Idaho favored to take NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl plunge

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DEC. 30 ON ASN: NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, 5:30 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

Idaho’s first bowl game since 2009 also might be its last.

The Vandals, who are returning to the FCS and the Big Sky Conference after next season, are bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. And they appear headed for ASN’s bowl game — the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Dec. 30 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

The game features a matchup of teams from the Sun Belt and Mountain West. And with two weeks remaining in the regular season, Idaho (6-4, 4-2 Sun Belt) is the favorite along with Air Force (8-3, 4-3 Mountain West) based on the latest projections.

The bowl pairings will be announced on Dec. 4.

Head coach Paul Petrino’s Vandals have won four of their last five games with a resurgent offense led by quarterback Matt Linehan (third in Sun Belt passing with 2,446 yards) and a dominating defense led by Aikeem Coleman (27th in the FBS in sacks).

“We just keep getting better,” said Petrino, younger brother of Louisville’s Bobby Petrino.

Idaho closes out the regular season with two home games, Saturday against South Alabama on ASN and Dec. 3 against Georgia State.

Air Force, meanwhile, plays host to Boise State on Friday in its regular-season finale. The Falcons will play in their ninth bowl game in Troy Calhoun’s 10 season as head coach.

The Falcons hope to keep another streak going. They have scored in a school-record 296 consecutive games — the third longest active streak in the nation and the fifth longest in FBS history.

Last year’s inaugural NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl featured a matchup of Mountain West rivals with Nevada beating Colorado State, 28-23.

The latest projections for the encore:

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Above: Idaho defensive tackle Tueni Lupeamanu scored twice on 1-yard plunges in a 47-14 victory against Texas State on Nov. 12. (Courtesy Idaho Athletics)

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.