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Rootability Index: The Las Vegas Bowl's Charming Underachievers

TheToday's Rootability index helps the uninvested fan decide who to pull for in a contest where they have no clear interest. Tonight's quarry: the fascinating matchup between Boise State and Arizona State in MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. You'll watch, because Vontaze Burfict will be playing his universal antipodes, Kellen Moore. If the two destroy each other, the universe as we know it ceases to exist. This is the exact plot of a Nicolas Cage movie coming out in five months.  

ROOTABILITY FACTORS. For perspective, remember what an achievement it is to become a bullish favorite in ten years, Boise.

A decade ago this would have been teed up as "upstart Boise likely to suffer at the hands of major conference power," but just ten years later this seems like a foregone conclusion of a Broncos victory. If Arizona State is an underdog here in the year 2011, it is quite the testament to the mysterious, football-enhancing forces at work in Boise.

So selling those attracted to underdogs on Arizona State is the first order of business. This is easily done in a series of tidy bullet points.

  • SENTIMENT. This is Cap'n Dennis Erickson's last ride with the Sun Devils, and the finale to a snakebitten tenure in Tempe. Erickson survived a rough run to get to 2011 with what should have been his best team, watched as they raced out to a 5-1 record, and then dropped five of their last six games to finish at 6-6 and relegated to Vegas. Erickson is one of the most influential coaches of the past 30 years, and did pioneering work introducing the single-back offense as a reliable college offense.  He deserves better than a disorderly finale in the desert, but when you sail from port to port like the Cap'n has in his career, sometimes you run aground in strange, filthy harbors.
  • QUIRKS. Any team as schizoid as ASU is by definition interesting. The Sun Devils feature the most erratic-but-talented defender in the nation in Vontaze Burfict, a catapult-armed quarterback in the towering (yes, he's tall) Brock Osweiler, and a highly aggressive dwarf named Aaron Pflugrad running wide open through the secondary. Does this team make mistakes? Absolutely, but to their credit when they make them they make them HUGE, and that's always fun to watch.
  • MOTIVATION. They really have nothing to lose. If you doubt this, please see who they just hired as their head coach. Sun-Devil-may-care doesn't come close to covering how little concern for the future this team has right now.

Boise has its own charms, but you already know many of them: the dog that fetches the kicking tee off the field after kickoffs, the strategic genius and precision of Chris Petersen, their habit of taking other programs' recruiting no's and turning them into starters, the continually underrated defense, dodgy kickers, and the toothy quarterback who fires rainbow lasers from both hands:


It's Kellen Moore's last ride, too, and for those leaning on sentiment to make the decision, well, there's that, too. (Cartoon fans will pull for Boise, since Doug Martin is nicknamed "The Muscle Hamster," a nickname begging for its own animated series on Cartoon Network.)

Still, consider the Sun Devils, reader. They make huge mistakes. They have a rowdy, undisciplined pirate heading out for his last ride. Their school's hand signal doubles as a highly suggestive hand gesture. You'd like to be Boise, sure: a small-town success, virtuous, hard-working, and succeeding against the odds. That would be nice, if only for your ego.

Be honest, though: as an American, raised in America with the innumerable advantages of being you, you're probably a lot closer to Arizona State. You make huge mistakes. You squander your talent. When you're good, you're very good and beat USC, and when you're bad you somehow lose to Ron Zook, Paul Wulff, and Rick Neuheisel in an unforgivable streak of losses. Your potential? Unlimited, really. Your discipline? Let's just not talk about your discipline.

Instead, let's just all lean hard for the rogue underachievers tonight, and consider it a moment of hope for the 99% of us who don't floss twice daily like you know Kellen Moore and Chris Petersen do.  

LEAN: The Sun Devils.  If you were ever to pray for the Devils, tonight is that night.