SI.com's Cory McCartney analyzes the matchups.
The Skip Holtz renovation project has the Pirates in consecutive bowl games for the first time since they went to three straight from 1999-2001. A win in Hawaii could solidify the turnaround. The Pirates' 71st-ranked offense features the nation's top all-purpose running back in senior Chris Johnson. A threat running, catching and as a kick returner, Johnson averaged 212.6 yards per game and scored 22 touchdowns.
East Carolina's defense has been solid, though it did allow nine more points game than in '06. ECU put a scare into Virginia Tech in the season opener and held its final four opponents to 21 points per game. The unit also has a penchant for pressure, racking up 95 tackles for loss (11th in nation ) behind lineman Zack Slate (11 ½ tackles for loss) and linebacker Quentin Cotton (11 tackles for loss).
The Broncos lost out on a chance to return to the BCS, where it delivered a memorable win over Oklahoma in last year's Fiesta Bowl, but this team is statistically better than last year's. No. 24 Boise State is averaging 475.6 yards per game (50 more the last season) and 42.7 points (three more than '06) by leaning more on the TaylorTharp-led passing game. Running back Ian Johnson, he of the post-Fiesta Bowl proposal, was plagued by injures but still managed to rush for 1,030 yards and 16 touchdowns behind a massive offensive line anchored by All-America tackle Ryan Clady.
Don't read too much into the 495 yards Hawaii's Colt Brennan put up on the Boise State defense. The Broncos were 21st in total defense and allowed 114.9 rushing yards and 20 points a game. It's an aggressive group that thrives on aggression behind junior linebacker Kyle Gingg (86 tackles, 7 ½ tackles for loss) and senior safety Marty Tadman (83 tackles).
The last time the Broncos were in Aloha Stadium they suffered a regular season-ending loss to Hawaii, which burst their BCS bubble but it could figure prominently in this matchup. It's easy for teams to get caught up in the vacation-like atmosphere of playing in Hawaii, a problem ChrisPetersen's Broncos won't have.
East Carolina will have to find a way to bottle up the Broncos' offense, while its offense will have to counter a defense that's going to put pressure on the quarterback duo of Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass (who took 184 and 172 snaps this year, respectively). This game could be a let down for Boise State, especially after last season's Fiesta Bowl win, but the Broncos have enough firepower to give the Hawaii crowd an offensive display suitable of the hometown Warriors.
The pick: Boise State 45, East Carolina 28