BOISE, IDAHO — When the Akron Zips take the field Tuesday in the Potato Bowl against Utah State, it will have been four years to the day that the school hired Terry Bowden to jumpstart the program.
And he hopes the reward for hiring him is not simply an appearance in a bowl game.
"Going to a bowl game is a goal of ours now," Bowden said. "We want to be a bowl team — that's a standard that's sunk in that we don't want anyone who plays here in the future to take away from this program. But the thing that's beginning to hit us is that now it's time to go out there and win a bowl game, not just go out and play in one."
The former Auburn coach will look to secure the MAC school's first bowl victory since moving up to FBS in 1987.
"We've got a lot of coaches on staff here who have won a lot of bowl games and who know how to prepare a team to go out and win a bowl game," Bowden said.
For the Zips (7-5), the task will be a formidable one in the form of Utah State. The Aggies (6-6) have dominated MAC teams over the years with a 9-2 record against them, including a 3-1 record in bowl games.
However, it's senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton that figures to be the difference maker for Utah State. Keeton, who obtained a medical redshirt last season after requiring season-ending surgery on his left knee after the third game, needs 97 yards to break Jose Fuentes' school record for total offense in a career.
But Keeton is most concerned with ending his career with a victory after a season-ending loss to BYU.
"I'm hoping that we learned instead of looked back and kind of just drowned in our sorrows from the BYU game," Keeton said. "Hopefully, we can just continue to learn and continue to improve . and by the time the game comes, hopefully everything will be smooth sailing."
MAC defensive player of the year Jatavis Brown and Akron's stingy defensive front figure to provide a challenge for Utah State's offense, which struggled late in the season. Bowden expects nothing less than a grind of a game with Utah State, but he's hoping it's one that enables the Zips to have their first eight-win season since joining FBS.
"If we believe the glass is half full and not half empty then good things are going to happen."
Here's what else to watch in this year's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl:
WHAT OFFENSE? Don't expect an offensive shootout from two teams that finished 91st (Utah State) and 97th (Akron) in total offense. Akron is 28th in scoring defense, yielding 21.5 points per game, while Utah State is 64th, giving up 27 points per contest.
HAND IT TO HUNDLEY: Senior Conor Hundley became only the sixth Akron running back to crack the 2,000-yard rushing barrier for his career since the Zips moved to FBS. Hundley, who leads the team on the ground with 883 yards along with 10 touchdowns, ranks 11th on the school's all-time rushing list and could crack the top 10 if he rushes for more than 188 yards.
A SHARP EDGE: Utah State wide receiver Hunter Sharp, a projected late-round NFL draft pick, has been one of Keeton's favorite targets, catching 60 passes for 746 yards and eight touchdowns. He was second in the MWC in receptions per game with six, also good enough for 30th in the nation.
But Sharp will have to earn every catch and yard against Akron cornerback DeAndre Scott. Scott picked off six passes this year — tying him for sixth in the country — along with 10 pass breakups.