Most signs point to Idaho playing in NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

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Eligi-BOWL!

That’s how Idaho’s website touted a 47-14 victory against Texas State on Saturday that made the Vandals (6-4) bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.

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

Based on projections, Idaho’s likely destination is 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 Mountain West and Sun Belt. Some projections include Army West Point, an FBS independent, Eastern Michigan from the MAC and a few Conference USA teams. But those are most likely errant throws at a dartboard.

Idaho, meanwhile, appears to have hit a bull’s-eye in its next-to-last FBS season. The Vandals, who are returning to FCS and the Big Sky Conference after next season, became the Sun Belt’s third team to win the six games necessary for bowl eligibility.

“It was huge,” said head coach Paul Petrino, the younger brother of Louisville’s Bobby Petrino. “I just got done telling them I’ve never been prouder of a bunch of assistant coaches and players in my whole life. They came through a lot. All this has happened, that has happened … They just stayed focused.”

Petrino leads the Vandals to a bowl in his fourth season after going 1-11 and 1-10 in his first two years. Idaho finished 4-8 last year and have improved this year behind an offense that’s fourth in Sun Belt scoring (26.4 points per game) and fifth in total offense (386.1 yards per game).

The Vandals piled up 490 total yards against Texas State, led by quarterback Matt Linehan’s career-high 336 yards passing. He’s fourth in the Sun Belt with 244.6 passing yards per game with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“We just keep getting better,” Petrino said. “It was a great team win.”

Air Force is currently the Mountain West’s consensus choice to play in the Arizona Bowl.

The Falcons (7-3), who beat Army and Navy this season to clinch their 20th Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, are no wild blue wonders. Led by quarterback Arion Worthman and running back Tim McVey, Air Force is second in conference rushing with 3,101 yards and 29 touchdowns.

New Mexico (7-3), the Mountain West leader in yards and touchdowns rushing, could give the Falcons a run for the conference’s Arizona Bowl berth. But at 5-1 in league play, the Lobos might end up higher in the postseason pecking order than Air Force (3-3 conference).

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

Here are the latest projections for the encore:


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Photo courtesy Idaho Athletics

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.