Talking about the birth of the Idaho Potato Bowl is actually tied together with the previous piece that I did on the California Bowl. When Fresno State moved to the WAC in 1992, the Big West and MAC lost out on their premier bowl game hosted at Bulldog Stadium. They briefly moved to what is now the Las Vegas Bowl, but lost that tie-in in 1996, as the Vegas Bowl looked to move up the ladder of prestige. They needed somewhere to go, and they received a lifeline in Boise State. The Broncos had joined the Big West conference in 1996, and were looking to make a splash in the top division of college football. They also had some lurid blue field that they were trying to show off on TV, but we’ll gloss over that.
While the MAC looked for options closer to home, eventually founding the Motor City Bowl in Detroit for the 1997 season, the Big West created what would be named the Humanitarian Bowl for their champion to go to in 97. Beginning in that first game, the champion of the Big West would square off against a team from Conference USA, usually rotating between the 2nd-4th place team in the three years the conferences would share a tie-in.
The first game of the Sports Humanitarian Bowl (yes, that was the official name) featured the 6-6 Utah State Aggies against the 8-4 Cincinnati Bearcats. The Aggies had won the conference by going 4-1 in league play, and earned the first berth into the Humanitarian game, which would also mark the last game for coach John L. Smith, who would depart for Louisville afterwards. The Bearcats quickly took over the game, jumping out to a 21-0 lead at halftime, while the Aggies struggled to get any sort of offense going. Cincy would score one more time to begin the 3rd before Utah State would score, and what a score it was. In what remains as the longest touchdown pass in Potato Bowl history, QB Matt Sauk hit Steve Smith with a 75yd dart to the endzone, and the Aggies had awoken. Kind of. Cincinnati would score on their next possession to make the score 35-7, but the Aggies would score once more in the 3rd quarter, although a missed PAT kept them behind 35-13. Utah State would score the only points in the 4th quarter on a fumble recovery scoop-and-score, but a failed 2pt conversion would leave them behind 35-19. This would be the first loss for the Big West in the bowl game, and Utah State’s final bowl appearance until the 2011 season.
In the 1998 edition, the Humanitarian Bowl became a bit more local, as the Idaho Vandals participated after winning their first and only Big West championship after upsetting rivals Boise State the game prior on a 2pt conversion. In their first ever bowl appearance, the Vandals would be facing off against the runners-up of C-USA, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The Eagles were predicted to easily trounce Idaho, but Chris Tomey’s squad was feisty. After Southern Miss scored the first touchdown of the game, Idaho responded by running back the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for the equalizer.
While USM would score two more times to make the score 21-7 in the second quarter, Idaho would not go quietly. 3 touchdown passes by QB John Welsh, and all of a sudden, Idaho was leading 28-21 at the half. In the third quarter, Joel Thomas would rush the ball in to give the Vandals a 14 point lead, but now it was USM’s turn to roar back. The Eagles would tie the game with seven minutes remaining, but Idaho had one more drive left in them on both sides. On 4th down, Welsh hit Ryan Prestimonico with a 28yd pass, and the Vandals were ahead 42-35. Southern Miss would fumble on their ensuing possession, Idaho would jump on it, and coach Chris Tomey told the team to run the clock out and end it. The Big West would have their first bowl win in Idaho, and the Vandals got a big win to end their season. To date, this remains the last Idaho Vandal conference title in football.
In 1999, the hometown Broncos won their first Big West title, were invited to their first FBS bowl game, and won their first bowl game, and had a perfect home record. The 1999 edition of the game, now sponsored by Micron Computers under the name of Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl (yes, that was a big thing at the turn of the millenium) would feature John L. Smith again, this time coaching the Louisville Cardinals. They would face off against the Big West champions and hometown Boise State Broncos on the smurf turf. In what would be their first of 4 appearances in their home bowl game, the Broncos were favored over the 7-4 Cardinals, and the game itself did not disappoint. In a back-and-forth affair, Louisville scored first with a 40 yard field goal, although Boise would answer right back with a 3 yard touchdown run from Bart Hendricks to jump ahead 7-3.
Louisville QB Chris Redman would have his own answer though, with the Cardinals now jumping ahead 10-7. Boise would not be down long, as Hendricks would find Shae Swan for a 4 yard pass, putting the Broncos ahead now 14-10. This lead would last even less time, as Louisville would take the next kickoff all the way back for a score, putting them up 17-14 as the first quarter expired.
