GAME NOTES: The Buffalo Bulls make their way to the other side of the country for Saturday's Idaho Potato Bowl against the San Diego State Aztecs at Boise State's Bronco Stadium.
Head coach Jeff Quinn managed to guide his Bulls to an eight-win season even after opening the 2013 campaign with consecutive defeats versus Ohio State and Baylor by a combined 110-33 on the road. The team then put together an impressive run of seven consecutive victories beginning with a 26-23, five- overtime affair versus Stony Brook on Sept. 14 and on through a 30-3 romp against Ohio University the first week of November.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs became the first team since 2010 and just the 19th program since 1980 to start a season 0-3 and still make an appearance in the postseason. Following the disappointing opening to the campaign, SDSU bounced back to win seven of the next eight, the lone setback in that span coming in overtime against nationally-ranked Fresno State, 35-28, at home near the end of October.
While the Aztecs were blown out in the regular-season finale against Mountain West Conference foe UNLV, 45-19, they were more than happy to accept an invitation to play in this event.
"I'm really excited," said offensive lineman Bryce Quigley. "The bowl game is like the reward at the end of the year. So just to be rewarded for all your efforts throughout the year and spend one last time with your teammates, especially for us seniors, I'm excited about it."
Buffalo's postseason history is a brief one, with this being just the second bowl ever for the program which hails from the Mid-American Conference. The only previous experience the squad has comes from a 38-20 loss to Connecticut in the 2009 International Bowl held at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
"When you think about a hundred years of football played at UB and this is the second opportunity for our football program to display and showcase its talent, its an awesome opportunity, the first time to potentially win our first bowl game," said Quinn.
As for SDSU, this is the team's fourth straight appearance in the postseason, as the Aztecs join Stanford as the only teams from the Golden State that can claim to have played in a bowl game in each of those years. The squad has a record of 5-6 in postseason outings dating back to the 1948 Harbor Bowl versus Hardin-Simmons, and losing to BYU in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl, 23-6, in their very own stadium (Qualcomm) last year.
The Aztecs are no stranger to the blue turf in Idaho, having upset the Boise State Broncos just last season by a score of 21-19 in the facility.
In terms of a history between these two schools on the football field, this marks the first-ever meeting.
The Buffalo offense may not have many household names that are recognized outside of New York state, but the team does have a number of outstanding performers on both sides of the ball, one of those being running back Branden Oliver who ran for 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Oliver averaged five yards per carry for a unit that produced a solid 171.9 ypg on the ground.
Through the air, Joe Licata handles that aspect of the attack, having completed just over 59 percent of his pass attempts for 219.0 ypg and 21 TDs, against seven interceptions. His main target has been Alex Neutz who has rounded up 58 receptions in 12 games, leading to 947 yards and 11 TDs. Fred Lee has just four fewer catches, but his end results have amounted to only 644 yards and four scores.
Over on the defensive side of the ball, the Bulls were tied for 27th in the country in points allowed (22.3 ppg) thanks to the efforts of Khalil Mack who was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Mack led the program with 94 tackles, 19 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage, 10.5 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles. Thanks in large part to Mack, Buffalo finished in a tie for fourth nationally with a plus-1.3 turnovers per contest during the regular season.
Despite having only four senior starters on offense, the Aztecs still put together a solid effort this season as they generated 422.0 ypg, resulting in 28.2 ppg. Had it not been for early defeats against Eastern Illinois and Ohio State where they logged only 26 combined points, the numbers would look even more favorable for SDSU heading into the weekend.
Appearing in all but one of the team's 12 games this season, quarterback Quinn Kaehler helped to stabilize the offense as he completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,796 yards and 17 touchdowns, although he also tossed nine interceptions along the way. While Ezell Ruffin led the group with 63 receptions for 1,061 yards, it was Colin Lockett who produced a team-best five TDs on 49 catches.
Providing one of the best one-two punches coming out of the backfield are Adam Muema and Donnel Pumphrey, combining for more than 350 rushing attempts for 1,765 yards and 20 of the unit's 25 TDs.
Unfortunately, one of the most glaring stats for the Aztecs comes in the turnover department where they were tied for 118th in the nation with a minus-1.0 per contest. The defense came up with just seven interceptions, three by J.J. Whittaker, and nine fumble recoveries.
San Diego State's familiarity with the location for this game is one thing, but chances are the elements will not mesh well with what the Aztecs are accustomed to in Southern California. In that regard the Bulls definitely have the advantage and that could make all the difference on Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buffalo 30, San Diego State 24