Ohio (9-4) vs. Utah State (7-5)Dec. 17, 5:30 PM ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: The second bowl of the postseason is the most likely to produce an exciting clash on opening weekend. Two conference runners-up will meet on the Smurf Turf inside Bronco Stadium chasing something both programs are unfamiliar with: a postseason win. While both teams had successful 2011 campaigns, their postseason records don't amount to a sack of potatoes (sorry, it had to be done). The Bobcats are 0-5 in their bowl history and 0-3 under current head coach Frank Solich. The Aggies haven't done much better, posting a 1-5 mark and coming off a 14-year bowl drought. To these teams, the Potato Bowl is everything, which should make the game more exciting. On top of that, both offenses average more than 30 points per game and neither school lost in 2011 by more than two touchdowns.
Keep an eye on: WAC offensive player of the year Robert Turbin, who spearheads a Utah State rushing attack that ranks sixth in the FBS (277.5 yards per game). The Aggies running back ranks 10th in the nation with 118 rushing yards per game and totaled 23 touchdowns this season. The junior averages 6.2 yards per carry and went over the century mark in seven games. Turbin's career-high 1,416 rushing yards are even more impressive considering he missed all of 2010 with a torn ACL and received just 40 percent of Utah State's carries in 2011. The Bobcats' rush-defense ranked 30th in the nation this year, but hasn't faced any player as explosive and skilled as Turbin.
Did you know: In its four losses this season, Ohio lost by a combined 19 points. Utah State, meanwhile, won its last five games by a combined 17 points.
Final analysis: Ohio enters the Potato Bowl reeling from a devastating loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship, in which the Bobcats inexplicably blew a 20-point halftime lead. Utah State's situation is the polar opposite, with the Aggies having won five straight after a sluggish start to the season. Utah State will have its hands full with Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who broke 12 school records this season while scoring 35 touchdowns and passing for more than 3,000 yards. But the Bobcats' defense will face the tougher test in battling the Aggies' vaunted rushing attack and junior quarterback Adam Kennedy (70.7 completion rate, 10 TDs, 4 INT), who has been effective -- and unbeaten -- since taking over for Chuckie Keeton under center.
The pick: Utah State 35, Ohio 28
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