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Unbeaten Broncos try to fend off TCU

No. 9 Boise State meet No. 11 Horned Frogs tonight in the Poinsettia Bowl.

SAN DIEGO — The Poinsettia Bowl, the little brother of the Holiday Bowl, sure grew up fast.

The No. 9 and undefeated Boise State Broncos and No. 11 TCU Horned Frogs meet tonight in the Poinsettia Bowl, which despite its lower-tier status has put together a marquee matchup that’s going to be overshadowed by only a few games this postseason.

“I think it’s one of the best matchups of all the bowl games,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said Monday. “Besides the national championship game, I’d put this one right up with the one that’ll be played up north of here.”

In other words, the Poinsettia Bowl should fall in line right behind the BCS national championship game between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Oklahoma, and the Rose Bowl between No. 5 USC and No. 6 Penn State.

“If you just want to watch a great football game, that’s hopefully what we’ll give them,” Patterson said. “The intrigue of this ballgame, I think, is what makes this game special. Two teams that come from nowhere, not a lot of people know about.”

The Broncos, the school with the blue turf and the Fiesta Bowl darlings two years ago, are trying for their second unbeaten season in the last three years. Despite their 12-0 record, the Western Athletic Conference champion Broncos were bypassed by the BCS in favor of Mountain West Conference champion Utah.

The Utes, who also went undefeated, earned a Sugar Bowl bid. Their closest call this season came when they had to rally to beat TCU 13-10.

Patterson said he thinks Boise State deserves to be in a BCS game, but he’s glad for the chance to face the Broncos.

“Having the opportunity to play Boise State gives you a measuring stick of understanding where we want to go as a program and where we want to be,” Patterson said. “They’re exactly what we’re trying to get to. Boise State wins championships.

“We understand there’s quite a wall in front of us trying to get that done.”

TCU (10-2) brings in the best run defense in the country (48 yards allowed per game) and the No. 2 total and scoring defense behind Southern California. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, a second-team All-American, leads a stellar line.

The Broncos play good defense, too, allowing 12 point per game, but it’s their offense that usually draws headlines.

Kellen Moore had a sensational redshirt freshman season for the Broncos, throwing for 3,264 yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes.

The Broncos followed up their thrilling overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago by losing to East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl last year.

The Broncos hope to avoid a slow start like they had in the Hawaii Bowl.

“We’re playing a better opponent this year,” BSU coach Chris Peterson said. “Our guys are aware of it. I think they’ve practiced with more intensity and more energy. But if we don’t necessarily come out of the gates gangbusters, it’s not because we’re not preparing or anything. A lot of it has to do with that opponent you’re playing, as well.

“We spent a lot of time trying to address that issue. I don’t want to minimize East Carolina. Those guys were good. We just try to live and learn from the past, whether it was good or bad and get better was we move forward.”

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