Is this heaven? No, it's Idaho, which is the same thing for these Aggies

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 7:35 p.m. MST

Utah State quarterback Adam Kennedy, right, hands the ball off to his running back Robert Turbin during an NCAA college football game against New Mexico State, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, in Las Cruces, N.M.

Robin Zielinski, Associated Press

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The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl's web page features something no other bowl can claim: rows of potato fields sectioned off by yardage markings. The logo includes a football made to look like a baked potato with all the trimmings.

Who needs sugar or orange juice when you can have sour cream and chives?

It has been said Utah State's return to bowl-worthiness is the feel-good story of the year. That's because the last time this happened was in 1997, the year it lost to Cincinnati in the Humanitarian Bowl, predecessor to the Potato Bowl.

After that, darkness. Of 120 Division I football teams, USU was always among the 50 or so that didn't play in the postseason. It has appeared in just six bowl games in its history. The Aggies only show up in the postseason once in a Big Blue moon.

Still, with five straight regular-season wins, aren't they just a little too hot for Boise?

"Oh. No. Oh, gosh, we're thrilled to be there," quarterback Adam Kennedy said. "Our school has gone through a little bit of a drought and so we're excited as players and we know the community is as well."

So they have that going for them: Genuine, gee-whiz wonderment.

"It definitely doesn't matter which bowl we got. This city (Logan) has not seen a bowl game in quite a while," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "So when it comes to December 17th, we'll play our hearts out."

It's true that Boise isn't exactly the fun center of the world. No Everglades speedboat tours, no beach time, no touring an aircraft carrier, no French Quarter and no Tournament of Roses. What's on tap for the Aggies this week? There was bowling on Tuesday and something called "winter sports day" on Wednesday, followed by more bowling. Today there's an awards dinner and on Friday a community outreach breakfast and a snowmobile demo.

There's also a kickoff concert tonight, featuring Andy Grammer (you know ... the Andy Grammer). Unlike the Olympics, there's not a Fergie or Bon Jovi in the vicinity.

In the swag department, each player gets a winter coat, gloves, beanie and backpack. That's a lot of winter stuff, which is good. The bowl proudly bills itself as the longest-running open air cold weather bowl in America. Temperatures on game day are supposed to be 37 for a high, 22 for a low.

Possible Potato Bowl theme: If it gets too cold, we'll make French fries.

All the better conditions for the snow-tested Aggies to thrive in.

Players say Cache County is fully behind them, and it seems true. When they arrived home after beating New Mexico State in yet another thriller — their fifth in a row — they were met at the airport by about 300 fans.

"You go to stores, go get gas, people are yelling," Kennedy said. "It almost feels like a movie."

Added coach Gary Andersen: "Just to see people reach out from all over, throughout the country — I've had emails from throughout the world from people who are just excited with the direction we're going and what these kids have been able to do. I try to share with the kids, read those emails to them. It's not just us, it's everyone that's involved."

Not everyone is so invested. Ohio University punter Paul Hershey tweeted earlier this month: "Idaho?? Who the (expletive) wants to play there in December??"

Fair question, but if you're looking for the Aggies to bash their bowl destination, don't. This year they played at such diverse places as the high deserts of Las Cruces and the legendary Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn; in the warmth of Hawaii and the eeriness of an indoor field at Idaho; at hostile LaVell Edwards Stadium and familiar Fresno State.

Now they go up the road to play on Boise's State's blue turf, which to them is a trip to Shangri-La. When you've been away as long as they have, a bus ride to Boise never looked so good.

Email: rock@desnews.com

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