS school.

Texas Christian played a tough schedule for a non-BCS school, traveling early in the year to Virginia and eventual ACC Atlantic Division winner Clemson and beating both teams. The Horned Frogs’ season was also highlighted by blowout victories against the Mountain West’s other two major powers, Utah and BYU. The Horned Frogs have a strong recent record against BCS conference schools, boasting an 8-2 regular season mark since 2005 and are generally considered the most proven BCS Buster since non-automatic qualifiers broke through in 2004.

While the vast majority of attention will fall upon Boise State’s offense and TCU’s more defense, the most dangerous unit on either team might be Texas Christian’s offense. Most people don’t realize that the Horned Frog offense is ranked 3 rd in the country in scoring at 40.7 points per game. The heart and soul of their offense is their 5th ranked rushing attack and TCU has dominated opponents to the tune of 256 rush yards per game! While their passing attack is more of a complementary unit and is only ranked 68 th in the country, quarterback Andy Dalton is more than capable of beating opponents with his arm. The only defense to hold the Horned Frogs to less than 20 points was Clemson’s talented unit that finished 26 th nationally in scoring defense. Expect a very powerful TCU attack to take the field on January 4 th.

There isn’t a superlative that I could throw at the TCU defense that wouldn’t be deserved. They’re simply incredible defensively, finishing 6 th in scoring defense, 4th in pass defense and 2nd in rush defense! Led by superstar defensive end Jerry Hughes, the 2009 Hendricks Award winner as the nation’s best at his position, TCU is simply dominant up front. The most points that they allowed all season was 28 by Utah in a game that was over by halftime and their 12.4 points per game allowed is augmented by the fact that they’ve allowed the least offensive yardage in the entire country. Defense is Gary Patterson’s specialty and this year’s unit is a virtuoso performance that could easily be argued as the finest in America. If you think that Boise State’s powerful offense is going to go off on this group, think again.

 

 

#6 Boise State (13-0) The entire college football universe remembers Boise State’s only previous BCS appearance. Four years ago, the Broncos shocked Oklahoma in overtime thanks to multiple trick plays late in the game and a two point conversion in overtime on a Statue of Liberty play. Their shocking victory was sealed with a spontaneous marriage proposal immediately after the game and since then they have been media darlings. The Broncos have only been a Division One football team for a decade and are making their 2nd trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Chris Petersen is in his 4th season in charge of the Broncos and boasts an amazing 48-4 career record. While the Broncos play in a fairly weak league, they’ve still won the WAC in three of the past four seasons under his guidance. Petersen was the offensive coordinator at Boise State for five years before taking over the top job. His career record in bowl games is 1-2, though the lone victory was Boise State’s program-defining upset of Oklahoma four years ago.

The Broncos really sealed up their undefeated season on opening day, beating eventual Pac Ten Champion Oregon on the blue turf. The reason that this win sealed up their undefeated season was because they only played four teams the rest of the year that finished with winning records and the Ducks were their only BCS conference opponent. This is a concern because the Broncos are only 4-4 against BCS conference teams in the regular season since 2004, so you have to question their caliber of competition. In fact, only one team (Tulsa, who lost 28-21) has even come within a touchdown of beating Boise State this season, so they haven’t really been tested.

A large part of the Broncos’ dominance can be attributed to their amazing offense. Boise State’s average output of 44.3 points per game is the highest in the country and their offense is extremely balanced. Their passing game, spearheaded by sophomore Kellen Moore (39 touchdowns versus only 3 interceptions), ranks 14th nationally while their rushing attack is also the 14th most prolific in the country! While the Broncos are best known for their arsenal of trick plays, there is no doubt that they have an extremely productive offense. Unfortunately, star receiver Austin Pettis, who had 62 catches and 14 touchdowns, was injured late in the year and will miss the Fiesta Bowl, so the Broncos will need to find another receiving option opposite speedy Titus Young.

