Monday, Dec. 20, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
His team is playing a bowl game in Las Vegas, so of course Boise State coach Chris Petersen knows what the spread is.
That doesn’t mean he agrees with it. At the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas Welcome Reception Sunday afternoon at the Hard Rock Café on the Strip, Peterson said he couldn’t believe oddsmakers had installed his No. 10 Boise State squad as 17-point favorites against No. 20 Utah.
“Shocked more than surprised,” Petersen said. “Obviously, someone isn’t studying tape. We study tape and I know this is an even matchup.”
Petersen might be among the minority who believe the Utes can hang with the Broncos, but that doesn’t bother Utah coach Kyle Whittingham or his players.
They understand where the negativity is coming from. Utah was the No. 5 team in the nation at the beginning of November, but suffered a 40-point setback against TCU. A week later, Notre Dame trounced them 28-3.
That stretch transformed them from a program receiving national attention for a possible BCS berth to a team needing to rally just to take second in the Mountain West Conference. A win against Boise State would validate the Utes feelings that they are still one of the best teams in the country.
“Our team seems to function pretty good with the underdog role,” Whittingham said. “It was the same way in ’08, going into the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Nobody gave us a chance and our guys responded well in that situation.”
Utah has won nine straight bowl games — a run that started in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl with a 17-16 victory against Fresno State — for the longest streak in the country.
Boise State’s motivation won’t revolve as much around ending that streak as it does proving all the season-long talk about it being national championship contenders was legitimate.
The Broncos spent almost the entire season with the No. 3 ranking and in the hunt for a BCS National Championship appearance before falling to UNR 34-31 in overtime three weeks ago.
“We’re so far past that Nevada game,” said Boise State junior quarterback Kellen Moore. “We’re not even thinking about it.”
Moore is the marquee player in this year’s Las Vegas Bowl. He spent last week in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and ultimately finished fourth in voting.
He was second in the nation in passer rating this season, behind only Auburn quarterback and Heisman winner Cam Newton, and threw for 3,506 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Moore is surrounded by NFL prospects on offense including receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young and running back Doug Martin.
Boise State ranked in the top 10 in 12 of the 17 team statistic categories kept by the NCAA. That’s one reason why Whittingham doesn’t feel slighted by Boise State receiving all the attention.
“You could not get a tougher opponent outside of a BCS game,” Whittingham said. “We are excited about the challenge, but we have our hands full.”
Petersen used the exact “hands full” phrase when talking about Utah. The Utes have their share of successes worth mentioning.
Most notably, they have a double-barreled running attack with Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. Although starting quarterback Jordan Wynn will miss the game with an injured shoulder, the Utes will start experienced Terrance Cain.
Cain has started 10 games over the past two seasons and is equally as dangerous running the ball as he is throwing it.
In short, the Utes are no ordinary 17-point underdog.
“Anything can happen against this team,” Moore said. “We know how well Utah has played.”