If you thought things would calm down in the second half, you will be disappointed. The Boise defense came up big by intercepting a Chris Redman pass, and returning it 80 yards to put the Broncos back in front once again, 21-17. Louisville would again though have an answer, with Redman tossing an 8 yard touchdown pass to Damien Dorsey to put the Cardinals up at the half, 24-21.
After the break, Boise would go back into the lead off of two field goals, now leading by 3 points. After the craziness of the first two quarters, this would be the only scoring of the 3rd quarter, setting the stage for a zany 4th. Frank Moreau would score from 3 yards out to put the Cards back in front for the 5th time in the game. That wouldn’t be enough though, as Boise had one more magic trick left. Davy Malythong rushed through the pile from 5 yards away to put the Broncos up for good this time, 34-31. A final interception would seal a wild game, and Boise’s first bowl win in the top flight of college football.
For the 2000 Humanitarian Bowl, things got slightly weird for fans of the 2000s MassiveWAC, as the game pitted Boise State again against the Miners of UTEP. In a preview of conference matchups to come, the Big West champ played the WAC co-champ in Boise’s final season in the Big West before departing for the WAC. The game would not quite be as exciting as the 1999 edition, but still had many twists and turns for the two teams. Boise would jump out to a quick 10-0 lead, but UTEP battled back to knot the score at 10. Bart Hendricks would score with only 23 seconds in the half to put the Broncos ahead going into the locker room, and Boise wouldn’t look back from there. UTEP would put up some mild resistance in the second half, but the Broncos had very effectively taken away the Miners’ main weapon in Brian Natkin, so they could only do so much. Bart Hendricks would be the star of the show for Boise, scoring on runs of 12 and 77, throwing a TD pass, and catching one as well. He was the easy MVP selection for Boise, as the Broncos won 10 games and their second consecutive Humanitarian Bowl.
After 2000, the Big West stopped sponsoring football, so the WAC took over as main hosts for the bowl game. They were also able to swing for the fences, landing a tie-in with the Atlantic Coast Conference if they had enough bowl eligible teams, or the Big 12 if there wasn’t.
The 2001 game featured the WAC Champion Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (wrong Bulldogs won the conference, yes, I’m still mad) and the Clemson Tigers of the ACC. In a game that would be more notable for the journeyman QBs it had, we had another back-and-forth affair. Josh McCown of LA Tech and Woody Dantzler would go blow-for-blow in the first half, with Clemson just squeaking out a 14-10 lead. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that would be the closest they’d be the rest of the way. Dantzler and the Tigers took complete control of the game in the second half, scoring 5 times before LA Tech even got off the mat, leading 49-10 early in the 4th quarter. McCown and the Techsters would at least put in some sort of effort with two more touchdowns in the final minutes of the game, still falling short 49-24. If you just looked at the stats, this game would seem a lot closer, and McCown threw more than 100yds than Dantzler. The problem for LA Tech was that Clemson ran by, around, and through them for 273 yards compared to Tech’s 49. Add in 3 INTs for McCown, and a blowout happens.
The 2002 Humanitarian Bowl featured perhaps the most lopsided matchup, at least on paper. Boise State returned to their home bowl, but this time as an 11-1 conference champion, ranked #18 in the polls. Their opponent from the Big 12 was Iowa State, who had stumbled to a 7-6 record despite rising as high as #9 in the polls behind Seneca Wallace.
In a theme that I’m writing way too often for this bowl game, the first half was a pretty even game. ISU would score first on a field goal, Boise answered with a touchdown. ISU would answer with their own TD to close the first half, and we had a 3 point game at the orange slice and juice break. The Broncos would score twice in the 3rd quarter to go ahead 21-10, and began to flex their muscles at this point. Brock Forsey would score 3 rushing touchdowns, including one to put Boise up 27-10. ISU would score for the final time off of a Lane Danielson touchdown dive, although the PAT failed. Ryan Dinwiddie would throw one more touchdown pass, and Boise would cruise to a rather comfortable 34-16 win to bring them to 12-1 on the year.
The 2004 game was the first instance of the MPC Computers Bowl, as Micron Computers had spun off their computer division as a separate company, and wanted to promote them. The other fun fact about the 2004 game is that there was two 2004 MPC Computers Bowls, as the first was played on January 3, 2004, with the second on December 27, 2004. So I will cover both as the 2004 game, I suppose, with a lot of differentiation of which one is which. I’ll buzz quickly through the first one, as it was an embarrassing blow-out for Tulsa at the hands of Georgia Tech. Chan Gailey’s Yellow Jackets, and namely P.J. Daniels, set numerous bowl game records, including 311 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns in the game. The 42 point margin of victory remains as a Potato Bowl record, as does Tulsa’s record of -56 rushing yards in a game.
In the second 2004 MPC Computers Bowl, we actually got a good game. The Virginia Cavaliers had risen all the way to #6 in the polls, then limped to an 8-3 record, but were still ranked #18. They were initially invited to the Champs Sports Bowl, but Virginia declined because of a conflict with their final exams. They were paired up against the 8-3 Fresno State Bulldogs, who had finished 3rd in the WAC that season behind Paul Pinegar and the 1-2 punch of Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis. The teams would trade touchdowns on their opening possessions, before Virginia’s offense began to utilize a size advantage on the Bulldogs. Virginia got out to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, but Paul Pinegar and company would not quit.
Brett Visintainer would send through a field goal to bring the halftime score to 21-10, but the second half was when the Dogs and their ground game finally began to find traction. Paul Pinegar would throw a 22 yard pass to Jermaine Jamison aided by Wendell Mathis’ rushing efforts down the field. The Cavs would kick a field goal in the third quarter to go up by a touchdown, but that lead would be short lived. Mathis would again team up with Pinegar to drive the Dogs down the field, and this time the 22yd touchdown pass went to Mark Wood.
Virginia seemed like they had iced the game with a rushing touchdown to go up 31-24 with 6 minutes remaining, but they left far too much time on the clock for the Fresno State offense. Starting from their own 17 yard line, Pinegar would pass the ball, and use the legs of Sumlin and Mathis to march all the way down the field until they faced 1st and goal from the UVA 3 yard line with 30 seconds remaining. 3 incompletions left the Dogs facing a do or die situation on 4th and goal, but Pinegar found Jaron Fairman in the back of the endzone for a sensational tieing pass.
The Cavaliers would take the ball first in the overtime period, getting down to the 6 yard line before kicking a field goal to go up 34-31. It would only take the Bulldogs one play though to get the win, as Pinegar found Stephen Spach down the middle of the field for the score, and the overtime win, 37-34. The win would push Fresno State to 9-3, and a ranked finish after upsetting Virginia.
In 2005, Boise State would return to their own bowl game, this time against the Eagles of Boston College and QB Matt Ryan. This game would be known completely as a tale of two halves, with BC completely dominating the first two quarters to a 24-0 halftime advantage, as Boise State had three turnovers and eight penalties stopping any progress. The Eagles would go up 27-0 before the Broncos would score at all, but it didn’t take long for Boise to race all the way back into the game. Jared Zabransky ran for a touchdown, and hit Drisan James for another, before a Quinton Jones punt return brought Boise all the way back to within six. Boston College would fail to run out the clock, and the Broncos had one last chance at the win. Boise would begin at midfield with two minutes to go, getting all the way down inside the 15 yard line on an incredible 4th down pass from Zabransky. A PI penalty would bring Boise within the 10, but a sack followed by a Zabransky interception in the endzone would seal the win for Boston, and would break Boise’s 31 game home winning streak (kind of).
The 2006 MPC Computers Bowl would sadly feature another razor thin loss for the WAC, this time with Nevada falling to the Miami Hurricanes. Even though coach Larry Coker had been fired and Randy Shannon was taking over, the Hurricanes did still have a large talent advantage over the 8-4 Wolf Pack. The Hurricanes struck first, with quarterback Kirby Freeman leading a 70 yard drive before scoring on his own. Nevada would soon get on the board on defense, forcing a safety after an intentional grounding in the endzone call by Freeman.
In the second quarter, Nevada’s offense would get on the board, with QB Jeff Rowe connecting with Marko Mitchell for a 27yd pass, although the ensuing 2pt conversion try failed, leaving the Wolf Pack up 8-7. Unfortunately for Nevada, Miami would immediately answer back with an 80yd drive over four plays to go back in the lead. The Wolf Pack would add one more field goal before the buzzer, but went into the half trailing 14-11. Coming out of the break, Brett Jaekle would tie the game up with his leg, but Miami again had an answer. After receiving the kickoff, Kirby Freeman threw a 78yd pass to Sam Shields, and Miami was again ahead by a touchdown. Jaekle would kick two more field goals to bring Nevada within 1 point, with one last shot at glory. With one minute to go, Nevada was driving down the field to try to get the win, but Jeff Rowe sent a pass straight to Miami defensive back Chavez Grant at the 33yd line, and the Hurricanes would hold on for a wild win. This was the first time the WAC had lost back to back games in the bowl’s history, although it would happen one more time up to the present.
