LAS VEGAS Fans werent the only people dressed in blue and orange who were perplexed by this defense-dominated, nerve-jangling football season.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen called it a struggle.
Sophomore wide receiver Matt Miller called it weird.
But players also found it enjoyable for the challenge, the camaraderie and the Mountain West championship they won.
The seasons been a whole bunch of fun, senior tailback D.J. Harper said. I really wouldnt look at it as a struggle. Its just an obstacle that we were able to overcome.
With one more win in Saturdays MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against Washington (7-5), the No. 20 Broncos (10-2) can clinch an unlikely fifth straight Top 20 season and the seniors can leave with a 4-0 record in bowl games all against teams that now reside in Bowl Championship Series conferences.
Our goal is to win a championship and win a bowl game, senior cornerback Jamar Taylor said. Weve still got one more thing to do, so that chip is still going to be on our shoulder.
This is a group that has felt underappreciated as a team in 2012 and as individuals in the past. Its full of seniors who have stepped into the largest roles of their careers and young players with little or no previous experience at college footballs highest level.
Kellen Moore, Doug Martin, Shea McClellin & Co. exited after last season and their shadows still loom large.
We did what people said we couldnt, senior linebacker Tommy Smith said. We were always thought of as those guys who probably couldnt do it because all the stars left. We stuck to the challenge and we answered well.
The Broncos have won in a vastly different way than most of their teams over a decade and a half of success.
They have scored 30.4 points per game, the lowest output since 1998, and they didnt place an offensive skill player on the All-Mountain West first team.
But they have shut out their opponent in the first half seven times, the most in school history, and allowed just three touchdown passes, five fewer than the dominant 2008 defense.
That mixture has produced five games decided by six points or fewer (3-2 record) or the same number of those games the program experienced in the previous four years combined.
The coaches say its not always going to be perfect, senior left guard Joe Kellogg said. Its not going to be pretty. But keep battling and keep swinging and well come out on top. Thats kind of been our motto this year.
Thats almost how it went in the season opener, a 17-13 loss at Michigan State in a game the Broncos led well into the fourth quarter despite not scoring an offensive touchdown.
And thats how it did go in the regular-season finale a title-clinching, 27-21 win at Nevada that got perilously close in the closing minutes after a dominant first half by Boise State.
The difference between those games: The offense, maligned much of the year, capitalized on most of its scoring opportunities against Nevada and converted some critical third downs.
On Saturday, the Broncos will face arguably their biggest test since Michigan State a chance to find out how far this team has come.
Will it be bookend losses? Or redemption?
Its one of those things where you think, Hey, if we were going to play so-and-so again at the end of the season do you think itd be different? senior wide receiver Chris Potter said. You can do what-ifs all day long, but the fact that we do get another shot at it is pretty exciting.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat