Ohio Bobcats (9-4, 6-2 in MAC)
Most Impressive Victory: 35-31 vs Temple (11/2)
Worst Loss: 38-37 at Buffalo (10/8)
The Bobcats won the weaker of the two MAC Divisions, the East, as they went 5-1 against their Eastern foes with their only loss coming against lowly Buffalo. After jumping out to a 20-0 half-time lead in the MAC Championship Game, the Bobcats could not hold off Chandler Harnish and the Huskies of NIU as they fell 23-20. A name you might remember is Frank Solich. Solich went 58-19 at Nebraska from 1998 to 2003 and now resides in Athens, Ohio where he has taken the Bobcats to a MAC Championship Game birth in two out of the last three years. Under Solich, the Bobcats are headed to their third straight bowl game (and fourth in five years) but they are still looking for their first post-season bowl win.
The Bobcats lean more toward the run as they run the ball approximately 60% of the time (558 rush attempts vs 401 pass attempts). Some good news for Bobcats fans is that they score more points on the road then they do at home (33.7 ppg to 27.8). If you are looking for an achilles heel of this Bobcats team look no further than their red zone offense. They are 10th in the MAC scoring 80.33% of the time they enter the red zone and have a MAC low of 49.18% TD rate in the red zone. A silver lining is that they were in the red zone more than any team in the MAC, not named NIU, this season.
Utah State Aggies (7-5, 5-2 in WAC)
Most Impressive Victories: 63-19 vs Wyoming (10/8); 21-17 vs Nevada (11/26)
Worst Losses: 35-34 vs Colorado State; 31-21 at Fresno State (10/15)
Utah State almost took the College Football world by the throat in their opener against defending National Champion Auburn. Led by Freshman QB Chuckie Keeton the Aggies jumped out to a 21-7 lead and lead by 10 points with just three and a half minutes left before the Tigers staged an improbably comeback. From that point USU went on to lose four of their next six and looked like they were in for a long season. As luck would have it, the schedule turned and they faced only one team over the last five games that would finish the year with a winning record. The Aggies took advantage and won their last five games including quality wins over Nevada and Hawai'i.
Make no mistake about it, Utah State wants to run the football (the Aggies will run the ball twice for every time they pass). The previously mentioned freshman QB from Houston, Chuckie Keaton, had 1200 yards passing, 11 TD to only 2 INT and also had 4 TDs on the ground before suffering a nasty injury in the game against Hawai'i. Keaton is expected back for this game. Another player to watch in the Aggies ground attack in Junior RB Robert Turbin. Turbin has gained over 1400 yards and has 19 TDs on the season.
Optimum Scouting's Players To Watch:
While it's maybe one of the least sexiest match-ups in all the bowl season, this game actually features a few guys that are strongly being considered as later round picks and potential fringe starters at the NFL level. The offenses of these two teams feature the two top prospects of the match-up. For Utah State, junior running back Robert Turbin is reportedly strongly considering leaving early. A very well built, aggressive in the hole runner, coming out this year may not seem overly smart, as he won't be more than a 4th rounder with a great workout showing, but his stock likely won't get much higher, and he's already above the 500 carries for his career mark. For Ohio, receiver LaVon Brazill has bounced back well after an injury last year and despite inconsistent quarterback play, has displayed some great open field moves, quick change of direction in space, and somewhat reliable hands. He'll be looked at as a #4 or #5 receiver. Also on Ohio's offense, right tackle Joe Flading has the feet and ability to play with balance to get a shot, likely after the draft, to be a pass blocking right guard or right tackle.
On defense, the two inside linebackers have been stat-machines in terms of tackles. Ohio's Noah Keller may be one of the best inside linebackers in the senior class, though that's not saying too much. Still, he's an under-rated athlete, stays low through interior lineman's blocks, and finishes tackles well. For Utah State, Bobby Wagner is a better overall athlete than Keller, but really lacks the ability to consistently take on blocks, and doesn't have the force as a tackler to play outside and wrap-up quicker backs. Keller is more of a mid to late rounder, while Wagner will need to find a 3-4 scheme that allows him to utilize some of his zone ability as a linebacker.
Common Opponent: New Mexico State
These two teams played only one common opponent this season and I don't think you can draw a lot from it because Ohio opened their season with New Mexico State and Utah State closed out their regular season with them. Ohio gave up 24 points to them and USU gave up 21. The big difference was that USU only won by 3 and Ohio won by 20. Both teams ran up over 450 total yards of offense against NMSU with USU putting 515 on the board. Ohio held NMSU to 29 less yards and only 6 total yards rushing.
Twitter Follows For Famous Idaho Potato Bowl:
Utah State Aggies
Ross: The power of Solich compels me to pick the Bobcats here.
Ohio 27, Utah State 24
Kevin: This feels like a pretty even match-up from where I sit. Bodog has Utah State as a 3 point favorite. Stealing a peak over at College Football by the Numbers, they stay true to the point spread predicting a 31-28 USU victory. If you want to swing the vote in favor of Ohio, head over to Pre-Snap Read where they rank Ohio at #50 and USU at #67 in their most recent rankings. One thing I like about Ohio is that in the game where they gave up the most rushing yards (308 to Bernard Pierce and Temple) they won. The other top rushing team that Ohio has played against, NIU, ended up as a loss. Utah State is the 6th leading rushing team in the Nation at 277 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry. I think that's going to be a problem for Ohio and I see that helping USU on to victory in this one. Expect it to be close, but expect USU to be able to run down the clock at the end to help them win this one.
Utah State 35 Ohio 26