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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho Vandals to face Colorado State in Potato Bowl

Sophomore running back Isaiah Saunders avoids the South Alabama in a Sun Belt game on Nov. 26. The 8-4 Vandals were awarded a trip to the Potato Bowl in Boise on Dec. 22. (Tess Fox / Tess Fox)
By Josh Wright Josh Wright Correspondent

MOSCOW, Idaho – Jayshawn Jordan is a fifth-year defensive back at Idaho who has appeared in 48 career games. Not once has he – or any other current Vandal – played in front of a nationally televised audience.

But that will change for Jordan’s 49th and final collegiate game.

Idaho formally accepted an invite Sunday to face Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22 at 4 p.m. PST at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium. It will be the only bowl game that day – and it will be on ESPN, a big selling point to Jordan and his teammates.

“That’s pretty huge for me,” Jordan said. “It’s a great way to go out.”

This will be UI’s third bowl appearance as an FBS program, and all three have been played on the Broncos’ blue turf. The Vandals won what was previously the Humanitarian Bowl in 1998 and 2009.

Since their last bowl appearance, the Vandals have endured six consecutive losing seasons. But they went 8-4 and 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference, their best regular season since 1998, after learning in the offseason they’ll be dropping down to the FCS in 2018. Colorado State finished 7-5 and 5-3 in the Mountain West.

“Oh, I think it’s a great accomplishment,” Vandals fourth-year coach Paul Petrino said. “I think it’s very fulfilling for our staff.”

Early last week, Idaho athletic director Rob Spear was “99.9 percent sure” the Vandals were headed to the Arizona Bowl. He was so certain that he followed the Sun Belt’s orders and started conversations with the bowl’s organizers to iron out travel plans and other details.

“And then a phone call on Thursday changed everything,” Spear said.

The first domino to fall, as Spear understands it, was the Pac-12 vacating a couple of bowl games, including the Las Vegas Bowl. The American Athletic Conference filled it with Houston, which caused further ripples. All the while, the Sun Belt – which has ties to five bowls – knew it had a chance to have six teams qualify (which happened Saturday).

So ESPN, which owns the Potato Bowl and 12 others, stepped in.

“The end result was Idaho would go to the Famous Potato Bowl if (Louisiana-Lafayette) and South Alabama won their games on Saturday,” Spear said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Quarterback Matt Linehan and other Vandals said they didn’t care where they ended up, but they were happy with the result. They’ll be playing in front of what should be a healthy Idaho contingent in Boise, and they get to be home with their families for Christmas after the game.

“It’s like Christmas came early for us,” Jordan said.

The Vandals won the ’09 Humanitarian Bowl in thrilling fashion with 26,726 on hand, topping Bowling Green with a last-second touchdown and two-point conversion.

The memorable victory capped an eight-win season, which coach Robb Akey followed with a 6-7 campaign in 2010. But the Vandals won five total games the next four seasons.

Petrino, who took over in December 2012, said he’s seen bits and pieces of UI’s last bowl win. And Jordan remembers watching some of it.

“People still talk about that game around here,” Linehan said. “… So I’ve heard enough about the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl to know we’ve got to go out there and be able to top it. And I think as long as we go out there and play how we’re capable of, we can generate our own legacy.

Idaho and Colorado State enter the Potato Bowl on a roll. The Vandals have won four straight and six of their last seven games. The Rams have won four of their last five, including a 63-31 victory over San Diego State to finish the regular season.

Petrino said he’s long admired the two-back, play-action offense that second-year CSU coach Mike Bobo runs. Petrino crossed paths with Bobo when both were offensive coordinators in the Southeastern Conference – Petrino at Arkansas and Bobo at Georgia.

Colorado State QB Nick Stevens is No. 7 nationally in passing efficiency, and the Rams have three rushers who have combined for 2,000-plus yards and 22 touchdowns.

“We’ve got to stop the run and then you’ve got to stop their play-action,” Petrino said. “You know, I haven’t studied their offense yet, but I just know (Bobo) as a play-caller, him as a coordinator at Georgia. He loves to run the ball, and he likes to throw play-action down the field.”

Spear said the Vandals were originally allotted 2,000 tickets (of which they’ll split the revenue 50-50 with the Sun Belt), but they’re working to get more. He encouraged Idaho fans to buy tickets from the UI ticket office so the school gets credit for those sales.

“I think we will benefit from ticket sales, no question,” Spear said.