For the 2007 game, the sponsor had finally changed from Micron Computers and their subsidiaries. Roady’s Truck Stops, which is apparently a chain based in Boise, took over naming rights for 2007, also reverting the game back to the original name of Humanitarian Bowl. This time, it would feature two returning teams to the game, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the Fresno State Bulldogs, both returning after appearances in the 2004 MPC Computer Bowls, both also having won their edition of the game. This would also be the last game for GT coach Chan Gailey, who had been dismissed after the final game of the regular season.
While it was the Jackets who drew first blood going up 7-0, Fresno State would reel off 27 unanswered points, including 10 points in the final two minutes of the first half. Tom Brandstater and Clifton Smith dissected a Georgia Tech defense that was supposed to be incredibly strong in ACC play, with Smith racking up 135 rushing yards in the second half alone. Georgia Tech would actually show some fight in the second half, making it all the way to 34-28 using backups and younger players as experience for when Paul Johnson took over. Clifton Smith though knew how he wanted to end his career in red, and added one more 32 yard touchdown run with 2 minutes remaining, finally putting the game out of reach and getting the WAC back in the win column for the newly rebranded Humanitarian Bowl.
2008 would bring Nevada back to the Humanitarian Bowl, this time against the Maryland Terrapins of the ACC. There was a time when Maryland wasn’t completely forlorn at football, under Ralph Freidgren and James Franklin, while Nevada was under the immortal Chris Ault and the Pistol. Both teams came in 7-5, with Nevada sporting WAC Offensive Player of the Year Colin Kaepernick in his second season in Reno. The bowl game had garnered headlines before the end of the season, because negotiations had been undertaken to pair undefeated Boise State and Ball State together in the game, but the Cardinals were upset in their conference championship game, and decided on the GMAC Bowl instead.
In a game that supposedly paired a fantastic Maryland defense against a strong Nevada offense, it would be an offensive shootout that ruled the day. On only the third play of the game, Maryland QB Chris Turner threw a 59yd touchdown pass, putting the Terps up 6-0 after the PAT was missed. It would take Nevada until their second possession to find their way to the endzone, with Kaep connecting with Chris Wellington for the score. Nevada would make their PAT, going up 7-6 in the process. It wouldn’t last long though, as Torrey Smith took the ensuing kickoff back 99 yards for the score, putting Maryland right back in front, 13-7.
A kicking mistake for Maryland would give Nevada the ball at the Maryland 9, but Kaepernick would throw an interception into the endzone to squander the field position. Luckily, it did not hurt them, as the Terrapin offense sputtered to a halt at midfield. With less than a minute remaining in the first quarter, Nevada would jump back in the lead with a 17yd Vai Taua run to go up 14-13. The second quarter would see Maryland with the ball, and a touchdown on the first play. Running back Morgan Green would break through the defense to go 53 yards to put the Terps in front now, 20-14. I’ve seen less see-saws at public parks.
On Nevada’s third possession of the second quarter, Colin Kaepernick would suffer a sprained ankle, and would be noticeably hobbled for the rest of the game. Maryland took advantage, hampering the Nevada offense and adding in one more score and a 2pt conversion before the half to go up 28-14.
After the orange slice and Gatorade break, Nick Graziano took over for Nevada as Kaep nursed the sprained ankle. Unfortunately, he was not able to get the offense moving, but Nevada’s defense would rise to the occasion. Safety Jonathan Amaya would intercept a Maryland pass, and return it down to the 22 yard line, where he would fumble it, but it was recovered again by Nevada. Kaepernick would come back onto the field, and immediately get the Wolf Pack in the endzone with a 17 yd pass to Vai Taua, cutting the lead to 7. The third quarter would end with Maryland still in front, but with Nevada driving down the field.
On the second play of the 4th quarter, Nevada would tie the game up on a pass from Kaepernick to Marko Mitchell, but this would again be short lived. Da’Rel Scott, who had been suspended for the first half for breaking curfew, came in for Maryland, and ran for a 49yd touchdown to put the Terrapins ahead 35-28 on fresh legs. Nevada’s ensuing possession ran out of gas in Maryland territory, but 4 consecutive Da’Rel Scott runs added another touchdown to Maryland’s lead, and now they were up 42-28.
Nevada would get the ball back with 4:00 minutes to go, and needing two scores to tie the game. The offense would only need 1:42 to get into the endzone, only needing an onside kick recovery to go for the tie. The onside attempt was good, but Maryland receiver Danny Oquendo recovered the ball, and Nevada had no timeouts left. The Terps ran out the clock, ending an exciting bowl game with a loss for the WAC.
For 2009, the Humanitarian Bowl became the longest running cold weather bowl game, and featured the return of the Idaho Vandals for their first bowl game in more than a decade. This time, they would face the Falcons of Bowling Green State, as the Mountain West did not have enough teams to meet the tie-in for the game. Idaho had started the season 6-1, but collapsed down the stretch to 7-5. In a game that was supposed to be all about offense, both teams delivered. Bowling Green jumped out to the lead first, going up 7-0 after just three minutes of play. It would not take Nathan Ederle and the Idaho offense long to come back though, as they had tied the game up at 7 before the halfway point of the first quarter. The Falcons would score once more before the quarter expired to go up 14-7, before an Idaho touchdown would be the only fireworks of a rather quiet second quarter.
After the bathroom breaks, the true offensive slugfest began. Idaho would score on two successive possessions in the 3rd quarter to go up 28-14, but Tyler Sheehan and the Falcons would not go away that easily. They scored once more before the 3rd quarter ended, and started the 4th quarter with the equalizer at 28. Idaho would need 4 minutes to go back down the field to score again and go back in the lead. Bowling Green was not happy to be trailing though, so drove down the field, chewing up time and yardage before Willie Geter dove 2 yards into the endzone to again tie the game up, this time at 35.
Idaho could not get their offense going this time, and had to punt the ball back to Bowling Green with 1:49 to go. On a 3rd down and 11 play, Freddie Barnes got behind the defense for a record setting 155th catch in his season and a touchdown to go up 42-35 with only 32 seconds left on the clock. For most fans, this would have seemed like the end, but Robb Ankey and his Vandals hadn’t given up. They drove 66 yards in only 28 seconds, with Max Komar pulling down a sliding 16 yard touchdown catch with only 4 seconds to go. Now Idaho faced the biggest decision for every coach. Kick for overtime, or go for the win? This time, Idaho went for the win. Nathan Ederle found Preston Davis in the back of the endzone to cap one of the wildest 4th quarters of the season, and cement the comeback win for Idaho, 43-42.
The less said about the 2010 game, the better. Fresno State wasn’t bad that season, but were very one-dimensional. And they came up against an NIU team that they couldn’t stop, but could stop them. The best thing about the game was when it began to snow as the game ended, and we got to go home. We don’t do well in cold climates, that’s a fact.
For 2011, Roady’s ended their sponsorship of the game. On August 3, 2011, the Idaho Potato Commission took over sponsoring the bowl with a 6 year deal that has since been extended. This sponsorship also gave us the very best mascot in the history of bowl game mascots, Spuddy Buddy. I will hear no negativity against Spuddy Buddy, he is all that is good about winter college football. The best part is that he wasn’t even created for the bowl game, he was created in 1983 for the Idaho Potato Commission. I’m not telling you what to do with your life, but they 100% sell Spuddy Buddy dolls, and you should 100% go buy one.
Football, that’s right. That’s what I talk about here. The 2011 game was also the second year of the new WAC/MAC tie-in, which definitely brought back echoes of the old California Bowl. This time we got to see the Aggies of Utah State facing off against the Bobcats of Ohio University. Utah State got the ball first, and went all the way down to the 1 yard line before turning the ball over on downs. This didn’t turn out to be the worst thing in the world though, as Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton would fumble the ball out of the back of the endzone, putting USU on the board 2-0, and giving them the ball back. The Aggies would score one more time in the first quarter, with Adam Kennedy throwing a 3yd pass to Tarren Lloyd to go up 9-0.
The second quarter would be a punter’s dream, with the sole score coming from Tyler Tettleton tossing a 26yd pass to Derek Roback to come within 2 points as the teams headed into the warmth of the locker room. Ohio received the ball to start the half, but immediately went 3-and-out, giving the Aggies the ball back. They would waste no time putting the ball into the endzone, with Michael Smith running for 63 yards through Ohio’s defense to stretch the lead out to 16-7. With their next possession, Ohio answered back with a field goal to close the gap to 6. You can kind of see where this game is going, right?
