Buffalo-San Diego St. Preview

While San Diego State and Buffalo may be at different levels of

program building, both teams see a potential next step in the

offering with a victory in Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at

Boise.

The Aztecs (7-5) set a school record with their fourth

consecutive bowl appearance after finishing second to Fresno State

in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference. San Diego

State overcame a brutal 0-3 start in which it was drilled 40-19 by

FCS school Eastern Illinois on Aug. 31 to open the season and

routed 42-7 at Ohio State the following week.

Coach Rocky Long has sustained the success of predecessor Brady

Hoke, guiding the Aztecs to bowl appearances in each of his three

seasons and is trying to balance using the game as a reward for a

successful season as well as a foundation for next year’s team.

“I think the team is happy and excited to about going to a bowl

game,” Long said. “As a coach, you would like more time to prepare

because you could work more on next year’s team if you had another

week or so before you play. But we have enough time to work on next

year’s team a little bit as we prepare for the bowl game.”

The four straight bowls match San Diego State’s total bowl

appearances in its first 41 years after joining Division I, and the

Aztecs are the first FBS team to make a bowl appearance following

an 0-3 start since 2010. They closed the regular season with a

45-19 loss at UNLV, their first contest in eight games not decided

by seven or fewer points.

Running back Adam Muema will be pivotal for San Diego State to

win just its second bowl game in the last seven. The junior topped

1,000 yards for the second straight season, but has totaled only 57

yards on 36 carries his last two games after amassing 620 in the

previous four.

“(The lack of success) has nothing to do with Adam Muema,” Long

insisted. “It has to do with our offensive line not blocking very

well for the run in the last two games. But all good running backs

that have a good game have to have someone open a hole for them up

front.”

Senior safety Nat Berhe, a first-team all-Mountain West

selection, anchors the San Diego State defense. He totaled team

highs of 59 solo tackles and 94 overall and added six passes

defended and two fumble recoveries.

Buffalo is making its second bowl appearance in school history

after setting an FBS-program record for wins with its 8-4 record.

Like the Aztecs, the Bulls overcame a rocky start that included

lopsided losses to BCS-bound Ohio State and Baylor by a combined

110-33 to begin the season.

They turned it around with a five-overtime win over FCS foe

Stony Brook that triggered a seven-game winning streak in which

they averaged 35.0 points. That offense continued to hum until

Buffalo’s regular-season finale, a 24-7 loss to eventual

Mid-American Conference champion Bowling Green on Nov. 29.

“It’s been four years in the making,” coach Jeff Quinn said

about his team’s bowl berth. “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.”

The Bulls have a standout running back of their own in senior

Branden Oliver, also a two-time 1,000-yard rusher after totaling

1,421 yards and 15 TDs. He had a streak of seven consecutive

100-yard games end in last month’s loss to the Falcons, who held

him to 46 yards on 18 carries.

“I remember Buffalo played Ohio State pretty tough, a lot

tougher than we did, so they have some good players on that team

and especially on defense,” Aztecs quarterback Quinn Kaehler said.

“I just think we need to execute better both in the running game

and the passing game.”

Buffalo made its only other bowl appearance in 2009 – a loss to

Connecticut in the International Bowl – but it also turned down an

invitation to the 1958 Tangerine Bowl after being told two of its

African-American players would not be allowed to participate.