By Stewart Mandel
January 01, 2010

Breaking down Boise State vs. TCU, Glendale, Ariz., Monday, Jan. 4, 8 p.m., Fox

1. This is history. Never before have two "non-AQ" teams earned BCS berths in the same season. And never before have two undefeated teams met in a non-championship bowl. The Fiesta's matchup generated tremendous controversy upon its announcement (many felt the two teams were deprived an opportunity to "prove themselves" against major-conference foes), but it's hard to deny that this is a more intriguing matchup than TCU-Georgia Tech or Boise State-Iowa would have been.

TCU finished third in both the AP and coaches polls, and many believe the Horned Frogs are on the same level as Alabama or Texas. Affirming that notion, TCU's opponents have gone 6-0 in bowl games -- and the Horned Frogs beat those teams by an average margin of 20.8 points. Another blowout win over their most respected foe yet would further stoke the flames of controversy. Meanwhile, Boise has a chance to earn considerable respect by pulling off another Fiesta upset. With nearly their entire starting lineup returning next season, the Broncos would put themselves in position for a top 5 preseason ranking.

2. The nation's No. 1 passer goes against the nation's top defense. Boise State's sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore posted ridiculous statistics this season: 64.8 percent completions for 3,325 yards, 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He was the nation's top-rated passer -- but he hasn't faced a defense remotely of this caliber. TCU posted the nation's top-rated defense (233.3 yards per game), No. 2 pass efficiency defense (90.3), No. 3 rushing defense (80.5 yards) and No. 4 pass defense (152.8 yards).

TCU coach Gary Patterson has built his program on fast, swarming defenses that stuff the run and put inordinate pressure on the passer. If the Broncos have an edge, it's the fact that they use such a wide array of formations and specialization of players. Look for tight end Kyle Efaw (27 catches, 369 yards) to play a big role in the passing game, particularly because star receiver Austin Pettis (62 catches, 850 yards) remains questionable with a broken ankle. Boise also catches a break because TCU's star cornerback, Rafael Priest, is out with a sprained foot. But the bigger question is whether Boise's offensive line, which allowed just five sacks all season, can achieve similar success against Jerry Hughes (11.5 sacks) and the TCU pass-rush.

3. There's another pretty good quarterback in this game. His name is Andy Dalton, and after fairly modest, injury-plagued 2007 and '08 seasons, the redshirt junior exploded this year to become the nation's fourth-rated passer. He threw for 2,484 yards, 22 touchdowns and five picks. He's the major reason TCU went from being a modest offensive team in most years to posting the nation's No. 4 scoring offense (40.7 points per game).

"He has great understanding of what a given play is versus a given defense and trying to accomplish it," said TCU co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente. "When you reach that understanding and trust level like we are talking about, it just goes through the roof and you can talk to him like you would another coach, not as if he was a player."

How do you attack TCU's top-ranked defense? It's not easy. A coach from one of the Horned Frogs' opponents this season offers up his best advice for Kellen Moore:

"There is no weakness to exploit. They're very good against the run, very good against the pass. It's a 4-2-5 scheme. They have a hybrid position where that fifth secondary guy is also a linebacker. They have at least two first-rounders on that defense. Everyone knows about Hughes, but that linebacker, Daryl Washington, is phenomenal. Their corners are very good.

You've got to stay balanced, try to run the ball, hope to get the ground game going, then hopefully the play action pass gets going for you. If [Moore] has time, that's the whole key. If he can go through his progression, he may be able to get something going. Any time they're in their split-safety look, maybe you can get the tight end down the seam, or take some hole shots between the corners and safeties. There's some seam spots on that defense but you've got to be very accurate and precise in your throws to get it done."

TCU 27, Boise State 21. Neither team will be able to match its season-long defense against this competition. The Broncos will be able to protect Moore long enough to complete short passes and keep the offense on the field. But they certainly won't be able to roll up points, and Boise State's defense will have a tough time slowing down TCU's balanced attack.

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