SAN DIEGO — Against almost all odds, Utah State's football team has a chance to again break new ground for the school. When the Aggies kick off against No. 24 Northern Illinois (11-1) in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, they have an opportunity to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy.
A rough early-season schedule that included four of the first five games on the road tested the Aggies significantly. When they finally got back to Logan to play in a home game, they lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton in the first half against Utah State to a season-ending knee injury. With Keeton sidelined, many assumed the season was over for the Aggies. Those people believed the grind of a Mountain West schedule and numerous injuries would knock USU out of contention.
Instead, the team rallied, winning its final five regular-season games before falling to Fresno State in the first ever Mountain West title game.
Getting out of San Diego with a victory will be no easy task for USU head coach Matt Wells. Northern Illinois comes in to the game having won 33 of its last 36 contests and is looking to end the season on a high note after losing an undefeated season against Bowling Green in the MAC championship game.
“They are explosive. They have good skill. They are explosive on the perimeter. And they have a bunch of blue-collar tough guys inside on the O-line that protect (quarterback) Jordan (Lynch). So we have our work cut out for us,” Wells said of the Huskies. “ … This is a big bowl game for us, one of the biggest in school history, on a national stage, and we are excited to put our product out there for all of the nation to see.”
The Huskies are led by Lynch, who finished third in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting. He threw for 2,676 yards, broke the record for single-season rushing yards for a quarterback with 1,881 and scored 45 total touchdowns. His ability to run or pass makes him a tough matchup for any defense, but the Aggies believe they are up to the task.
“You play college football to play the best athletes in the nation and he, being third in the Heisman, is one of the best,” USU senior linebacker Jake Doughty said. “It’s going to be an exciting game.”
A win would not only give the Aggies consecutive bowl victories, but would also tie the 1960 and 1961 teams for the second-most victories in school history with nine.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.