ATHENS, Ohio -- On Sunday (Dec. 8), the Ohio football team (6-6, 5-3 MAC) accepted an invitation to play in the 23rd Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Nevada (7-5, 4-4 MW) on Friday, Jan. 3, at 3:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. MT at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho.
The Bobcats and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl are familiar partners, with Ohio earning its first-ever bowl victory in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, a 24-23 win over Utah State.
Kevin McDonald serves as the executive director of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and took some time out of his day earlier this week to chat with OhioBobcats.com about a variety of topics leading up to this year's edition of the game.
What made Ohio an attractive selection for this year's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?
"A couple things make Ohio really attractive to us. One, the tradition of the football program. Two, the game that the team played and how you represented back in 2011. Coach Solich, he's kind of like picking up a star player. To have somebody with the coaching heritage that Coach Solich has and just the kind of person he is. Just really appreciate the program for so many things. Also, the way the team finished this year. In the last six games, going 4-2 and playing well when it needed to. The MAC sure plays a lot of offense, and Ohio was a part of that. Nathan Rourke, he's an outstanding quarterback. I'm an old college quarterback, and I love watching good quarterbacks play. I love seeing him in our bowl game. It was a number of things that kind of led us to Ohio as we worked our way through the season."
What are your thoughts on the matchup between Ohio and Nevada?
"I think it's a good contrast. Nevada is probably better known for its defense. Very stout defensive football team. I think about that Nevada defense against the Ohio offense. I think that's going to be fun to see, which probably tells you the difference is going to be made on the other side. How does the Nevada offense play against the Ohio defense? I think that makes for a fun matchup."
What are your memories of the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?
"I remember we had what seemed to be a very motivated Utah State. I knew the Utah State football program better than I knew the Ohio program, although I had been out to Athens a couple times, so I'd seen the team play. I really loved the blue-collar aspect of that team back in 2011. It was a balanced team. What I recall about the game is that it really came down toward the end as a tight game, and Ohio made plays when it needed to. You made as many defensive plays as you needed to as you did on the offensive side of the ball. It was just back-and-forth. You love it when you go into the last four minutes of the game, and you just don't know who is going win, and that game was that way."
What are your thoughts on how Ohio's football program has progressed since that game in 2011?
"I do remember that was your first bowl win, and that's always very special. The way that the players and the administration all celebrated afterward was just really great. We want to give credit to the fact that we were Ohio's steppingstone into the bowl business, and they've had a lot of success since then. I just feel like Coach Solich has taken that program and has kind of just built upon it and stayed consistent. I think Ohio has really benefited from having a coach like Frank there and what he has done. Ohio has been contenders for so many years for the conference and one of the top teams. I think bowls like Ohio."
How has the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl evolved over the years?
"When I first came on, we were a bowl that was basically tied to the Western Athletic Conference and the ACC. Within a couple years of me being here, the ACC had more opportunities and choices to play in bowl games in the eastern part of the country. They vacated Boise and San Francisco. We had to get and really solidify a local foundation, if you will. Within a few years after that is when we started to see all of the realignment going on around the country. When the WAC looked like they were going dark, it was important that we got aligned with the Mountain West because I didn't think it was really practical for us to align with the Pac 12. We've just had really a great marriage with the Mountain West, and the Mountain West is a strong partner behind our game. Then we had to look on the other side of the deal and see who we were going to work with, and that's when I met Jon Steinbrecher when Bowling Green came here in 2009 and played Idaho. Jon's been such a great advocate and partner to our game. We've got two conferences who want our game to be successful and have worked hard. The city of Boise and corporate Boise have really gotten behind our bowl game. That's another big key to it. This is a football community. Those are all important things. In 2013, we were acquired by ESPN, so we became an ESPN owned and operated event. Again, just another really strong, solidifying opportunity for our bowl game. This will be our 23rd game, and we feel like we're strong and doing well."
What do fans who are traveling to Boise have to look forward to surrounding the game?
"This is only the second time the game has been played after the first of the year. We'll have New Year's Eve here for the fans if they choose to come a full two days in advance of the game. Some fun things happen here. One, we have an event that's called the Potato Drop. It's the Boise version of what they do in Times Square in New York City when they drop the big ball at midnight. We drop a great big potato in front of the capitol. The town will be packed because of New Year's Eve and because of Potato Drop. We've got a great downtown core in Boise. Restaurants, bars, retail shopping about a mile from the campus of Boise State University. It's a great small community when it comes to people who come to visit for the bowl game. We're going to take the teams snow tubing on New Year's Eve Day, so I know they're going to enjoy that. The night before the game, Thursday the 2nd, we'll have a big pep rally downtown at the Plaza Grove. We'll have both marching bands there. We like that to be the pre-function for alums and fans to go to what we call the Mash Bash, where they can go cheer on their teams for about an hour. We have a fun little contest, and then we just kind of cut people loose to alumni parties, dinners, whatever they might be doing in downtown Boise."