However, it isn’t all about offense in Broncoland. Boise State’s defense is a very capable unit that only allowed 17.7 points per game, finishing 16th in the country. This can largely be attributed to their opportunistic secondary, which finished 22 nd in pass defense and tallied 23 interceptions on the year! The downside is that their rush defense was only the nation’s 49 th best against a schedule that can be fairly described as average. Still, this is perhaps the most capable defense Petersen has ever fielded and it isn’t only about offense in Boise anymore.

 

 

KEY MATCHUP: TCU’S #5 RUSH OFFENSE vs. BOISE STATE’S #49 RUSH DEFENSE

Let’s make things really clear here: If Boise State can’t stop the Horned Frog running attack, they’re not going to have the chance to score enough points against TCU’s excellent defense to win this ball game. The Horned Frogs are simply too strong defensively to let Boise State’s usual formula of “Outscore ‘Em” work in this game.

The reason that this is the key matchup is that the only weak aspect of either team’s game is Boise State’s rush defense. The argument could be made that TCU’s pass game is equally ineffective based on their finish in the national rankings but consider this: Andy Dalton completed 62.4% of his passes while throwing for 22 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. Thus, it would be difficult to argue that their low rank was based on anything more than an offensive philosophy that strongly emphasizes the run. Thus, it is incumbent upon Boise State’s ground defense to prove that they’re not going to be exploited by TCU, because there is no question that the Horned Frogs would love to run the ball down Boise State’s throat again after racking up 275 yards against the Broncos in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl.

Boise State has also struggled with preventing the better teams that they’ve played from racking up yards on the ground, with the notable exception of their season opener against Oregon. After that, Fresno State pounded out 320 yards, rival Idaho managed 209 and Nevada rang up 242 against the Broncos. Of the five bowl teams that Boise State faced this year, the final three all produced over 200 yards on the ground. To be fair to the Broncos, Nevada rushed for nearly 100 yards less than their season average but the Wolfpack didn’t have a passing game that was a serious threat and Boise was able to commit as many as ten men in the box for the majority of the game. With Dalton’s passing ability, that won’t be a winning formula against a multidimensional team like Texas Christian.

Meanwhile, TCU’s rushing attack was extremely consistent: They pounded out over 200 yards in nine of their twelve games and their season low on the ground was a 127 yard effort in a blowout at BYU. In fact, the Horned Frogs rushed for over 300 yards more often than they failed to reach 200! In short, this is a very powerful running game that has not had an off day all year.

And that bodes very well for the Horned Frogs. Their strong offensive line does a great job opening up holes for their four-headed rushing monster, as four different players have carried the ball 100 times for a minimum of 500 yards. They are led by leading rusher Joseph Turner, whose 734 rush yards and 11 touchdowns are tops on his team. While Boise State has a strong defensive line, TCU has seem similarly talented teams this year and run all over them. I expect this to be a decisive edge for the Horned Frogs in this matchup.

 

THE BREAKDOWN

As with all bowl games, there is always a concern that a team can lose their focus. Boise State might have an advantage once the teams get to south Florida as their staff has already prepared a team to play in the media cauldron of a BCS game, but motivation shouldn’t be a concern for either side. Both teams are undefeated and want to have a chance to appeal to the Associated Press voters for the consideration as National Champions. Expect both teams to come out at 100%.

However, there is a very strong recent postseason trend to consider between these two teams. In Boise State’s last five bowl games, the Broncos are only 1-4, which should lead to questions about the Broncos’ supposed proven track record that the media has cited this year while ignoring their weak schedule. Meanwhile, TCU is 4-0 in their past four bowl games, including a head to head victory over Boise State in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl. These results would seem to indicate that TCU will be the better prepared team heading into this game.

Though that game between these two teams was last December, it is still worth looking back at to see how it ended up playing out. In that showdown, Boise State entered undefeated thanks to a weak schedule and boasted a very powerful offense. However, they ran into a TCU defensive buzzsaw that shut them down and the Horned Frogs ran for 275 yards on the Broncos’ vaunted defense. The game wasn’t the shootout that Boise State wanted, it was the defensive-minded game that TCU intended. In the end, the Horned Frogs emerged victorious with a 17-16 victory and ruined the Broncos’ undefeated season.

