So, it’s not the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl. It’s not even the Taxslayer.com Gator or Valero Alamo or Chick-fil-A Bowl. But aren’t we all looking forward, just a little or a lot, to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl this year? Did I really just write that? Have we all gone insane? No, we haven’t. We’re all eager to see if nationally ranked and fresh-faced Utah State can win the school’s first postseason game since the Aggies took the Las Vegas Bowl back in 1993.
I know I am.
The choice was mine this time around to cover either USU-Toledo or BYU-San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Let’s see … San Diego in December or Boise? Boise … or San Diego?
It was a tomahawk dunk.
Potato over Poinsettia, easy.
After the overall effort the Aggies put on the field this season, dancing on a razor’s edge of going undefeated and hanging in following two narrow road defeats to pile up 10 victories, the most in USU’s football-playing history, sunshine and sand and Sea World and sea breezes and the Gaslamp Quarter and Coronado all took a backseat to … to … whatever’s in B-town. By the way, it’s not pronounced Boy-Z. It’s Boy-C.
I’ve played golf there, watched tennis tournaments there, visited friends and family there, eaten at Mickey Ray’s barbecue there, shopped along 8th Street there, walked through the neighborhoods in the city’s North End there, jogged along the Boise River there, headed through there on the way to McCall. Not bad there. A nice, comfortable town.
The one thing I can’t stand there is the blue turf in Bronco Stadium. It’s kooky. It’s unnatural. It makes everything look … synthetic, as though it fell out of an old Stanley Kubrick science fiction film. And by about the midway point of the third quarter, a headache kicks in, nailing everyone — players, coaches, fans, media — who hasn’t built up antibodies to fight off the resultant ill effects.
It was announced the other day that the Toledo Rockets would be Utah State’s opponent this year after the Aggies lost to Ohio in the same bowl a year ago, their first bowl appearance in 14 seasons. Toledo finished 9-3 overall, 6-2 in the MAC.
Since nobody around here has paid one lick of attention to the Rockets this year, research was in order to figure out what USU is facing. Here’s what was discovered:
Toledo generally tries to outscore its opponents. It averaged just shy of 33 points, giving up a bit more than 27. The Rockets’ offense ranked 28th nationally, gaining 456 yards per game, and the defense, which ranked 105th, surrendered 464. Toledo rushed for nearly 200 yards a game, led by back David Fluellen, who gained 132 yards per game, and the team passed for almost 260 yards, led by quarterback Terrance Owens, who is a moderate threat to pass and run.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, they finished 117th in pass defense, yielding 296 yards per game, and 72nd in rush defense, giving up 168 yards.
What all this means is that the Potato Bowl sets up as a great opportunity for Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton to have a monster game. If the Rockets can’t stop the pass or the run … well, that about covers it.
Keeton probably was the best offensive player in the WAC, averaging 306 yards of total offense and ranking 17th in the country. He also was 14th in pass efficiency. The Aggie offense was 26th in total yards.
USU’s defense ranked among the top 15 defenses nationally in five different categories, including eighth in scoring (15.4 points a game), eighth in sacks (3.25), 12th in rushing defense (111.4 yards) and 15th in total defense (322.7 yards).
Toledo beat Wyoming by three points, Bowling Green by 12, Coastal Carolina by 10, Western Michigan by 20, Central Michigan by 15, Eastern Michigan by five, Cincinnati by six, Buffalo by five and Akron by 12. The Rockets lost to Arizona by seven in overtime, Ball State by seven and Northern Illinois by seven.
Utah State won its 10 games by a total of 233 points and lost its two games by a combined five.
Vegas has tagged USU an early nine-point favorite.
As destinations and Decembers go, Boise may not be San Diego, Bronco Stadium may not be Qualcomm, the Boise River may not be the Pacific, potatoes may not be poinsettias, but Gary Andersen’s Aggies deserve a good, hard look this postseason. They’ve earned the attention and the respect of everyone in the state of Utah, everyone who cares about college football. We’ll all now see how they punctuate their progress.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.