Utah State would open the lead back up to 13 with another Michael Smith touchdown run, this timm from 11 yards out. For reasons known only to Gary Andersen, who I’m guessing couldn’t see the scoreboard, the Aggies decided to kick the ball, putting them up 13 points. And oh look, Ohio scored on their very next possession to be back within 6 points of the Aggies.
Utah State would have the chance to put the game on ice with less than 5 minutes remaining, starting on their own 7 yard line. They were doing moderately well, but ran out of gas, and punted the ball back to Ohio with 2 minutes to go. The Bobcats would need every last second of that time, but they found paydirt. Tyler Tettleton ran in from about the 6 yard line to the corner of the endzone with 13 seconds to go, and kicked the PAT to move ahead 24-23. USU would have one last desperation heave after recovering the kick-off, but their attempts at recreating The Play ended up with Adam Kennedy throwing the ball to the wrong team after the Aggies ran about 60 yards in every direction except towards the endzone. Ohio University won their first ever bowl game, but it was a stinging loss for the WAC and Utah State.
The next year, the Aggies would return to the Potato Bowl, this time as WAC Champions and ranked at 10-2. This time, they’d face off against the Toledo Rockets coached by Matt Campbell. The Rockets got the ball first, and also got onto the board first with a 37 yard field goal less than 2 minutes into the game. If you were a fan of the Rockets, that was pretty much the last highlight for you. Utah State would utterly dominate the rest of the game, eventually pulling away for a 41-15 win to end the season at 11-2, and get some measure of solace from losing the year before. This would also be the final bowl game of the WAC, as the conference had ceased to sponsor football after the conclusion of the 2012 season.
The MWC Era:
Now, while there had been a time where the Mountain West had tertiary tie-ins with the Potato Bowl, they hadn’t supplied any teams to the game before 2013. That changed with the dissolution of the WAC, and the MWC absorbed most of the teams and most of the bowl games from the old conference. The Mountain West took over the Potato and Hawaii Bowls, while also gaining the primary tie-in for the New Mexico Bowl and the last few years of the Poinsettia Bowl. We’re here to talk Potato Bowl though, so we’ll continue with that one. The MAC retained their conference affiliation with the game, with both conferences usually sending their second place team, unless they were otherwise tied-in, like Hawaii.
The first new edition of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl would feature the Aztecs of San Diego State going against the Bulls of Buffalo. In what was a shockingly successful season for the Bulls, powered by their defense and Khalil Mack, they would go to their second ever bowl game against SDSU, who were 2nd in the West Division on the MWC behind champion Fresno State.
Adam Muema and Quinn Kaehler would be the stars of the show for the Aztecs, with the two combining for 6 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. The closest that the Bulls would get would be a 4 point differential in the second quarter after a Patrick Clarke field goal brought the score to 14-10. Those two Buffalo scores would be sandwiched by 2 SDSU scores on either side, with the score at halftime 28-10 with the Aztecs in front. While Buffalo would score two more times in the 4th quarter, the game was already completely out of hand, with San Diego State ahead 42-10. Adam Muema would pitch in one more touchdown in the 4th quarter to bring the final score to 49-24, a completely rousing victory for the Aztecs to get the Mountain West Conference off on the right foot in the Potato Bowl.
For 2014, again we’d be a Mountain West team built on the ground game in the Potato Bowl, this time, the Air Force Academy Falcons taking the spot after Boise went to the Fiesta Bowl, and Fresno State went to Hawaii. WMU took a lead on a field goal early in the 1st quarter. The Falcons would respond with what service academies do best, a 9 play, 61 yard drive, ending with a rushing touchdown to jump ahead 6-3 after a missed PAT. The Broncos would actually go ahead on their next possession, moving to 10-6 on Corey Davis’ touchdown reception. Air Force’s next two possessions would take up 18 plays, 152 yards, 7:13 of game time, and yield two more touchdowns. That is an option offense running at its very best, and it is something spectacular to behold.
Truly, the only real offense for Western MIchigan in this game came from Corey Davis, who hauled in all 3 of WMU’s touchdowns, each one more than 35 yards to the endzone. Unfortunately for P.J. Fleck and his Broncos, the Air Force offense was just too efficient on the ground. They also added in a scoop and score on defense just to put a bow on things, but this was all about that ground game. Air Force ran the ball 64 times for 284 yards, and a final score of 38-24, giving the Mountain West two straight wins in the Potato Bowl.
