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Game Preview: Boise State Broncos vs UNLV Rebels

The #5 ranked Boise State Broncos (7-0, 2-0) will be heading down to Vegas this week to take on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas ( 2-5, 1-1). Boise is coming off a bye week following a home game win over the Air Force Falcons on October 22nd while the Rebels are also coming off a win against Colorado State last week at home. Las Vegas is expected to be crowded with more than five thousand Blue and Orange clad fans who will be making the 623 mile road trip from Boise down to Sin City.

Boise State is confident that it can remain one of only six unbeaten FBS college teams heading into this week's games and to continue their quest for a coveted spot in the BCS bowl lineup. The Rebels, meanwhile, are seeking a chance to unseat the Broncos and deny them not not only their BCS quest, but keep the newcomers from gaining the MWC championship. The Rebels also know that---although it is a longshot---if they could finish off their season with four more wins, they could still grab a spot for themselves in a bowl game.

The Boise State-UNLV game will get underway this Saturday evening at 8:30 PM MT at Sam Boyd Stadium. For those seeking to watch it from home it will also be televised on the CBS Sports Network. 

This will be the third conference game of the season for both teams and it should be interesting. UNLV will be taking to the field with a young team that is in the early stages of rebuilding under second year head coach Bobby Hauck. Heading up the Rebel offense is QB Caleb Herring, 6-3 190 lbs, a sophomore out of Moreno Valley, California, who has struggled this year behind a porous O-line.  But the win last week over Colorado State showed he can answer the call.  He was sacked twice, but still completed 9 of 13 passes for 90 yards.  Two of those were TD's passes and he ran for another: a five yard run with 1:20 left in the 4th quarter to seal the win, 38-35. 

Herring had some help putting the "W" in the Rebels' column.  One of the rushers helping the UNLV offense put up some good yardage numbers last week was RB Dionza Bradford, 6-1, 210 lbs. He accounted for 122 yards on 21 carries, giving him an average of 5.8 yards a  run.  But how will the UNLV running offense do against the Boise State defense, ranked among the best in the country? Unless the Rebels can open some holes for Bradford to slip through, the Broncos will probably shut down the UNLV running game.

If the UNLV can't get a ground game going, they will be forced to go to the air.  That could make for a very long day for the Rebels. They are 114th in the nation in passing. Further, Herring is not a runner himself, going just 73 yards on  55 attempts.  He has pitched 10 INT's on the year, a stat only overshadowed by the 18 sacks his offense has allowed.  And that's not good news for the Rebels when you consider that Boise State will be looking to force turnovers and to try and stop the offense in the backfield.  But besides Herring and Bradford, the Rebels have a lot of talent to work with.  WR's Philip Payne, 6-3 206 lbs, and Michael Johnson, 5-8 185 lbs, the punt returner, are two who could be pushed into more duty downfield. 

The UNLV defense is expected to have its hands full as well Saturday evening.  Boise State QB kellen Moore, 6-1 191 lbs, will looking to build on his statistics.  He has 2010 passing yards on the season, and so far this year is 174 of 228 attempts. He'll be trying to improve those stats at the expense of the UNLV defense. Unfortunately for the Rebel cornerbacks and defenders, he has a number of good receivers who rotate in and out of the game. TE Tyler Shoemaker, 6-1 213 lbs, is one, and WR's Mitch Burroughs, 5-9 187 lbs and Matt Miller, 6-3 215 lbs, are two more who will certainly be out there catching a few of his footballs.  I need to point out that Burroughs also ranks No. 2 in the country in punt returns with an average of 16.9 yards.

The UNLV defense will also have to contend with an improving Bronco running offense that offsets their passing game. Tailback Doug Martin, 5-9 215 lbs,  had 21 carries for 125 yards and scored two touchdowns against Air Force. He's averaging 5.3 yards per carry so far this season, and he is on track to put up another 1,200-plus yards rushing in 2011, just as he did in 2010.  Martin is averaging 106.7 yards per game.

Boise State is still in the national title race, and at the very least head coach Chris Petersen will be looking to keep his team's BCS bowl chances alive.  The Broncos will need to score a decisive victory over the Rebels just to keep their rankings.  A loss would not only drop them in the polls, but kill any chance of contending for a BCS slot postseason.  But a Boise State win has other implications of a historic nature.  It would give Moore the go ahead win to surpass Colt McCoy's record of 45 victories, and make Moore the quarterback with the most wins in NCAA history. Last game he passed former BYU QB Ty Detmer for fourth all-time with 122 TD's and now only needs 8 more to tie former Hawaii star Colt Brennan for 3rd place.

The Rebels would also like a win, for bragging rights if nothing else. Coach Hauck knows a win over the top-ranked Broncos would add some legitimacy to his team, and give them momentum going forward as well as to keep their own bowl chances alive. 

But the Vegas line doesn't favor the hometown team. The bookies are saying the win belongs firmly to the Broncos.

My score prediction: Boise State 59, UNLV 14.