BOISE, Idaho -- They are talking about Dinah, a ghost who is said to roam the halls of the Communication Building. Supposedly, Dinah mischievously turns on computers after they've been switched off for the day; there have also been reports of strange writing appearing on chalkboards, and odd bursts of disembodied giggling coming from the attic.
According to the Boise State co-eds who are hanging out at Papa Joe's on this fine autumn afternoon, legend has it that Dinah is a bit snobby, interacting only with men. Naturally, this tidbit guides the conversation back to the lone subject that matters this week. One of the students wonders if Dinah has been lucky enough to come across Kellen Moore, and everyone agrees this makes perfect sense because Moore, after all, is a communications major -- and Dinah, doomed to haunt the building after being rejected by a date decades ago, undoubtedly is a Broncos fan.
A jog along the Oregon Trail (how's that for foreshadowing?) here is noteworthy because every runner seems to be wearing blue and orange, often with the word Moore stenciled across the shoulder blades. A quick stop at a local convenience store on Vista Avenue turns into a half-hour lecture from the clerk about Moore's uncanny accuracy and fluid throwing motion. If Moore, Boise State University's junior quarterback, is aware that his name is one degree removed from most every conversation in most every gathering place from Pocatello to Coeur d'Alene, he sure wouldn't admit it.
There might be one or two better QBs gracing the college landscape but there aren't any quite like Moore, a guy who makes vanilla seem downright exotic.
This is a good thing, mind you. BSU wouldn't be at this grand juncture -- ranked No. 3, as sweet a story as you'll find --- if its signal caller wasn't a self-described "football geek."
"It's how I've always been, I guess," Moore says with a shrug. "It's all I've ever wanted to do."
Up close, he doesn't exactly look the part. His shoulders curve into an awkward slouch, his hair could use a comb, and his 6-foot, 187-pound frame melts into the blur of a typical college campus. His left arm isn't much bigger than a tennis player's, but those on the other end of Moore's passes swear he throws with the strength of someone who could bench a small tractor.
Moore passed for 370 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in Boise State's 51-6 victory over Wyoming, not a bad encore to the Broncos' opener when Moore, in 38 seconds and with no timeouts, engineered the game-winning touchdown drive against Virginia Tech. Now comes the game that defines 2010: if the Broncos beat No. 24 Oregon State here Saturday night, if Moore surgically dissects the Beavers the way he did the Hokies and then the Cowboys, the entire season flips on its head. Boise State becomes the hunted, not the hunters, and Moore won't be able to step outside his dorm without being lassoed into the Heisman Trophy chatter.
It's already started, a low hum that in just three weeks has morphed into annoying babble. Moore is asked about it several times a day, and each time he tries hard not to roll his eyes. His deflection is graceful and pointed, designed to push attention away from him and onto the team.
"It's really goofy to talk about the Heisman right now," he says, goofy being one of his favorite words. "I guess it's great for Boise State University to be part of that kind of talk. It means we're playing good football. It's exciting, definitely, but we've got more important business to take care of."
Coveting individual honors goes against everything Moore knows to be true and good. His father, Tom, was named head football coach at Prosser High in eastern Washington in 1986, two years before Kellen, the eldest son, was born. Soon after Kellen learned to walk he became the tee boy, then the 5-year-old towhead throwing balls with the freshmen, then the starting quarterback for three years, natural evolution and destiny working side by side.
Born with short Achilles' tendons that made it difficult for his heels to extend to the ground, Moore had a habit of running on his toes. He still sometimes slips back into old form, his tip-toe dancing highlighting his supposed weakness. But there are ways to compensate for not being the most athletic quarterback. During Prosser High's offseason, Tom reckons he and Kellen visited hundreds of college practices and camps, the tours designed to fine-tune the boy's greatest gift – his brain.
"It's true, football is his life," says Boise State senior Austin Pettis, who is to Moore what Jerry Rice was to Joe Montana. "Kellen records NFL games, breaks them down and writes up plays. If he's not doing that he's in the film room. He dreams up plays in his sleep, I swear. I've never seen somebody into something as much as he's into football. It's funny, we tease him about it all the time, but it's what makes him so good."
Moore's DVR is stuffed with game footage, his binders thick with drawings of complex schemes. In a perfect world, he'll someday be an offensive coordinator, stuck in a windowless room filled with video and possibilities. Those who know Moore say they can almost see the gears on his wondrous mind spinning when he drops back and surveys the routes, his pocket awareness finely-tuned as he waits for an open receiver. It is when he is at his best, an architect bringing to life his sketches.
"The game slows down for him. That doesn't happen for everybody. It's a gift," says Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "His mind is equal or better than most coaches, including pros. But Kellen also knows and understands that it's the 10 people around him who, when they're at their best, make him so successful."
Moore rarely gets rattled under pressure – in three seasons, he's thrown all of 14 interceptions, 10 of which came as a freshman -- and he has in front of him a big and physical offensive line that has yielded just six sacks the past two seasons, the stingiest in the country. "This guy is the best at extending the play a little bit by moving in the pocket," Oregon State coach Mike Riley says of Moore. "It's beautiful quarterbacking."
Moore has thrown a total of 7,606 yards and 69 touchdowns, last year he finished second in the nation in passing efficiency behind Florida's Tim Tebow and yet there is but one extraordinary statistic that does cartwheels off the page: Boise State teams guided by Moore have lost just one game across two seasons and change.
One loss, by one point – TCU 17, Boise State 16 in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. He has 28 wins on the other side of the ledger, a beyond goofy stat, but it's not a stretch to wonder if Moore has since spent chunks of every day thinking of ways he might improve from that lone aberration.
"Would that be weird if I did?" he asks, straight faced. He knows the answer, of course, and it's the answer that makes Kellen Moore so very unique.