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Boise State headed to Vegas

| December 6, 2010 8:00 PM

The MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas will offer a glimpse of at what might have been.

No. 10 Boise State accepted an invitation Sunday to play No. 20 Utah on Dec. 22., the first meeting between the schools from neighboring states since 2006.

At one point this year, the Broncos and the Utes were slated to play each other over the next three years, starting next fall. Utah backed out of those dates in preparation for its move from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-10, an exit that spoiled a more long-term rivalry that could have developed with Boise State's move to the Mountain West next year.

Still, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said the matchup with Utah is everything his team wanted in a bowl opponent.

"We're really, really excited about it," Petersen said. "It fits very much with what we were hoping for. To cap it off we have a very, very good opponent. That may be the most important thing. The respect we have for Utah, certainly their bowl record. The one thing about players is they always want to play good teams."

The Utes (10-2, 7-1) have won nine straight bowl games, the longest active streak in major college football and the second longest all time. Florida State owns that mark, winning 11 straight postseason games between 1985-1996.

The Broncos (11-1, 7-1 Western Athletic Conference) grabbed an at-large spot usually reserved in Las Vegas for a Pac-10 team. The Broncos are the highest ranked team to play in the game and the first WAC team to play in the bowl since Fresno State in 1999.

"Boise State is one of the top teams in the country and the opportunity to play them in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl will present a big challenge for our players and coaches," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Until a week ago, the Broncos were in the mix for the national championship, so this game will have a lot of national as well as regional interest. Not many bowls outside the BCS games will feature teams with the kind of success Boise State and Utah have experienced in recent years, which makes this an exciting matchup."

The Broncos lead the overall series with Utah 4-2.

For organizers in Las Vegas, the game features two high-profile teams which have emerged on the national scene and broken into the BCS rotation. Each school is 2-0 in BCS games, with the Broncos winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2007 and 2010, while Utah won the Fiesta Bowl in 2005 and the Sugar Bowl in 2009.

At one point this season, Utah moved to No. 5 in the BCS standings before losses against TCU and Notre Dame spoiled their chances of breaking into the BCS mix again.

Boise State was in position to do that again this year. Two weeks ago, the Broncos were ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, but they fell in the polls after an overtime loss at Nevada on Nov. 26.

The matchup with a quality opponent like Utah could go a long way toward blunting some of Boise State's disappointment caused by the Nevada loss. And Petersen played down any irritation with a system that kept his team from getting any of the big-money BCS invitations that were handed out Sunday.

"I think we knew that going in. We knew how it's set up ... and you can't worry about what you can't control," Petersen said.

The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.

It's the second straight year bowl organizers have landed two ranked teams. Last year, No. 15 BYU defeated No. 16 Oregon State 44-20.