“We gladly accept the invitation to represent Utah State University and the Mountain West Conference in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl,” said first year Utah State head coach Matt Wells. “The Poinsettia Bowl has a lot of history and prestige and I know our players will be excited to play in southern California. This bowl game is a great reward for our team and its accomplishments this year, especially down the stretch, and solidifies the strength of this program as we will be playing in our third-straight bowl game for the first time in school history."
Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0 MAC) won the West Division of the Mid-American Conference before losing to Bowling Green, 47-27, in its championship game this year. The Huskies, who won their first 12 games of the season, were ranked as high as 14th in the nation in the Bowl Championship Series standings before their loss last weekend.
Northern Illinois, who will enter the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl ranked 24th in the latest Associated Press top 25, has a pair of wins against Big 10 schools this season with a 30-27 victory at Iowa and a 55-24 win at Purdue.
The Huskies most recently played in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla., as it lost to Florida State, 31-10.
This will be the second-ever meeting between Northern Illinois and Utah State as the Aggies recorded a 42-7 home win against the Huskies on Oct. 14, 1995.
“We are excited to prepare for a quality Northern Illinois team that had an outstanding season. Our staff has great respect for Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey and the Huskies team. They are very well coached and obviously very talented as they are playing in their sixth-straight bowl game,” added Wells.
After starting the season with a 3-4 mark and losing five offensive players to season-ending injuries including Heisman Trophy candidate in junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, Utah State (8-5, 7-1 MW) won its final five games of the regular season to win the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference and advance to the inaugural Mountain West Football Championship Game, where it lost at 24th-ranked Fresno State, 24-17.
With the loss of five offensive starters, Utah State has relied on its defense to win games as the Aggies rank among the top 25 defenses in the nation in five different statistical categories, including seventh in the nation in scoring defense (17.3 ppg), 11th in the nation in total defense (332.1 ypg) and rushing defense (107.3 ypg), 14th in the nation in passing efficiency defense (113.22), and 23rd in the nation passing defense (224.8 ypg).
Highlighting Utah State’s defense is a pair of former walk-ons at the inside linebacker positions in senior Jake Doughty and junior Zach Vigil, as Doughty ranks ninth in the nation with 10.8 tackles per game (140) and Vigil ranks tied for 39th nationally with 8.8 tackles per game (115). USU also features one of the top cornerbacks in the nation in senior Nevin Lawson who has four interceptions on the season and ranks tied for 10th in the nation with 1.31 passes defended per game.
Offensively, Utah State produced its third-straight 1,000-yard rusher in senior running back Joey DeMartino who has carried the ball 198 times for 1,078 yards (5.4 ypc) with 12 touchdowns on the season, as the Aggies start four seniors on the offensive line including two-time first-team all-league center in Tyler Larsen. Overall, USU’s offense ranks tied for 37th in the nation in scoring (32.6 ppg), 41st nationally in rushing offense (178.8 ypg) and 49th in the nation in total offense (420.9 ypg).
Utah State is 8-2 overall against the Mid-American Conference teams, and will be playing a team from the MAC in a bowl game for the third-straight season as it defeated Toledo, 41-15, in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and lost to Ohio, 24-23, in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Overall, it is the first time in school history that Utah State has played in back-to-back-to-back bowl games. The only other time USU has played in consecutive bowl games was in 1946 (Raisin Bowl) and 1947 (Grape Bowl), and in 1960 (Sun Bowl) and in 1961 (Gotham Bowl).
All time, this will be Utah State's ninth bowl appearance in the program's history as it played in the 1946 Raisin Bowl, the 1947 Grape Bowl, the 1960 Sun Bowl, the 1961 Gotham Bowl, the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl and the 2011 and 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowls.
Utah State’s only other bowl win in school history was at the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl when it defeated Ball State, 42-33, along with its 41-15 win against Toledo last season in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.