But this is a new season and both teams are somewhat different. The biggest difference, of course, is that TCU’s offense is an absolute juggernaut this year after struggling to score points in 2008. However, let’s look at the 2009 season and compare some key trends between the two teams.

  • TCU is the more effective team on third downs, with a 43.2% conversion rate. While that barely places them in the top third of the country, Boise State’s 38.5% rate is significantly lower down the standings. In a game that features two strong defenses, this could be a key indicator and it points towards the Horned Frogs.

  • In terms of penalties, both teams are in the middle of the pack. While Boise State has racked up 72 more penalty yards on the year, it seems that discipline won’t be a major concern for either side leading up to the game.

  • TCU and Boise State are both converting red zone opportunities into scores at an 85% pace. However, TCU has been much more effective at converting field goal opportunities as their kicker’s conversion rate is 82.4% while Boise State’s is a more modest 73.9%. That could be a vital difference as Boise State’s Kyle Brotzman has missed twice as many tries as TCU’s Ross Evans.

  • Turnover margin is definitely in Boise State’s favor. The Broncos have only turned the ball over 13 times this season while forcing 32 turnovers out their opponents. That’s a +19 ratio. Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs have turned it over 20 times and only forced opponents into 24 changes of possession. That’s a much more modest +4 margin, giving the Broncos a huge edge. TCU had better take care of the football against the opportunistic Broncos.



Boise State vs TCU Prediction

In the first battle of non-automatic qualifiers in BCS history, who will emerge victorious? Both teams are undefeated and have decimated all comers. However, I think that the edge heading into this game belongs to TCU. The Horned Frogs have played a much tougher schedule and have been tested in a few close games. Boise State can’t say the same.

Furthermore, TCU has a much stronger track record in bowl games. While Boise State holds the only BCS victory between the two schools, it is also their only bowl victory of any kind since the 2003 season. Meanwhile, TCU can fall back on their record 4-0 bowl record, including a victory over Boise State last year.

That game also weighs heavily on my thoughts. Boise State is largely the same team that TCU defeated last year as the Broncos were very young and also ran through a weak schedule. In fact, I would argue that Boise State is somewhat diminished from last year’s group due to the loss of do-it-all wideout Austin Pettis and starting tailback D.J. Harper to season-ending injuries.

Meanwhile, TCU is a significantly improved team from last year. The Horned Frogs didn’t have a very strong offense in 2008 and now they’re the 3 rd highest scoring team in college football! Considering that a weaker version of their team beat Boise State last year, it seems to indicate that the talent edge lies with the team from Texas.

So how will this game go? I think that the most telling matchup will be how Boise State tries to defend against TCU’s powerful rushing game. If they cannot find an answer to Dalton, Turner and company on the ground, the Horned Frogs will be able to move the ball at will. Furthermore, it would be folly for Boise State to rely on their offense to put up major points against TCU’s talented defense, which has shut down every opponent that they’ve faced this season.

For Boise State to win this game, they’ll have to hope that their defensive line can win the battles at the line of scrimmage and slow the TCU rushing attack. Furthermore, the Horned Frogs have lost 15 fumbles this year, so if the Broncos can force a few turnovers then they can jump out to a lead and force TCU to throw the ball more. That would seem to be the most realistic winning game plan for the Broncos.

However, I don’t think that Boise State will have an answer to TCU’s rushing game because they’ve given up major yardage in their last three tries against bowl-bound offenses and they certainly didn’t have an answer in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl. Furthermore, TCU is more battle-hardened thanks to their significantly better schedule and history seems to indicate that they’ll be the better prepared team as well. In the end, expect TCU’s running game and exceptional defense to dominate and that means that the Horned Frogs will win this game and ruin Boise State’s perfect season for the 2nd consecutive year.

Fiesta Bowl Pick: TCU 30, BOISE STATE 20

 

By Matt Baxendell
Bax is collegesports-fans.com’s football writer. Keep an eye out for all 34 of his bowl previews! If you want to get in touch with him, email him at Matt.Baxendell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @MattBaxendell


 


 

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