For 2015, Utah State made their 4th appearance in the Potato Bowl, and their third in 5 years. After losing their first two times in the bowl, they finally got in the win column in 2012. Sadly, 2015 would be another notch in that loss column, this time to the Akron Zips under the direction of Terry Bowden. Even though they would take a 1 point lead early in the third quarter, this was very much a game where Utah State was playing from behind all the way through. Akron jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the Aggies scored a touchdown with 2 minutes remaining in the first half. The Zips would sneak in one more field goal before heading to the locker room, sending a 29 yard kick through the goalposts as the clock hit zero.
Kent Myers and Hunter Sharp would hook up for a 19 yard touchdown reception to put the Aggies ahead 14-13 early in the 3rd quarter, but Utah State just did not have an answer for Akron kicker Robert Stein. He sent home three field goals in the game, plus two more PATs to earn himself MVP honors in the game. Chuckie Keeton did throw the final touchdown of the game, hitting Brandon Swindall from 2 yards out to bring the final score to a more respectable 23-21, but the onside kick attempt would be fielded by Akron, and they could kneel out the clock. Always wish he had avoided injuries, because he was truly an electric QB to watch when he was at his best.
The 20th edition of the Potato Bowl might just be its most famous, and most absolutely bonkers game. Instead of inviting a team from the MAC like usual, the board for the bowl game decided that they couldn’t pass up the chance to invite in-state Idaho of the Sun Belt Conference. The invite came on the heels of Idaho both announcing that they would be leaving the Sun Belt after their deal expired in 2017, but also that they would be the first team to ever voluntarily drop from the FBS to the FCS in 2018. The Vandals had only played in two bowls, both Humanitarian/Potato Bowls, and had won both games, so the board decided to give the Vandals one last crack at FBS relevance before the drop came. They would be paired up against the 7-5 Rams of Colorado State, under second year head coach Mike Bobo.
In what has been the coldest Potato Bowl so far, where everyone’s tater tots would frozen solid, things got off to a rather mundane start. Both teams had trouble adjusting to the temperature, with the first quarter ending in a 0-0 tie, more of a punter’s duel than the offensive showdown that we all expected. That would have to wait until later in the game. At the start of the second quarter, there was glimmers of what would come with Colorado State scoring first on a 52 yard touchdown pass to Bisi Johnson. Idaho would respond with their own long drive of their own, with a 36 yard pass taking them to the 2 yard line, with Isiah Saunders shooting through the line for a 2 yard touchdown run. The PAT would be missed off to the right, but the offenses had arrived. Except for the foreseeable future, it would be all Idaho’s offense shining.
On their next possession, the Vandals would again strike quickly, this time only taking 3 plays to find paydirt behind Isiah Saunders’ touchdown run from 26 yards away. Colorado State’s offense would continue shuffling in the 2nd quarter, giving Idaho the ball back one more time, for which the Rams would be made to pay. After completing draining the clock on an 18 play, 85 yard drive, Idaho would score one more time on a Jacob Sannon catch from Matt Linehan to go up 20-7 at the break. That makes 4 scores in the second quarter, and that would be the least amount of scores in a quarter going forward.
The third quarter belonged entirely to the Vandals. They received the opening kickoff of the half, and immediately put the pedal to the metal, scoring 3 touchdowns on consecutive possessions to jump ahead 41-7. Their first drive of the half took 9 plays, their second drive took only 1, and the third drive took 3 to find the endzone, all involving Matt Linehan running or throwing for the TD. Colorado State would score once in the 3rd, with Michael Gallup pulling down a 12 yard pass from Nick Stevens to cap off a 91 yard drive to close the gap to 28, and here is where things started to get wild.
To start the 4th quarter, Idaho had the ball driving down the field. It would take them 2 minutes of the final frame to get back into the endzone, stretching their lead again out to 34. The Rams knew how to score fast though, with a 72 yard touchdown reception from Bisi Johnson to answer right back. As part of the 8! touchdown 4th quarter, Idaho had an answer for CSU, with Jordan Frysinger pulling in a 54 yard pass from Matt Linehan to go ahead 55-21. The next Ram scoring drive would only take a single play, this time with Michael Gallup scoring from 60 yards out to make it 55-28.
