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Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 2013: Players to Watch in Buffalo vs. San Diego State

Nov 29, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack (46) waits for the snap against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor
Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIDecember 13, 2013

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl features two teams that are especially grateful of the invitation. Buffalo is looking to win its first-ever bowl game, while San Diego State wasn't sure if it was going to get the chance to extend its season.

According to UTSanDiego.com's Stefanie Loh, Aztecs athletic director Jim Sterk said the invitation was a "huge relief." He also admitted that it had been a "very long week because of the uncertainty."

With both teams eager to win the Potato Bowl, we're going to have a terrific game on our hands. As you're watching, here are some of the key players from both sides that you should be paying attention to.

 

Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

Oct 19, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack (46) against the Massachusetts Minutemen at University of Buffalo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Mack needs to have your attention from the opening kickoff. If you don't give it to him, he'll probably grab it by force.

The linebacker is the best player in this game, and he's projected to be an early first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Mack holds the NCAA record for most career forced fumbles (previously held by Terrell Suggs) and is tied with Jason Babin for the most tackles for loss in college football history.

The future NFL star is an elite pass-rusher (10.5 sacks this year) and plays with such a high motor that he's bound to make plays. He burst into the national spotlight with a dominant performance against Ohio State earlier this year, and he hasn't left the limelight.

Keep your eyes on the second-team All-American linebacker. You won't regret it.

 

Nat Berhe, S, San Diego State

Dec 20, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State Aztecs defensive back Nat Berhe (20) reacts during the second quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Berhe is arguably the Aztecs' best player, and he'll play an important role against Buffalo. He'll need to be solid in run support against running back Branden Oliver, but the safety will also need to be the back line of defense against receivers like Alex Neut.

Berhe has played really well this year, racking up 94 tackles, and earned his third straight selection to an All-Mountain West defensive team. He'll need to continue that excellent play in his last game of the season.

 

Branden Oliver, RB, Buffalo

Nov 29, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bulls running back Branden Oliver (32) against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bowling Green beat Buffalo 24 to 7.  Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Oliver is the powerful engine behind the Buffalo offense, and he’ll be a focal point of the game plan for head coach Jeff Quinn.

The running back picked up 1,421 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns this season, and he’ll have opportunities to find the end zone against a San Diego State defense that has allowed 20 rushing touchdowns on the year.

The Bulls are undefeated in games where Oliver gains at least 125 yards, but they’re 1-4 when he fails to reach that number.

If Oliver can control the tempo with his rushing ability, Buffalo will like its chances of leaving with its first-ever bowl win.

 

Quinn Kaehler, QB, San Diego State

Nov 2, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State quarterback Quinn Kaehler (18) calls plays under center during the first half against the New Mexico Lobos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Kaehler is a former walk-on that now starts at quarterback for the Aztecs. He’s been solid (2,796 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs) for head coach Rocky Long, leading an offense that ranks 35th in passing yards per game.

That said, the signal-caller can be inconsistent and turn the ball over in bunches.

Buffalo's pass defense can be had, but the Bulls led the Mid-American Conference with a turnover margin of plus-16. If Kaehler makes mistakes, the pendulum swings in Buffalo's favor. If he can avoid mistakes and play up to his talent level, the Aztecs are the favorites.

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