Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (46) tallied 19 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss during the regular season.
Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (46) tallied 19 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss during the regular season.
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports

Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

BOWL SCHEDULE: Matchups, dates for every 2013-14 pairing

Reason to watch: Now in its 15th season in the FBS, Buffalo is bowl eligible for only the second time. Yet there are finally signs of hope at UB Stadium: After collecting a combined nine victories in coach Jeff Quinn's first three years at the helm, the Bulls went 8-4 in 2013. Meanwhile, San Diego State is happy just to be invited following a 7-5 campaign that left it without a guaranteed bowl berth. The Aztecs bounced back from an 0-3 start -- including a 40-19 loss to FCS Eastern Illinois on Aug. 31 -- to win seven of their next eight games.

Keep an eye on: Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is the clear star of this game and -- unless you're a diehard fan of either team -- the single biggest reason to watch. The Lambert Award winner and Butkus Award finalist is a true sideline-to-sideline player who consistently wreaks havoc in the backfield. The projected first-round NFL draft pick has 94 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on the year.

Even against the meat of the Bulls' schedule, Mack has shined; he had nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and a pick-six in a season-opening 40-20 loss to Ohio State. On offense, Buffalo tailback Branden Oliver has rushed for 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns. For the Aztecs, be sure to monitor quarterback Quinn Kaehler and safety Nat Berhe. Kaehler has completed 60.1 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Berhe (94 tackles) powers San Diego State's defense.

Did you know: While the Bulls are seeking their first-ever bowl victory, third-year Aztecs coach Rocky Long is mired in his own bowl drought. Long is a career 1-6 in bowl games and 0-2 at San Diego State. The Aztecs lost to BYU (23-6) in the Poinsettia Bowl last year and to Louisiana-Lafayette (32-30) in the New Orleans Bowl in 2011.

Final analysis: The turnover margin should strongly favor Buffalo: The Bulls rank tied for fourth nationally (1.3) in the category, while the Aztecs are tied for 118th (-1.0). Buffalo also boasts a top-10 red zone defense that has allowed opponents to score on just 72 percent of their trips. It all adds up to a terrible matchup for San Diego State -- something that could be exacerbated by a cold December day in Boise.

The pick: Buffalo 31, San Diego State 17

BURKE: Buffalo's Khalil Mack among top NFL prospects to watch in early bowls

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