2008 Poinsettia Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/18/2008
No. 11 TCU vs. No. 9 Boise State
Conference Matchup: Mountain West vs. WAC
Date: 8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 23
Location: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Odds: TCU -2.5; Total 46.5
One of the best defenses in the nation will be on display in San Diego in one of the marquee games of the entire bowl season.
And TCU's defense is pretty good too.
Boise State, a 12-0 crew from the wild WAC and a team that was scratching at the back door of the BCS for the last month, brings the No. 3 scoring defense in the country to the dinner table on Tuesday in what is one of just four pre-New Year's bowl games pitting ranked opponents against one another. And while the shell-shocking, ornery Horned Frogs unit that has run rampage over the Rockies for the last three months is receiving all of the (well-deserved) praise heading into the Poinsettia Bowl, I think it's going to be the Broncos D that tells the tale in this one.
The Broncos finished just 36th against the pass and 14th against the rush this season while allowing a meager 12.2 points per game. That would all be headline-grabbing stuff if TCU wasn't even better. The Horned Frogs are No. 2 in points allowed (10.9) and No.2 in total yards (214.1) while their run defense has yielded a stunningly low 47.7 yards per game. Both clubs have taken on a pair of Top 20 offenses this year and both have proven their mettle against attacks of all shapes and sizes. So if defense wins championships we certainly have two teams worth the crown.
If the TCU defense gets the nod, both statistically and aesthetically, then all due credit goes to the Boise State offense. The Broncos, renowned for their point-piling proficiency, once again boasted one of the top 15 offenses in the country. Ian Johnson, the hero running back of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and freshman triggerman Kellen Lewis guide a Broncos attack that rang up nearly 40 points a game.
No one is going to confuse the competition that Boise State faced in the WAC with the caliber of teams that TCU tussled with in the Mountain West. Well, that's actually not true because I still confuse them from time to time. But the Broncos also hung 37 on Oregon in Autzen, the second-highest total that the Ducks allowed at home this season and the fourth highest scored against them all year. That 37 points was just one touchdown less than mighty USC could muster.
The issue of conference strength and strength of schedule is a key component in this overall matchup. And anyone willing to wager on the Horned Frogs is likely doing so because they feel that they've been tested against better competition. And there is a case to be made. Their only losses were at Oklahoma - and the Frogs put up a hell of a lot more fight than some other highly regarded teams from the Big 12 - and in a hard-fought tilt at Utah in a game that they let slip away in the last two minutes. That's two losses against two Top 6 teams. And that counts for something.
But Boise State has exceeded expectations all season long. They have posted a 7-3 mark against the spread and have been one of the most profitable teams in the nation despite being one of the squarest bets on the board. This program has played in big bowl games before and six of their current starters also answered the opening bell against Oklahoma two years ago in that classic Fiesta Bowl. In fact, Boise State is 5-2 ATS in its last seven bowl games.
The fact that TCU is the favorite in this game is telling. And it's a tip of the cap by the oddsmakers to their strength of schedule and the fact that the Horned Frogs rung up an 8-3 ATS mark this season. But just because they've played better competition that doesn't make them a better team.
The Horned Frogs defense is legit. They've proven that time and time again. And as good as the Boise offense is they aren't going to hang a big number in this game. So the key to who takes the cash lies in whether or not the Broncos defense is as good as the numbers suggest. TCU has a meager offense and is a grind-it-out rushing game. If Boise can smother that, then I do believe it's only a matter of time before the Broncos put some points on the board. But if the Broncos bend, then those Texas beasts could turn this one into a slaughter.