12-0. 13-0. Mountain West Conference Champions. Western Athletic Conference Champions. Number Four national ranking. Number Six national ranking.
For the third time since 2003, the TCU Horned Frogs and Boise State Broncos will hook up in a post-season bowl game. The progression of meetings has been reflective of two teams on similar paths, which have crossed en route to national prominence for each. First, as top 20 teams in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl, then in 2008 as top 10 teams in the Poinsettia Bowl and finally this year with a top five ranking and unbeaten seasons on the line in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Mutual respect is the number one thing you see between two programs that have become well acquainted with each other.
"(TCU coach) Gary (Patterson) does such a great job. They were as prepared as anybody we played last year and, it will be no different again this time. He has got really, really good players to go along with a scheme that is very solid," said Boise State head coach Chris Petersen.
"They're an exact science. They know what they're doing. They play with a lot of confidence and they win," said Patterson of Boise State's system. "Any time you play somebody that knows how to win, that plays with great confidence, you better get yourself ready to go because they have a lot of pride."
The respect carries through the Boise State and TCU players as well, two rosters that are full of All-American and All-Conference stars, but even more complete with role players who understand where to be and what exactly to do in their respective systems. It's how both teams have risen to such a high level and sit on the cusp of achieving something most teams only dream about.
For TCU, they have built a reputation on a fast and physical defense that doesn't give up many big plays and makes opponents work for every yard. Evidence by a defensive unit that ranks first nationally in fewest yards per game allowed and sixth in the country allowing just 12.4 points per game. A group that includes two-time consensus All-American Jerry Hughes and his 28.5 career sacks.
"You watch them on film, watch their games, they really don't give up many points. They don't give up anything," said Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. "They're a very difficult team to face, but at the same time you are excited about the challenge of being at this high a caliber."
Boise State counters with the nation's highest scoring offense in the country, averaging better than 44 points per game. Balance has been the key, as the Broncos have thrown for 40 touchdowns and average nearly 200 yards per game on the ground.
"We have watched film. They look great," said Jerry Hughes. "For us to go out there and play against them is going to be a challenge. Everybody is excited for an offense like that."
"When you play Boise State, you better look back at all the guidance you can get, all the formations, how they attack," added Patterson. "We know we probably won't see anything we saw a year ago from Boise State. So we are trying to prepare for all the rest of it."
A solid rushing attack will be key to Boise State's game plan, as the team managed just 28 yards in the 17-16 loss to TCU in last year's Poinsettia Bowl. They hope to increase that production with the duo of Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin. Dubbed 'thunder' and 'lightning' by teammates, Martin and Avery have combined for 1,850 yards, 20 touchdowns and a 6.0 yards per carry average, and that's with Martin playing in just over half of the games on offense.
"A lot of it has to do with the O line and execution and going back to the fundamentals and trying to play as hard as we can," said Bronco offensive tackle Nate Potter. "We have some good solid positions. If the O line plays to the best of their ability, we can try to move the ball and do some things."
"They (TCU) are so fast in recovering, it is going to be one of those games where hopefully our defense can hold up, slow them down a little bit because it's just not a defense that you score a lot of points on."
Dualing gunslingers will be a central focus as both offenses look to try and score a few more points than the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, where the two teams struggled to score 33 combined points in the one point win by TCU. Boise State spent the entire off-season talking about two points and two percent better, in reference to the one point defeat and two points shy of an undefeated season.
Sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore leads the Bronco attack, one which is hoping to convert scoring opportunities that became field goals in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl into touchdowns. Moore threw for a school record 39 touchdowns, while leading the nation in pass efficiency and finishing seventh in the 2009 Heisman Trophy voting.
"I think this offense just all rides around versatility. We have a lot of guys that at different times during the season, they come out and give us their best shot," said Moore. "We have guys who come out of nowhere and score touchdowns in one play and on the next do the unselfish, dirty work. I think we are very versatile and bring a lot of things to the game plan and I think it works for us."
Much like Moore, TCU has a precision offense that averaged 40.7 points per game this season, an amazing stat that often times was overshadowed by the attacking and disruptive Horned Frog defense. Junior quarterback Andy Dalton ranked fourth in the nation in pass efficiency, throwing for 22 touchdowns and rushing for 522 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think we're very confident. We feel like we have had great preparation coming into this game," said Dalton. "We've been preparing like we have each week. Hopefully it will show in the game."
One thing that will be a definite in this football game is team preparation. With two of the best coaching staffs working with players that bring the lunch pail and hard hat to work everyday, you can expect an all out battle that should be as entertaining as any bowl game of the season. Both teams will also agree that what's on the line for the winner is almost as big, if not bigger, than that of the national championship.
TCU linebacker Tank Carder and Boise State's Ryan Winterswyk summed up the emotions and what this game means to the Broncos and Horned Frogs.
"They're definitely coming back for revenge. That's a given, because losing by one point (last year's bowl game), that's a tough loss," said Carder. "Anybody loses by one point has got to be coming back with a grudge, chip on their shoulder, and get ready to take care of business. With the same token, we are coming back, too. We have a great team just as Boise State does. It will be a fight. It will be a man's game. They will come out swinging."
"We don't like to lose at all, and I know they don't either," said Winterswyk. That's our thing: we don't lose. We want to go undefeated all the time."