Boise State is racking up frequent flyer miles with its second trip to Hawaii in a month. The Broncos were just in Honolulu on November 23 where they lost their season finale, and the WAC championship, to the Warriors. Now, they return on December 23 to face East Carolina in the Hawai'i Bowl.
Boise State finds itself in an unusual position. The loss to Hawaii was just the second in the last 48 WAC games for the Broncos who are 52-4 all-time in the conference. Boise State had won six straight meetings with Hawaii since a 34-19 loss in 1999, and had won or shared the last five WAC titles. Last year, Boise State won the most memorable game of the 2006 bowl season when it defeated Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl.
At East Carolina, Skip Holtz is building the Pirates into a CUSA power with its second straight bowl trip after a four-year hiatus from 2002-2005. East Carolina's last bowl win, however, occurred at the 2000 Houston Bowl. The Pirates lost 24-7 to USF in last year's inaugural PapaJohns.com Bowl.
This game could be battle of Johnsons.
Running back Chris Johnson is one of CUSA's offensive stars and the nation's leading all-purpose runner. The senior has rushed for 1,200 yards, returned kicks for 856 yards and has 496 yards in receptions. All told, he has scored 22 touchdowns while totaling 2,552 all-purpose yards.
Boise State's Ian Johnson has rushed for 1,030 yards and 16 TD's in an offense that can capably run and throw. QB Taylor Tharp ranks 8th in the nation in pass efficiency, completing over 68% of his throws for 3,070 yards, 28 TD's and just 9 INT's.
At quarterback for East Carolina, sophomore Rob Kass and junior Patrick Pinkney have split time and the Pirates rank just 75th nationally in the passing department.
Defense has been a major issue with East Carolina. The Pirates rank 98th as they have allowed over 436 yards per game. Boise State ranks 21st on defense, and 24th against the run.