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November 5, 2010

No. 2 Boise State gets a test in Hawaii

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Boise State looks like it's finally going to get one of those tough tests that have been so absent from its schedule for more than a month now.

The Broncos' last four wins have come easily as they built big, early leads against softies like Toledo, New Mexico State and San Jose State, sending Kellen Moore and crew to the sidelines early in the second half.

No. 2 Boise State's easy road stands to get a lot rougher Saturday when streaking Hawaii pays a visit to Bronco Stadium. The Warriors (7-2, 5-0 WAC) have won six straight, boast the nation's most potent passing attack and a defense that excels at forcing turnovers.

Hawaii's midseason resurgence has also raised the stakes in the battle for the WAC title.

Both coaches insist the showdown will have all the intensity of their 2007 matchup, when a Hawaii offense led by Colt Brennan and Davone Bess outscored the Broncos to win the conference title and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

"Our team gets it," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "To have a team that is as hot as anybody in the country right now - this is going to be a good, tough, hard-nosed WAC championship-type game."

Two months ago, few would have predicted Saturday's clash between these perennial WAC heavyweights would mean as much as it does now.

After going 6-7 a year ago and with questions at quarterback, the Warriors were pegged to finish at the bottom of the pack in the WAC.

Boise State, meanwhile, was projected to go undefeated for the second straight season and make its strongest case yet to play for a national title. A third consecutive conference crown seemed an afterthought. The undefeated Broncos are meeting expectations, though their national title standing has slipped thanks to their soft schedule and the success of teams like Oregon, Auburn and TCU.

But a potent offense led by quarterback Bryant Moniz and an opportunistic defense has put third-year coach Greg McMackin in position to win his first conference title. The Warriors have already accepted an invitation to play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

During the six-game winning streak, the Warriors have buried teams by an average of 30 points per game and dispatched with rivals Fresno State and a Nevada team ranked No. 25.

Moniz, a former walk-on, leads the nation in passing, averaging 360 yards per game, and has 25 TDs and seven interceptions. His two favorite targets, Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, lead the WAC in receptions and have McMackin's run-and-shoot offense humming in fashion reminiscent of the years Brennan led the Warriors to the national stage.

Now Moniz hopes his high-powered offense can accomplish what no other WAC team has done in the last decade: beat the Boise State on its own funky blue turf.

"We know the opportunity is ahead of us, being the only WAC team to beat them on their field, and maybe the last team to do it," said Moniz, referencing Boise State's move to the Mountain West Conference next year. "So we're ready for the challenge."

Boise State has dominated the series with Hawaii, winning 8 of 9 games since joining the WAC in 2001 and trouncing the Warriors in Honolulu last year 54-9.

Hawaii's only victory in the series came in 2007, the last time Boise State lost a regular season game. The Broncos lost their next game, the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against East Carolina.

But they've been perfect ever since. Boise State has won 21 straight games, the nation's longest active winning streak in among major college football, and an impressive win over Hawaii could help protect against any more slippage in the BCS rankings. The Broncos slipped to No. 4 this week after being jumped by TCU.

Not that Petersen really cares about the BCS or anything else beyond beating Hawaii.

Earlier this week, Petersen recounted a moment in the locker room with his players who were listening to a television analyst argue how the Broncos needed to make a statement, to play a perfect game against high-flying Hawaii if they really wanted to woo voters.

"I was thinking to myself: 'No we don't.' That's not our thing," Petersen said. "Then one of the other kids said to me: 'Whatever just happened to winning the game?'"



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