Toledo, Utah State poised for Potato Bowl matchup

In so many ways, 2012 has been a season of firsts for Utah

State.

The No. 18 Aggies set new school marks with 10 wins and six home

victories. They won their first outright conference title since

1936.

The Aggies (10-2) reached new heights behind one of the nation’s

stingiest defenses, an opportunistic offense and a senior class

that has been one of the best ever recruited to campus.

Yet despite all the accolades and achievements, fourth-year

coach Gary Andersen knows there is one more milestone yet to be

crossed off this year’s list.

”For me, this team will always go down as one of the special

groups I’ve ever been around for what they’ve accomplished,”

Andersen said. ”What they’ve accomplished to this point, no one

can ever take away from them.

”We’ve been able to get a couple of championships on our wall

since we’ve been there. But we don’t have a bowl game trophy up

there yet, and we need to be able to get that done.”

The Aggies will get their shot when they square off with Toledo

(9-3) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday on the blue turf

of Bronco Stadium in Boise. The game is one of two marking the

kickoff of college football’s frenzied bowl season.

In their first-ever meeting, Utah State is favored by 10 1/2

points. But if the history of this bowl game is any guide, this

matchup between teams from the WAC and MAC will be fun to watch,

tight and likely decided in the final minutes. Last year, Ohio

scored a touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to knock off the

Aggies 24-23.

That loss left a bitter taste, but also laid the foundation for

the team’s goals and mindset heading into 2012, said senior

cornerback Will Davis.

”Last year we didn’t get it done … now we’re back in the same

spot and it’s like a second chance. You don’t want to lose a second

chance, a second opportunity,” said Davis, who leads the Aggies

with five interceptions.

For Toledo, it’s a chance for coach Matt Campbell to put a stamp

on his first full year at the helm.

Last season, Campbell, who at 33 is the youngest coach in FBS

ranks, took over after Tim Beckman was lured away to Illinois and

guided the Rockets to victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl.

This year, Campbell has led a team that was supposed to be in

rebuilding mode after losing a big batch of talented seniors.

Campbell and his staff were also forced to deal with injuries to a

handful of key players on both sides of the ball.

Yet the team found ways to win. During one stretch, Toledo won

eight straight, including an upset of then-No. 18 Cincinnati, crept

into national polls and for the first time in school history

cracked the BCS standings.

”Last year we had a really talented football team,” Campbell

said. ”This year’s senior class, there are a lot of guys that have

played a lot of football. Maybe it’s not the big-name guys, but

their leadership … has been outstanding. I really think it set

the foundation for our football program for not only this year, but

for years to come.”

Toledo’s injury woes also occurred at quarterback. Junior

Terrance Owens, the starter who threw for 2,677 yards and 14

touchdowns, missed the finale against Akron with an ankle sprain.

Backup Austin Dantin ensured the offense didn’t miss a beat,

throwing for a career-best 327 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-23

win over the Zips.

Campbell said Thursday he wanted to see how Owens performed in

practice before making a decision on his starting quarterback.

”I would expect to see both playing in the game,” Campbell

said.

Either way, the Toledo offense is likely facing its toughest

challenge of the season against Utah State’s defense.

The Aggie defense is ranked in the top 15 in points allowed

(15.4), total yards allowed and rushing defense. The Aggies also

average 3.2 sacks per game and have only allowed opponents 13

touchdowns in 39 trips inside the red zone.

”The most staggering statistic is the first quarter, and

allowing only six points all season,” Campbell said. ”They try to

take away your best players and they do a good job of that.”

Toledo’s offense is led by all-conference tailback David

Fluellen. The junior has rushed for 1,460 yards, eighth among FBS

running backs. He has 13 TDs and three games with more than 200

yards rushing. He’s also a threat on passing plays, and his 32

catches are third best on the team.

”When you sit back and look at them and really break them down,

you see they have a very powerful run game,” Andersen said. ”They

are able to run the ball consistently week in and week out,

regardless of opponent. We’ll have a good challenge for our

defense.”