UT braces for another chilly bowl game

Rockets try to stay sharp for Utah St. during 25-day layoff


Their travel bags will once again contain gear suited for frosty temperatures.

That is the drawback presented to the University of Toledo football team, which will play a December bowl game in Idaho. The team’s preference, center Zac Kerin said on Monday, was an invitation to somewhere warm, providing them a long-awaited chance to unwind under the sun after trips to Washington, D.C., and Detroit the last two seasons.

"But any game at this point is a plus," Kerin said.

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, in which Toledo will square off against No. 18 Utah State, offers at least one possible advantage over other postseason affairs. By ringing in the postseason on Dec. 15, the Rockets might be more engaged in their preparations than if they drew a game in late December or January.

The team will leave Monday evening, eight days after the Rockets (9-3) learned they’d be playing Utah State at Boise State’s Bronco Stadium.

"I think one of the things that’s nice about playing an early game is you get a chance to get right back in the swing of things," coach Matt Campbell said. "I think sometimes when you play some of those late bowl games, which we’ve certainly been a part of, it’s just a long lull between games."

In 2010, Toledo was out of action for 30 days between its regular season finale and a meeting with Florida International in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The layoff in 2011, when the Rockets beat Air Force in the Military Bowl, spanned 33 days. Both games were played after Christmas.

The break this year will last 25 days.

"It’s definitely something you have to deal with," running back David Fluellen said. "You have to turn around, turn on the switch, and be ready. We haven’t experienced anything like this. We usually have later bowl games, but we’ll do whatever we have to do to get ready."

A downside is less time to recover from injury. Quarterback Terrance Owens and David Fluellen missed the final regular season game against Akron with ankle injuries and must recover in about three weeks. Fluellen, whose 1,460 rushing yards led Toledo to a 9-3 regular season and a brief stay in the top 25, said he will play. His coach offered tempered expectations for his two offensive standouts.

"Terrance has certainly had the ability to get back out, not yet back at 100 percent, and David is slowly coming back," Campbell said. "We hope to have them both back by next weekend."

Utah State, which won all six of its league games to claim its first outright Western Athletic Conference title since 1936, is only the third ranked team to participate in this bowl, which began 16 years ago as the Humanitarian Bowl. The Aggies, under WAC coach of the year Gary Andersen, played Ohio in this bowl last year, falling 24-23.

In securing a 10-2 record, Utah State posted the most successful regular season in school history. Its losses to Wisconsin and Brigham Young came by a combined five points. The Aggies feature a staunch defense that ranks near the top of most national categories, including eighth in scoring (15.4 ppg) and 12th against the run (111.4 ypg). In a statistic that underscores Toledo’s considerable challenge, Utah State has outscored opponents in the first quarter by a staggering 131-6 margin and is the only team in the country to not allow a touchdown in the first 15 minutes of a game.

Several Rockets, including Campbell, said they’ve seen the Aggies play on TV.

Toledo traveled to Boise in 2010, when Boise State dealt the Rockets an ugly regular season loss. Linebacker Dan Molls remembers the city being "a beautiful place" but did not see much beyond his hotel room and the stadium.

"I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about it," he said.

Except it will be cold, which piques the excitement of at least one of his teammates. After learning of Toledo’s destination, safety Jermaine Robinson researched the local temperatures. It was 50 degrees Monday morning.

"I like playing in the cold," Robinson said.

BCS MONEY: Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the league will receive about $8 million for Northern Illinois’ appearance in the BCS Orange Bowl. An additional $4 million will go to a distribution pool allotted for nonautomatic qualifying schools. Presidents of MAC institutions will meet this week to determine how to divide the $8 million, and Steinbrecher assured that "every one of our schools will benefit."

"I think I can speak very confidently that we will manage this in such a way that Northern Illinois will not be put in financial risk by playing this game," he said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.