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October 14, 2011

Boise State set to make Mountain West debut

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) The No. 5 Boise State Broncos always expect to be the life of the party. Right now, they just feel like they're a little late to the celebration.

Six weeks into the season, the Broncos (5-0) finally get to play in their inaugural Mountain West Conference game Saturday at Colorado State (3-2, 1-0).

"It's about time," said senior wide receiver Tyler Shoemaker. "Feels like we're almost halfway through the season now. It'll be good to get into conference play, that's always a bit of a step up no matter who it is."

The Broncos have been ranked in the Top 10 of The Associated Press poll for 38 straight weeks, and they feature quarterback Kellen Moore, who is 43-2 as a starter, two wins shy of Colt McCoy's NCAA record.

The Rams are enjoying a resurgence after a couple of down years under coach Steve Fairchild, and despite a rash of injuries, they sport one of the best pass rushes in the nation, led by defensive end Nordly Capi, who leads the NCAA with nine sacks and can set a school record Saturday with a sack in his sixth straight game.

Oddsmakers have installed the Broncos, formerly of the Western Athletic Conference, as more than four-touchdown favorites.

Boise State looks to have the inside track to the conference crown in its first season. The Broncos play four of their seven league games at home, starting with Air Force next week, and they also host the league's other heavyweight, outgoing defending champion TCU, in November.

"It's always the same: the high priority is to win a conference championship," Broncos coach Chris Petersen said. "To me that's really the best mark of your program. You can only play who's on your schedule, or you can only play in the league you're in, and so that's where all your focus should be. We've never really changed from that mindset. So here we are in a new league."

A new adventure, with new hurdles.

"Without question, especially when you go on the road," Petersen said. "You have no idea what Colorado State is like, what their schemes are like and talent. These are different offensive and defensive schemes. Even though we may have seen similar things, everybody has their own spin on things.

"Change is good. We know the challenge. We talked way back when about being in a new conference and how hard that is to do well first time out of the gate. And that certainly hasn't changed."

The Broncos are eager to meet their new league brethren and start forging new rivalries.

"Any time you get a different team that you've never played before, it's always fun, the matchups are cool to see on film and you actually get to develop some rivalries over the years," Shoemaker said. "It'll be fun for some of the young guys to kind of develop those."

The Rams seem equally thrilled to see the perennial powerhouse Broncos up close.

"They bring a Popeye type program," Fairchild said. "A program that has been in BCS bowls and a program that has proved capable of playing with anybody anywhere. There is no question that no matter who you talk to involving Mountain West Conference football that adding Boise State is good for the conference."

There could be some lopsided losses along the way - but also an annual chance to hang with and maybe upset one of the newest premiere programs in college football.

"They are one of the best teams in the country," Rams quarterback Pete Thomas said. "We've got nothing to lose in this game. When we come out, we have to try to play our game, try to keep it close and hopefully pull it out in the end."

The Rams haven't beaten a ranked team since 2002, when they upset seventh-ranked Colorado, and the highest-ranked opponent Colorado State has ever beaten is sixth-ranked Arizona in 1994.

Still, "I see an opportunity to upset Boise State," Rams linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. "I know we are the underdogs. This is an opportunity. An opportunity to prove ourselves as a team, as a defense, as an offense. I want to go out there and be able to play with these guys."

Colorado State's hallmark is its pass rush, which is one of the nation's best. But the Rams will face their stiffest test yet in a Boise State team that's among the best in the country at keeping the quarterback's jersey clean.

"In the past, they've been kind of a blitz team," Petersen said. "But they haven't been that much so far, but who knows after a bye? But they're getting pressure on the quarterback better than almost anybody in the country playing the style they're playing."

The Rams have collected 19 sacks so far, and their 3.8 average ranks third nationally.

The Broncos have allowed just two sacks in five games, tied for first in the country, and Moore has been taken down just twice in his last 253 pass attempts going back to last November.

"The quarterback is exceptional," Rams weakside linebacker Mike Orakpo said. "He definitely knows what he's doing. He has a very quick release and it's difficult to get to him. They have a very good offensive line. We have to get to the quarterback in this game."


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