In one of the first bowl games of the season, the Buffalo Bulls (8-4, 6-2 MAC) will travel west to take on the San Diego State Aztecs (7-5, 6-2 MW) in the 2013 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.
Both teams finished the season on a low note, each suffering blowout losses, but managed to put together impressive campaigns overall, especially the Aztecs, who rebounded from an 0-3 start to finish 7-5 and bowl eligible for the fourth year in a row.
But Buffalo will be every bit as hungry as their opponent this weekend as Saturday's bowl matchup marks their first in five years.
Here we'll get you set with a complete guide to Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
When: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Betting Line: San Diego State (-1), according to VegasInsider.com.
Bulls Win Seven Straight En Route to First Winning Season Since 2008
The Bulls overcame a sluggish 0-2 start this season to reel off seven straight wins and become bowl eligible. Although they lost two of their last three to end the regular season, the Bulls still managed to turn in their first winning season in five years, and first under third-year head coach Jeff Quinn.
Unsurprisingly, Quinn is thrilled about his squad's opportunity on Saturday, per UBBulls.com:
It's been four years in the making. I couldn't be more proud of this senior class and coaching staff to have this opportunity. We talked about setting our goals towards being a football program that has a November and December tradition. And to be invited to a bowl game when we knew there were more bowl eligible teams, represents the kind of hard work we have invested in ourselves. A chance to play in the Famous Potato Bowl is a great opportunity for our kids.
While Buffalo boasts a productive offense, averaging 400 total yards and 30 points per game this season, the Bulls' success has hinged on their defense, which ranks 26th nationally in fewest points allowed, holding opponents to roughly 22 points per game in 2013.
Senior running back Branden Oliver is the star of the show on offense having rushed for 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games this year. However, there's no bigger star in Buffalo than senior linebacker Khalil Mack, who is a projected top-10 NFL draft pick (read on to find out what makes him so good).
Aztecs Win Three Overtime Games on the Way to 4th Straight Bowl Appearance
The word to describe San Diego State's wild season would be dramatic. As already mentioned, the Aztecs started slow, going 0-3 out of the gate before eventually finding their footing and earning their fourth straight bowl bid.
But their memorable rebound was highlighted by four overtime games, three of which they found a way to win. Had they lost two of those games they would not have been bowl eligible.
Head coach Rocky Long discussed what's at stake for the Aztecs at his Dec. 16 press conference, per GoAztecs.cstv.com: "I don't think it has anything to do with winning or losing. If we win, it will chalked up as we're supposed to (win). If we lose, it might be presented as the worst thing to ever happen."
Keep in mind that San Diego State will be a slight favorite when it takes to the blue turf in Boise on Saturday afternoon.
Player to Watch: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The best player on the field Saturday will be Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who recently won the 2013 Jack Lambert Award and is rated as one of the top prospects in next spring's 2014 NFL draft.
The 6'3", 245-pound senior has recorded 10.5 sacks this season and 19 tackles for a loss. He's also recorded three interceptions in 2013, two of which he's returned for touchdowns. In addition to those impressive numbers, Mack boasts NCAA career records of 75 tackles for a loss and 16 forced fumbles.
Third down is the time to really zero-in on Mack. In addition to possessing excellent power and flexibility, he displays tremendous instincts and recognition skills that are sure to show up this weekend, especially when the Aztecs find themselves facing third-and-long situations.
Picking a winner in this matchup is awfully tough. After all, these are two evenly-matched teams as the spread would indicate.
However, I'll give the slight edge to San Diego State. Not only do the Aztecs boast invaluable bowl game experience, but they'll be playing in a familiar venue in Broncos Stadium, where they knocked off Boise State a year ago.
While I, like many, fully expect Mack to have an outstanding game, it's difficult to imagine the Bulls, who stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, beating a battle-tested San Diego State squad more than 2,200 miles away from home.
Expect a close game, with the Aztecs withstanding the Bulls' late rally.
San Diego State 34, Buffalo 28
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