BOISE, Idaho — The field with the bright blue turf has never been good to Utah State coach Gary Andersen. He lost there 50-14 to Boise State, last season. As an assistant coach at Utah in 1999, his team got beat 26-20 by the Broncos.
But this time he's only playing in Boise, not against it.
So don't expect Andersen to lose again this year.
As the Aggies face Ohio in Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, there is something far bigger than a stadium at work: Andersen's bowl history. In that regard, he has little to fear. Asked this week whether he had ever lost a bowl game as a coach, he smiled somewhat sheepishly and said, "No. No. I hope that holds up again. It's been a great experience to watch the kids win their bowl games."
When it comes to winning bowl games, Andersen is a one-man industry. For starters, there was the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl, when he was an assistant coach at Utah. The Utes claimed a 17-16 win over Fresno State. Two years later he was back in Vegas, as Utah sacked USC quarterback Carson Palmer five times en route to a 10-6 win.
Andersen was also at Utah in 2004 when it claimed a 35-7 Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt. Next year was a 38-10 Emerald Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. The next three seasons were also wins: Tulsa (Fort Worth Bowl), Navy (Poinsettia Bowl) and Alabama (Sugar Bowl).
That makes Andersen 7-0 in bowl games. Betting against him in the postseason is like betting against John Wayne. If you're Ohio, this is someone you don't want to see walking into the stadium.
Boise's colorful field did create a small controversy this year. There was some question whether the Aggies would be allowed to wear their midnight blue uniforms on the electric turf. The Mountain West banned Boise State from wearing all-blue uniforms at home this season, saying they were difficult to see against the field.
But so far nobody has said the Aggies can't wear their own midnight blue.
Shading, apparently, is everything.
Then there's the question of whether USU's familiarity with Bronco Stadium is an advantage.
"I don't think it's necessarily an advantage to play there," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "But we've been on the field before, so we're used to it. There's no mystery about seeing the field. I've seen it a couple of times, so it's nothing special."
There does seem to be something special about Andersen and bowl games. Surprisingly, he said this week that his team should view its Potato Bowl invitation as a reward and enjoy the experience. That seems in contrast to his high-intensity style.
"There are times to have fun. It has to be a reward," Andersen said. "A time to sit back and reflect on what you've done. But we have to flip that switch when the time comes to work and these kids are learning about how to do that. We're not great at that, we need to get better at times, and that comes with experience."
Andersen even seems a bit gentler than usual as he approaches Saturday's game. Asked whether the season will be a success if the Aggies lose, he said, "I think this season is a success. These seniors could be more successful if we win the game, but my goal was to have them leave a legacy and there's no question these seniors have left a legacy."
Wagner wasn't quite so lenient.
"No, we have to win the game," he said.
If you look objectively, the odds are good the Aggies will do just that. It's true that Ohio won five straight games before losing in its conference championship game. This is the Bobcats' third consecutive bowl appearance and fourth in five years — a fairly formidable opponent.
At the same time, USU has a coach who flat-out doesn't lose in the postseason.
Not even a jarring blue turf is likely to be a match for that.
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