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September 23, 2009

Boise St.-Bowling Green Preview

(AP) -- Even in late September, every part of Boise State's schedule is important for its Bowl Championship Series chances.

The eighth-ranked Broncos continue perhaps the most difficult part of their slate Saturday at Bowling Green, where the Falcons will host a Top 10 opponent for the first time.

Boise State - enjoying its highest regular-season ranking in school history - has started a five-game stretch that includes four road games, and the Broncos (3-0) have already begun checking off the requirements to crash the BCS for the second time in three years - provided they keep winning.

They beat a then-ranked Oregon club to start the year and routed Miami of Ohio before beginning this pivotal stretch with a 51-34 victory Friday at Western Athletic Conference archrival Fresno State.

"It's pretty tough. Any time you go on the road, it's tougher than playing at home," said coach Chris Petersen, whose team also has a marquee non-conference game Oct. 14 at Tulsa and travels to face Hawaii 10 days after that. "It's a lot of travel, a lot of miles in the air, it's unfamiliar territory for our kids. We're home one time in 30 days."

Boise State made several big plays against Fresno State. Jeremy Avery had a 74-yard run and a 67-yard touchdown reception en route to 269 total yards, while D.J. Harper added a 60-yard rushing score among his 107 yards on the ground.

The Broncos also had two 77-yard kickoff returns - one by Titus Young, who also scored after recovering a fumble in the end zone following Avery's long dash - and rolled up 480 yards of total offense while averaging 8.7 yards per play.

"A lot of playmakers making plays out there," said Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who threw three touchdown passes. "Good running backs on both sides making plays out of nothing and breaking tackles here and there."

Boise State, however, will have to make some adjustments offensively since Harper is likely done for the season with a torn ACL suffered late Friday. Harper and Avery combined for 563 rushing yards in the three wins, and Petersen knows the junior tailback will be missed.

"It's hard on all of us, it's hard on the offense and it's hard on D.J.," he said Monday. "He's a heck of a back, and we were just starting to see the best of him."

Doug Martin will return to the offense to fill the void left by Harper. A special teams standout and slated to be a defensive back this year, Martin has nine carries for 35 yards after gaining 109 yards in limited action in 2008.

Bowling Green (1-2) has been tough on opponents, but also unable to close them out recently. The Falcons led then-No. 25 Missouri in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 road defeat Sept. 12, and lost 17-10 Saturday against Marshall despite 383 passing yards by Tyler Sheehan, who set school records with 43 completions and 62 attempts.

First-year coach Dave Clawson is hoping his team will apply the lessons learned in those losses as the Falcons try to beat a ranked opponent for just the fifth time.

"We put ourselves in a position to win every game," Clawson said. "We've been there, we have to do a better job executing late in the game. We have to get to the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win the game and when we get to that point, learn from Missouri and Marshall to make the plays to get us over the top."

Sheehan's favorite target has been senior wideout Freddie Barnes, who bettered his own single-game school record with 17 catches against Marshall. Barnes, whose previous career high was 15 in the season-opener versus Troy, leads FBS receivers with 42 receptions after having 40 in an injury-plagued 2008.

"He's got a unique skill set, a former quarterback who's 6-2, 6-3, 215 pounds that is a good route runner with ball skills," Clawson said of Barnes. "He's a big guy who would probably be one of our best tailbacks and is our best receiver."

Boise State has won both all-time games between the teams, and this contest is the back end of a home-and-home series. Last year, Ian Johnson rushed for two touchdowns, while the Broncos defense forced three turnovers in a 20-7 victory at Boise.

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