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College football bowl game frenzy set to kick off this weekend Phillip Brents | Tue, Dec 17 2013 03:22 AM

It's time to go bowling if you are a college football fan, and there's plenty of options if you plan to stay home or travel to watch your favorite team in action.

Pairings have been set for both the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and National University Holiday Bowl games.

The Utah State Aggies (8-5) will play the Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1) in the ninth annual Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 26. Kick-off is 6:30 p.m. local time, with Eastlake’s own “American Idol” TV sensation Jessica Sanchez set to sing the national anthem.

Meanwhile, the Arizona State Sun Devils (10-3) will tackle the Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5) in the 36th annual Holiday Bowl on Monday, Dec. 30. Kick-off is 7:15 p.m. local time.

Both games, set at Qualcomm Stadium, will be telecast on ESPN.

For those still making holiday travel plans, the San Diego State Aztecs (7-5) will take on the Buffalo Bulls (8-4) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 21, in Boise. Kick-off is 2:30 p.m. PST, with the game also  to be televised on ESPN.

Pick six
Utah State and SDSU are two of six teams from the Mountain West Conference to earn postseason bowl game berths. Seven MWC teams were bowl eligible this season to speak for the quality of programs in the conference.

Joining the Aggies and Aztecs in postseason play are MWC regular season champion Fresno State, Boise State, Colorado State and UNLV.

Fresno State (11-1) will meet USC (9-4) in Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl while in another bowl game scheduled on Dec. 21, the Colorado State Rams (7-6) will play the Washington State Cougars (6-6) in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

Boise State, which finished runner-up to Utah State in the MWC-Mountain Division standings, will play Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 24. The Broncos finished regular season play 8-4 overall, including a 6-2 conference record; the Beavers are 6-6 after finishing 4-5 in Pac-12 play.

UNLV (7-5) will play the North Texas Mean Green (8-4) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1. It is the first bowl game for the Rebels in 13 years.

Fresno State, which defeated Utah State, 24-17, in the inaugural MWC championship game on Dec. 7, was the lone MWC team to earn a top 25 ranking. The Bulldogs are ranked 21st.

San Jose State (6-6) finished with the minimum six wins needed to become bowl eligible, though the Spartans did not receive a bowl game invitation.

Red and Black

The Aztecs (6-2 in conference play) will be appearing in their school-record fourth consecutive bowl game, including two appearances in the Poinsettia Bowl (2010 and 2012) and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl (2011).

Among the players rostered on this year’s SDSU squad are three with South County ties: sophomore running back Paul Sierra (Castle Park High School), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Nico Siragusa and sophomore offensive lineman Jonathan Henkel.

Homegrown talent from East Conty include junior defensieve lineman Sam Meredith (Helix High School), junior punter Joel Alesi (Christian High School), redshirt freshman linebacker Micah Seau (Bishops School), sophomore tight end Robert Craighead (El Capitan High School), sophomore wide receiver Kene Anigbogu (Helix High School) and freshman defensive lineman Malcolm Jackson (Mount Miguel High School).

Alesi averaged 39.5 yards on 52 punts during the season while Craighead, who appeared in all 12 games, had five catches for 32 yards.

Meredith collected 16 tackles in eight games, including seven solo tackles, two tackles for losses, one sack, two fumble recoveries and one blocked kick.

Seau, a Spring Valley resident, is the  nephew of the late Chargers great Junior Seau. He had nine tackles in 10 game appearances.

Anigbogu, a transfer from Southwestern College, earned recognition at the team's awards banquet as co-offensive scout team player of the year.

The 2013 campaign has been one of streaks for SDSU, which kicked off its season with three consecutive losses before winning seven of its next eight games.

The Aztecs appeared in an FBS-record-tying four overtime contests. SDSU dropped a 35-28 overtime decision to visiting Fresno State on Oct. 26 but collected overtime wins against Nevada (51-44 on Oct. 4), Hawaii (28-21 on Nov. 16) and Boise State (34-31 on Nov. 23).

SDSU and Buffalo will be meeting for the first time. The Bulls finished 6-2 in Mid-American Conference play (second in the Eastern Division behind conference champion Bowling Green). The Aztecs are 8-0-1 all-time against teams from the MAC.

SDSU head coach Rocky Long expects a close and exciting bowl game outcome between the teams.

“It’s interesting that we mirror each other a lot,” Long said. “The offensive schemes are very similar, the defensive schemes are very similar, the special teams schemes are very similar and if I’m judging things right, the talent level is very, very close. So it ought to be an awfully good game and it ought to be close and tight. Hopefully we can get into another overtime game and set an NCAA record (for most overtime games played), and as long as we win in overtime, that would be good.”

Offensive leaders for SDSU include quarterback Quinn Kaehler with 2,796 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, running back Adam Muema with 1,015 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and receiver Ezell Ruffin with 63 catches for 1,061 yards. Receiver Colin Lockett tops the Aztecs with 1,488 all-purpose yards, including 740 yards in kick returns.

SDSU defensive team leaders include Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins with 94 and 68 tackles, respectively, J.J. Whittaker with three interceptions and Nick Tenhaeff with five sacks.

Poinsettia Bowl

This year’s bowl game pits two conference division champions from the Mountain West Conference (Utah State) and Mid-American Conference (Northern Illinois).

“While the paths each school took to get to San Diego may have differed a bit, these two teams had tremendous seasons and will surely put on quite a show at Qualcomm Stadium,” bowl president Bill Geppert noted in a prepared statement.

The No. 23 Huskies are playing in a MAC-record sixth consecutive bowl game; the Aggies are playing in their school-record third straight bowl game.

The game looks to be a classic match-up of defense versus offense. Utah State ranks among the top 25 defenses in the nation in five categories, including seventh in the nation in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), while Northern Illinois owns the nation’s fifth-best offense.

Senior running back Joey DeMartino leads the Aggies with 1,078 yards and 12 TDs. The Huskies are led by Heismann Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch, who has rushed for an NCAA record 1,881 yards for a quarterback and passed for 2,676 yards while rushing for 22 scores and passing for 23 touchdowns.

Holiday Bowl

This year’s bowl game matches a pair of potent offenses from two of the nation’s strongest conferences.

The Sun Devils, who won the Pac-12 South Division, are averaging 41 points per game, the ninth most in the nation. ASU’s offensive scheme, which is commanded by quarterback Taylor Kelly, is led by eight all-conference selections and dynamic playmakers at every position.

Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster have combined for nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards, including 1,365 rushing yards and 1,068 receiving yards this season. Grice has racked up 20 touchdowns in 11 games.

The ASU defense also boasts eight all-conference honorees, led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton. The Sun Devils have forced 31 turnovers this season, fifth most in the nation, including 21 interceptions.

“The annual goal for every college football team is to have a successful season and earn a reward to play in a bowl game,” ASU head coach Todd Graham noted in a media release. “We are very proud to have reached that goal by participating in the National University Holiday Bowl against a worthy opponent such as Texas Tech.”

The Red Raiders boast the No. 2 passing offense in the national, averaging 392 yards per game through the air. Jace Amaro (98 catches, 1,240 yards) needs 90 yards to set a single-season NCAA record for most receiving yards by a tight end.

Extra points
The MWC championship game pitted the winners of the conference’s two divisions. Fresno State won the MWC-West Division while Utah State won the MWC-Mountain Division, both with 7-1 conference records.

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