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Saturday, December 21, 2013
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl preview

By Jeff Barlis

The third bowl game of the season features the Buffalo Bulls (8-4) versus the San Diego State Aztecs (7-5), Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here's a breakdown.

Who to watch: Khalil Mack, Buffalo's star linebacker, was just projected by ESPN's Todd McShay as a top-10 pick in the first round of the NFL draft. One glance at his stats makes it easy to see why -- 94 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three interceptions. Mack is also the NCAA's all-time leader in forced fumbles and tackles for loss. On the other side of the ball, the Bulls feature running back Branden Oliver, who is Buffalo's all-time leading rusher with 3,935 yards after a strong senior season with 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. The Aztecs feature the passing connection of junior QB Quinn Kaehler (2,796 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs) to junior WR Ezell Ruffin (63 catches, 1,061 yards, 3 TDs). SDSU ranks No. 35 in the nation in passing offense, averaging 262.3 yards a game.

What to watch: Both teams average more than 400 yards of offense a game, but frigid temperatures in Boise, Idaho, could turn this game into a battle of wills. Buffalo can emphasize its running game with Oliver, while SDSU will look to its tailback tandem of junior Adam Muema (1,015 yards, 12 TDs, 4.5 YPC) and freshman Donnel Pumphrey (750 yards, 8 TDs, 6.1 YPC). The Bulls' and Aztecs' defenses have much to prove. They were Ohio State's first two opponents of the season, respectively, and each gave up at least 445 yards and 40 points.

Why to watch: The blue turf of Boise State's Bronco Stadium could get a fresh coat of snow with a forecasted high of 34 degrees and a 30 percent chance of precipitation. All the more fun to see how two disciplined teams react to the elements. You would think the team from icy New York would have an advantage, but Buffalo is playing in just the second bowl game in program history. The Aztecs are bowling for the 12th time and fourth year in a row.

Prediction: San Diego State 21, Buffalo 17