San Diego State relieved to get bid, will take on Buffalo in Potato Bowl

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comDecember 9, 2013 

For much of the past week, San Diego State — one of seven bowl-eligible teams from the Mountain West, a league with just six bowl tie-ins — thought it might be left without another game to play.

The Aztecs rebounded from a disastrous 0-3 start to win seven of their next eight games, including a victory against Boise State. But a 45-19 loss to UNLV in the regular-season finale put San Diego State’s bowl hopes on the edge.

It made for a long week — until the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl called with an unexpected invitation Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t think either of us thought San Diego State would be the team coming to Boise. It surprised them just a little bit that their destination was Boise,” said Kevin McDonald, the bowl’s executive director.

The Aztecs (7-5) were just happy to be going somewhere, anywhere.

“It was a huge relief,” Athletic Director Jim Sterk said. “It was fun to call (coach) Rocky (Long) and say, ‘You’ve got another couple of weeks of work here.’ It wasn’t a fun week for anyone.”

San Diego State will face Buffalo (8-4) of the Mid-American Conference in the Dec. 21 game at Bronco Stadium in Boise.

The Bulls lost their first two games of the season to BCS bowl teams Ohio State and Baylor before winning eight of their final 10 games and earning just their second bowl berth in school history. Their first appearance came in 2009.

“We talked about setting our goals toward 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,” fourth-year coach Jeff Quinn said in a statement.

Ten bowl-eligible teams did not make the postseason, including San Jose State from the Mountain West and two MAC teams (Toledo and Central Michigan).

As late as this weekend, the Boise game was holding out hope for a San Diego State-Northern Illinois matchup. The Huskies (11-1) and their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jordan Lynch lost in the MAC championship game on Friday night, ending their hopes of a second consecutive BCS appearance.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the bowl will be devoid of star power.

Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is one of the best defensive players in the country and a possible top-10 NFL Draft pick. Mack, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound outside linebacker, is the No. 5 player on ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper’s draft board. Mack holds the all-time NCAA record for forced fumbles with 16 in his career.

“We have a bonafide star coming from Buffalo,” McDonald said.

The Aztecs are less flashy, but Boise State fans are all-too-familiar with their ability to win games. San Diego State has defeated the Broncos in each of the last two seasons — losses that cost Boise State a potential BCS berth in 2012 and a spot in the Mountain West title game in 2013.

Those losses may lead some to support the Bulls, who could really endear themselves to the home crowd by sporting their all-blue uniforms. As the designated home team, however, San Diego State is expected to wear dark colors, forcing Buffalo into white uniforms.

“The fan base usually supports the Mountain West team. It’ll be interesting the way San Diego State is received,” McDonald said. “I hope what they will do is again realize that San Diego State is a good all-around football team.”

One more than happy to be playing in the game.

“The team will be extremely happy to not end the season the way we did the last game,” Long said.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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