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Utah State football: Aggies will take on No. 23 Northern Illinois in Poinsettia Bowl

Published: Sunday, Dec. 8 2013 8:30 p.m. MST

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch carries the ball past several Western Michigan defenders during the second half of an NCAA football game Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in DeKalb, Ill. Northern Illinois won 33-14. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Charles Rex Arbogast, AP) Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch carries the ball past several Western Michigan defenders during the second half of an NCAA football game Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in DeKalb, Ill. Northern Illinois won 33-14. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

FRESNO, Calif. — The Utah State football team went home early Sunday morning, disappointed from its 24-17 loss to Fresno State on a cold California night.

But the Aggies will get another chance to win in California later this month, likely on a warmer night at the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

USU accepted an invitation to play No. 23-ranked Northern Illinois in the ninth annual Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 26. The game will be played at Qualcomm Stadium and be televised on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. MST.

"We gladly accept the invitation,’’ to play in the Poinsettia Bowl, Utah State coach Matt Wells said, adding that the bowl “has a lot of history and prestige” and that the Aggies would be excited to be in Southern California for a bowl game.

This marks the third straight bowl game for the Aggies, who played in the Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise the past two years. They are happy to be in a sunnier locale this time.

Northern Illinois defensive end Jason Meehan (49) celebrates after sacking Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Mid-American Conference championship in Detroit, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Carlos Osorio, AP) Northern Illinois defensive end Jason Meehan (49) celebrates after sacking Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Mid-American Conference championship in Detroit, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Carlos Osorio, AP)

“This bowl game is a great reward for our team and its accomplishments this year, especially down the stretch,’’ said Wells. “It solidifies the strength of this program as we will be playing in our third straight bowl game for the first time in school history."

In Northern Illinois, the Aggies will be facing a team that appeared to be heading to its second straight BCS bowl game before losing to Bowling Green last week in the Midwestern Athletic Conference championship game. The Huskies ended up No. 23 in the final BCS standings.

The Huskies are the second straight Aggie opponent that will coming off a BCS-busting loss. Fresno State, which beat USU in the MWC title game Saturday night, suffered its first loss of the season to San Jose State the week before, ending its BCS bowl hopes. According to Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey, the Huskies are anxious to get back on the field after the 47-27 loss.

Utah State Aggies cornerback Quinton Byrd (3) walks off the field following the Aggies 24-17 loss to Fresno State during the Mountain West Football Championship game at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Calif. on Saturday, December 7, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Utah State Aggies cornerback Quinton Byrd (3) walks off the field following the Aggies 24-17 loss to Fresno State during the Mountain West Football Championship game at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Calif. on Saturday, December 7, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

“I know the players will be excited to get back on the field together for their last game,” Carey said. “Everyone has great things to say about the bowl, the organization and how the city and community support the game. It’s a great reward for a great season by this team.’’

The Huskies are led by dynamic quarterback Jordan Lynch, who has been touted as a contender for the Heisman Trophy all season. Lynch ran for an NCAA quarterback record 1,881 yards this year, while passing for 2,676 yards. He accounted for 45 touchdowns, 22 on the ground and 23 through the air.

NIU began the season with 12 straight victories, a school record, before the disappointing loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Bowling Green will represent the conference in the Little Caeser’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit against Pittsburgh.

The Aggies will be the third team from Utah to play in the Poinsettia Bowl. Utah played in 2007 against Navy and 2009 against Cal, while BYU played last year against San Diego State.

Utah State Aggies wide receiver Bruce Natson (9) reacts after a late fourth quarter interception that sealed the Aggies loss to the Fresno State Bulldogs during the Mountain West Football Championship game at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Calif. on Saturday, December 7, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Utah State Aggies wide receiver Bruce Natson (9) reacts after a late fourth quarter interception that sealed the Aggies loss to the Fresno State Bulldogs during the Mountain West Football Championship game at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Calif. on Saturday, December 7, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

AGGIE NOTES: After Saturday’s loss, the Aggies are 2-51 all time against ranked opponents, but they’ll get another shot against a ranked opponent in Northern Illinois. ... Utah State is now 24-8 in its last 32 games, which it has lost by a combined 48 points. ... The Aggies were held to their third-lowest offensive total of the season against Fresno State with just 304 yards. Against USC, the Aggies only managed 285 total yards and they had just 199 yards in a bad-weather game against Colorado State. ... Aggie freshman quarterback Darell Garretson, who left the game after a hard hit in the fourth quarter, is "fine," according to Wells, although he is "a little dinged up.'' ... USU had a season-low 51 rushing yards against the Bulldogs Saturday night. ... With two interceptions, both by Brian Suite, the Aggies have 16 interceptions in their last nine games. ... Junior receiver Ronald Butler had his best day as an Aggie with a career-high five receptions and 145 yards.

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