Boise, ID – In the postseason for the third straight year, minted Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Bronco Stadium in Boise.
Ohio, which competed in the New Orleans Bowl last year and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2009, came up on the losing end of both of those encounters and because of it is now winless in five all-time postseason appearances dating back to the 1962 Sun Bowl.
Even though Ohio punter Paul Hershey made the mistake of complaining about playing in Idaho in the month of December, a Tweet that gained quite a bit of attention after the Bobcats accepted their bowl bid, the team has to be happy about the fact that the season has been extended even after losing the Mid- American Conference title game to Northern Illinois (23-20) after leading by 20 points.
"The Ohio University football program is extremely excited for this wonderful opportunity in Boise," commented head coach Frank Solich. "For the past two years, this has been one of the premier bowl games for the Mid-American Conference. I couldn't be happier for our team and our 17 seniors, who have given so much to this program."
The slip-up in the conference championship game counted as just the fourth loss of the season for Ohio, so clearly the Bobcats had the credentials for being invited to one of the many available postseason events. Overall, the team finished up 9-4 and was 6-3 in league action.
As for the Aggies, they started out the 2011 campaign a bit rough with three defeats through four games, but in the second half of the season they managed to show tenacity, heart and resolve as they put together a five-game win streak which essentially earned them a second-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference at 5-2. However, it wasn't as though the Aggies were blowing the competition off the field during their late win streak, winning each game by no more than four points, outside of the double-overtime victory against Idaho (49-42) on November 19.
Even though USU wasn't blowing away the competition on a regular basis, the success for the squad has been a long time coming and head coach Gary Andersen feels he has the players that deserve all that they've earned.
"We are the second-place team in the league, no matter how you cut it. You can say what you want, but we are the second-place team in the league and they should have some kids on all-conference on that team and we do have some all- conference kids on the team. This is a very good conference with some very talented young men."
Back when the bowl game being played in Boise was known as the Humanitarian Bowl, the Aggies appeared in the first installment back in 1997 but lost to Cincinnati by a score of 35-19. Four years prior, USU won its only postseason decision with a 42-33 triumph over Ball State in the Las Vegas Bowl, which means the Aggies are just 1-5 in bowl games all-time.
In terms of a series history between these two teams, this is just the second meeting following a 1994 encounter in which the Aggies delivered an awkward 5-0 win at Ohio.
Leading the way for the Bobcats in this meeting will be quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who despite his sophomore status set 12 single-season records for Ohio as he accounted for 35 touchdowns (26 passing; nine rushing) and 3,709 yards of total offense. Tettleton threw just 10 interceptions on 387 attempts this season, but three of those came in the MAC title game so you have to wonder where his head is right now.
Down the field, Tettleton's favorite outlet has been LaVon Brazill, who caught a team-best 10 touchdowns and became the first wide receiver in school history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards.
Defensively, Noah Keller leads the charge with his team-high 105 tackles, adding an interception and a team-best three forced fumbles with a couple of recoveries along the way. Nate Carpenter didn't have nearly as many tackles (47) as Keller, but his impact was just as great as he recovered three fumbles and picked off two passes. The team as a whole registered 15 INTs, but where the Bobcats really have to focus their efforts this weekend is at the line of scrimmage against a run-heavy Utah State offense.
Four times this season the Aggies ran for more than 300 yards in a game and the team's average of 277.5 ypg on the ground was not only first in the Western Athletic Conference, but also sixth in the nation. Most, if not all of the credit for that effort goes to running back Robert Turbin who, on his way to being named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year, placed second in the league and 10th in the nation with 118.0 ypg. Turbin scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of the first 10 games of the season for the Aggies and even though he failed to reach the end zone on a rushing attempt in the last two contests versus Nevada and New Mexico State, the offense for the Aggies adapted well enough for the running back to register one receiving TD in both of those matchups.
Clearly Turbin is the most valuable commodity on the offensive side of the ball for USU, but the fact is this is a team that has already produced a school-record 5,504 yards of total offense, so some of the credit has to go to quarterbacks Adam Kennedy and Chuckie Keeton for direction the action on the field.
Kennedy, according to the depth chart, is the starting option for the Aggies at quarterback after completing 70.7 percent of his pass attempts for 10 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and even though no player caught more than 34 passes over the course of 12 games, Matt Austin is his favorite target after scoring six times during the regular season.
On the other side of the ball for the Aggies, senior linebacker Bobby Wagner emerged as an All-WAC performer as he ranked first in the league and eighth in the nation with an average of 11.7 tackles per game. On his way to placing ninth on the school's all-time tackles list, Wagner paced the program with 10.5 tackles for loss and also recorded four sacks to go along with a pair of interceptions.
As a whole, the Utah State defense was first in the WAC with 368.0 ypg allowed, but on a national scale that number ranked the team 50th, so maybe the Bobcats can find some gaps to exploit in order to make this game interesting.