Last years Utah State football team arrived at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl all smiles.
It was the Aggies first bowl appearance in 14 years.
We came from nothing, junior center Tyler Larsen said.
This years Aggies are all business.
Theyll put their No. 18 ranking and 10-2 record on the line Saturday against Toledo. The second bowl win in Utah State history would secure a Top 20 season for the once-downtrodden program.
Its such a great season were having, senior cornerback Will Davis said. You lose this one, you end it on a bitter taste. All weve done this year, the last thing you remember is losing a bowl game. Its a great year either way, but that little bit, youd always think about. Itd be heartbreaking, especially for the seniors.
The Aggies already have won their first outright conference championship (WAC) since 1936, set a school record for wins and moved into the polls for the first time since 1978.
Because of those accomplishments, coach Gary Andersen doesnt consider the bowl game an all-or-nothing proposition.
For me, this team will always go down as one of the special groups Ive ever been around for what theyve accomplished, he said. What theyve accomplished to this point, no one can ever take away from them.
Still, Andersen knows the importance of trophies in building a program whether its rivalry games (the Aggies beat Utah this season), conference titles or bowl games.
The Aggies lost to Ohio 24-23 in last years Potato Bowl. The Bobcats scored the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left.
We were able to get a couple championships on our wall since weve been there, Andersen said. We dont have a bowl game trophy up there yet, and we need to be able to get that done.
Toledo has overcome a coaching change at the end of last season, the loss of a decorated senior class and injury issues including season-ending injuries to both starting defensive ends in the same game to go 9-3 this season.
All three losses were by seven points, including one in overtime.
Last year we had a really talented football team, coach Matt Campbell said. And I think the talent level of our senior class was really high. This years senior class, there are a lot of guys that have played a lot of football maybe its not the big-name guys, but their leadership, 18 strong, has been outstanding. I really think it set the foundation for our football program for not only this year, but for years to come.
I challenged our team before the season that we needed to become a player-driven football program rather than just a coach-driven program. I think our young guys bought into that. They gave us the opportunity to get to 9-3 and really at the end of the day have one of the best seasons in the last 10 to 20 years here.
EDGE IN THE STANDS
The Bronco Stadium crowd will no doubt be a pro-Utah State group. The Aggies received 4,000 tickets from the bowl game to use and sell and have not returned any. Toledo used about 500 of its tickets and returned more than 1,000 to the bowl game, said Kevin McDonald, the bowls executive director.
McDonald said he expects a crowd of nearly 29,000 for Saturdays game.
No question one of the huge positives is, for our kids and our fans, families of the players, Aggies from everywhere can get here. It should be a homefield advantage, Andersen said.
The bowl, in its 16th year, has never drawn 29,000 without Boise State in the game. Last years game, which featured Utah State and Ohio, had 28,076 fans.
NO QB DECISION YET
Toledo will decide on its starting quarterback Friday, Campbell said. Junior Terrance Owens, the primary starter, missed the regular-season finale with an ankle injury. Senior Austin Dantin, who has shared time with Owens for three seasons, threw five touchdowns in the game against Akron.
Owens has been able to practice all week.