Three games into the season, San Diego State was 0-3. The Aztecs had lost to FCS-level Eastern Illinois in Week 1 and dropped back-to-back games against BCS opponents Ohio State and Oregon State. A bowl wasn't the first thing on San Diego State's mind; simply finding a way to win a game was. Seven wins over their next eight games, with the lone loss coming in overtime to Fresno State, had the Aztecs bowl-eligible, and the early season struggles were quickly forgotten.
Buffalo would have rather played that first version of SDSU in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday, as the Aztecs easily handled a Bulls team that was unable to contain running back Adam Muema and quarterback Quinn Kaehler, winning 49-24.
San Diego State's junior running back had 229 yards and three scores, and the Aztecs capitalized on three Buffalo turnovers, including a backbreaking fumble on the second half kickoff that resulted in a 11-yard score from Kaehler (16-of-29, 214 yards, 2 TD, 1 rush TD) to Adam Roberts. The margin for error for Buffalo was not very big all year long, and mental mistakes sunk the Bulls against SDSU. Included was one of the worst onside kick attempts you'll ever see.
Buffalo was in the Potato Bowl in large part because of a seven-game win streak that saw them feast on the lesser foes on their schedule all in a row by playing smart, controlling field position and taking advantage of its opponents' mistakes. The run was capped off by a home win over Ohio that was the high water mark of the season, but the Bulls lost two of their last three games, including a Thanksgiving weekend contest against Bowling Green that kept Buffalo out of the MAC championship.
It was hard to imagine Buffalo ever being out of any game with all-world defender Khalil Mack in the fold, but Mack can't run, pass or catch on offense (as far as anyone knows). San Diego State did a good job of containing running back Branden Oliver (114 yards, 1 receiving TD) through most of the game, and Joe Licata isn't the type of quarterback who can take over a game under a big deficit. The Bulls will have to wait at least another year to get their first bowl win. The Aztecs, on the other hand, won their first postseason game since 2010 and snapped a two-game bowl losing streak. For extra fun facts to impress your friends, this was the first time San Diego State won a bowl game in a state other than California since 1952, per Hustle Belt.