Colorado State would try for the onside kick, but the Vandals fell on the ball quickly, with great field position. Isiah Saunders ran in from 12 yards out for his 3rd rushing touchdown of the day, and now Idaho had scored 61 points, jumping ahead of Georgia Tech’s scoring record in this bowl game. Most observers would have turned the game off at this point, considering it an easy win for the Vandals. In the words of the great Lee Corso, not so fast my friends. Over the next 5 minutes of game time, Colorado State would score 3 more touchdowns, throw an interception, recover an onside kick, and have two 3-and-out drives. Like I said, bonkers. Michael Gallup got the zaniness going with a 3 yard touchdown reception from Stevens to make it 61-35. Idaho’s next drive went nowhere, so they punted the ball back to the Rams. Nick Stevens would then throw an interception, but Idaho again went 3-and-out, essentially just burning time for CSU. Dalyn Dawkins was next to find the endzone from 22 yards away, making it 61-42. Finally, CSU recovered an onside kick, and three plays later, Izzy Matthews was in the endzone from 1 yard out. CSU made the two-point conversion with 29 seconds to go to make it 61-50, and that is how this one would end. The game set 6 bowl records, with Colorado State scoring 3 individual records as well.
After the complete absurdity of the 2016 bowl game, the 2017 game was sure to be less exciting. What it did give us though was a preview of Josh Allen for the NFL scouts to look over against Central Michigan. Wyoming started the game out strong, and was in cruise control from the end of the first quarter. Allen threw 3 touchdowns in the first quarter, Cooper Rothe kicked 3 field goals, Carl Granderson had a 58yd scoop and score, and the Cowboys kept the Chippewas at arm’s length the entire time to win 37-14.
Normally, I’d skip over the 2018 Potato Bowl. First off, it was a boring game. Secondly, it featured BYU and Western Michigan, since the MWC had come up with some weird contract loophole that allowed BYU to take our bowl spots even after leaving the conference. The only really interesting part of this game was that Zach Wilson played out of his damn skin in this one. We’ve all seen absurd single-game performances from bowl games before, but not like an 18/18 passing day for 317yds and 4TDs. Those are just superhuman numbers for a college QB, especially for a freshman QB pressed into service that had truly middling numbers up to that point. This performance alone brought Wilson’s completion percentage up from 62% to 65%, and sent his TD/INT ratio from 2.6/1 to 4/1.
Officially, there wasn’t a 2019 edition of the Potato Bowl. For the 2019 bowl season, the calendar got swapped around, and the Idaho Potato Bowl moved to January 3rd, making this the 2020 game instead of the 2019 game. Similar to how there was 2 2004 games, there may well be 2 2020 games, if we have bowl games in this topsy-turvy world. This most recent edition paired up Jay Norvell’s Nevada Wolf Pack with Frank Solich’s Ohio Bobcats. The first quarter was an even affair, with both teams chipping in field goals to get on the board, but the second quarter was when things went a bit sideways for the Wolf Pack.
Ohio scored the first touchdown of the game on a 4th and 1 pitch to Julian Ross up the right sideline for a 12 yard rushing score. Nevada would answer a long drive of their own with a Brandon Talton field goal to close the gap to 4, but this would be the closest Nevada would get from here on in. Ohio needed only a minute to get back on the board, this time with QB Nathan Rourke running the ball in from 35 yards out to go up 17-6. Nevada’s next drive would end in a punt, giving Ohio the ball back with plenty of time. They would add one more field goal in the half, with Nevada adding their own just as the clocks all hit zero for the granola bar break.
The second half of the game would be a tale of two quarters. The Bobcats dominated the third quarter, adding another touchdown and field goal to stretch the lead all the way out to 30-9. Nevada would answer back in the fourth quarter with their own touchdown and field goal, although both a PAT and 2pt conversion would fail to bring the margin down to 7. After that final touchdown, Ohio would be able to just rush the ball and bleed the clock out, and take home a 30-21 victory. For his trouble, Frank Solich got drenched in a cooler full of French Fries, because the 2019-2020 bowl season was all about funny versions of the Gatorade bath based on the sponsor of the game.
That brings us completely up to date, and closes this history of the Famous Idaho Roady’s uDrove MPC Computers Micron Systems Sports Humanitarian Potato Bowl. Never thought I’d write more than 7,000 on a bowl game, but I got into it. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this deep dive of mine. The New Mexico Bowl will be up next, that one shouldn’t be quite as exhaustive.