BOISE, Idaho (AP) - After receiving only their third bowl bid in program history, the Idaho Vandals could be content with simply playing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Thursday against Colorado State.
But Idaho (8-4) still has a milestone within reach - matching the school record for victories in a season and winning what could be the last bowl game in program history. The Vandals are dropping down to the FCS level after next season.
“Our guys are really excited to be here, and I think they’re going to go out and play their best,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “I’ve been saying it since the season ended how proud I am of the players and the assistant coaches. We had a lot of work we had to do and a lot of stuff we had to overcome to get here. But we did it.”
Meanwhile, Colorado State (7-5) is returning to the place where the Rams discovered new life in a waning season.
Trailing 28-3 against Boise State on Oct. 15, the Rams nearly pulled off an amazing comeback, scoring 20 points in the final five minutes with the help of two recovered onside kicks. When the Rams couldn’t recover a third, Boise State ran out the clock to escape with a 28-23 victory.
But what transpired after the loss proved to be a seminal moment in the Rams’ season.
“That Boise State game gave us a little confidence,” Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said. “We sat in that locker room and said we weren’t going to lose again. We weren’t able to do that . but we’ve been playing with the mindset that when we step on the field because of the work we do during the week, we should expect to win. And the guys are starting to play like that.”
Other things to watch for in the 20th Potato Bowl:
FAMILIAR FOES: While Colorado State and Idaho haven’t met on the field since 2010, the head coaches are well acquainted with each other after having squared off as assistants in the SEC.
“(Bobo) is a guy that I’ve studied for a long time,” Petrino said. “They run the same two-back offense that he ran at Georgia, which was similar to what we ran at Arkansas.”
“When he was at Arkansas, we always had Arkansas plays on film against the opponent we were playing because of the stuff they did offensively,” Bobo said.
However, most of the familiarity is on film. The only time the pair was across from each other on the sidelines was in 2009 when Georgia beat Arkansas 52-41.
AIR IT OUT: While Idaho has been more balanced offensively over the last half of the season, it will likely have to rely more heavily on its passing attack to beat Colorado State.
The Rams faced the top three rushing offenses this season and had some success stopping the run. Against San Diego State, Colorado State held the NCAA’s all-time career rushing leading Donnel Pumphrey to 53 yards, his lowest effort since his freshman year.
But Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan, son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, should be up for the task. The junior threw for over 2,800 yards this season with 15 TDs and 10 interceptions.
PROTECTING THE BALL: Colorado State has made big strides in protecting the football, committing only 12 turnovers this season compared to 27 last year, good enough for eighth-best in the nation.
“This year, we’re taking care of the football and starting to get more turnovers on defense,” Bobo said. “And the team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.”
Idaho has also excelled in the turnover department this season, entering the game tied for 13th in turnover margin.
BY THE NUMBERS: Colorado State leads the series with Idaho, 4-3. The schools last met in 2010 with Colorado State winning 36-34 at home. . Both of Idaho’s previous bowl appearances have also come in Boise. The Vandals won the first two games, including a 43-42 thriller over Bowling Green in 2009. . Bobo is the first Colorado State coach to earn back-to-back bowl bids to start his tenure. . The Rams scored 47 times on 50 trips inside the red zone, good enough for sixth in the country.
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