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There isn't much glamour playing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but that's what you get as a small conference school when you don't win your most important out-of-conference game. In Toledo's first game of the season, they fought down to the wire in Arizona even though they were outgained by almost 300 yards. In the end, they didn't have enough offense to compete and lost in overtime, 24-17. Utah State had a similar fate at Wisconsin losing 14-16. While they actually outgained the Badgers, a punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the difference maker. With those wins, we may be talking about different bowls for each school, but it wasn't meant to be.
Toledo comes into this game with a 9-3 record and their best win coming at home against Cincinnati. They had their chances to go for the MAC title, but back-to-back losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois depleted any hope of that. Utah State has a solid 10-2 record and won out in the WAC, finishing the season with six straight wins. Maybe that's not that impressive in this conference, but when you consider two of those wins came on the road at San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, that perception changes.
The only thing that stands out from each of these teams is the Utah State defense which is currently in the Top 10 in the country for points allowed at 15.4 per game. That's a main reason they are 10-point favorites in this game.
The Rockets have shown they can score on anyone though, most notably the Cincinnati game where they put 29 points on the board. The Bearcats allow 17.2 points per game. Toledo's offense is run through their ground game. David Fluellen was a workhorse all year totaling 1,460 yards and 13 TDs. He had at least 20 carries in all but one of his starts and had 34 carries in two of his last three games. The bigger news is that he missed their regular season finale due to a high ankle sprain. However, it looks like he will be ready for the bowl game. Quarterback Terrance Owens also missed the final game with an ankle injury, but he is also set to play in the bowl game. Owens doesn't have a spectacular numbers, but he can move on the ground as seen in his 381 rushing yards and five TDs. A cause for concern is the three interceptions he threw in his last start at Northern Illinois which ended up costing them the game. Cornerback Will Davis leads the Aggies with five interceptions on the year and will be waiting for his chance to pounce on some more.
Toledo's defense is middle of the line and hasn't really let any team get away from them which makes the 10-point line enticing. All three of their losses came by seven points and none of those teams scored more than 34 points. Again, that includes Arizona and BCS bound Northern Illinois.
The Aggies like to run the ball as well, but they also have a potent passing game led by Chuckie Keeton. He has thrown for 3,144 yards and 27 TDs while running for 527 yards and seven TDs. The Rockets had trouble defending the run-pass game of Jordan Lynch (407 passing yards, 162 rushing yards) and should have trouble containing Keeton in this one. While Keeton isn't as big of runner as Lynch, he has shown he can have big games when needed after scampering for 121 yards against Louisiana Tech. Another threat is RB Kerwynn Williams who has 1,277 yards and 12 TDs on the ground and another 663 yards and five TDs through the air. Between Keeton and Williams, Utah State has been able to post at least 38 points in each of their last six games. Of course, you can't forget about their 3-point performance at BYU or 14 points at Wisconsin. Sure, those schools have better defenses, but it just shows the Aggies can be stopped.
We like the dog in this one. Both of these teams have played very weak schedules, yet both did well when they stepped up in class a couple of times this year. Perhaps the best way to make a case for Toledo here is to compare Utah State to Cincinnati, a team Toledo beat 29-23. Cincinnati and Utah State finished the year with near identical yards per point numbers. They finished the season with Cinci ranked 6th defensively with a ypp number of 21.7 and Utah State 7th with a 20.7.
Offensively, Utah State's number was 13.3 and Cinci's was 13.8. Now, those are very good numbers on both sides of the ball for these teams. 6th and 7th in the nation defensively is nothing to sneeze at. Yes, you have to consider strength of schedule, but regardless of the schedule you play, you don't accomplish those numbers without being a good team. But back to schedule strength. Cincinnati played a schedule that was almost 10 points more difficult than Utah State's, yet they were still able to accomplish those stellar numbers and that's significant because Toledo was able to beat Cinci straight up while scoring 29 points. That should illustrate very clearly that not only can Toledo compete here, they could also potentially win straight up.
Unfortunately, our model is all over the place on this game. It likes Utah State by anywhere from 6 to 20 points depending on the time frame for the data used. So we have to toss the model for this one and rely on good old fashioned handicapping. The good old fashioned handicapping says Toledo has a shot here and also has the added value of a 2 point line move in their favor as this one opened Utah State -8 and is now -10. Toledo should be a "live dog". Toledo +10