Bowling Green star Freddie Barnes is close to setting an NCAA record for receptions. Judging by the way Idaho has played defense recently, it's a good bet he'll be able to do it in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Barnes and the Falcons will have to overcome a partisan crowd in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 30 when they take on a Vandals team making its first bowl appearance since 1998.
Both teams finished with 7-5 records, but Bowling Green enters with more momentum with four straight wins. Idaho yielded 146 points in losing its last three.
Still, the Vandals were rewarded with their first bowl appearance since winning the 1998 Humanitarian Bowl over Southern Mississippi.
"We're very excited to be representing (the Western Athletic Conference) in the Humanitarian Bowl," coach Robb Akey said. "It's great that this is the bowl we're going to, too. It's our state capitol. We have a ton of alums in the community. It's going to be an awesome time."
The star attraction is Barnes, a Biletnikoff Award finalist who was beaten out for the honor by Notre Dame's Golden Tate. Barnes leads the country in receptions (138) and touchdowns (16) and is third in receiving yards (1,551). He's five catches away from breaking the NCAA mark of 142 in a season, set by Houston's Manny Hazard in 1989.
Barnes has scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 158.1 yards receiving in his last seven games.
"With the game on the line, we were going to make sure Freddie would get his touches," coach Dave Clawson said. "We were not going to allow teams to come out and say 'We're going to double Freddie and therefore, these other guys have to make plays.'"
Barnes has added 75 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while amassing 115 punt return yards on nine attempts.
Clawson is in his first season with the Falcons after a poor stint last year as offensive coordinator at Tennessee. The coach, though, is considered a terrific offensive mind and his impact has shown on senior Tyler Sheehan.
Sheehan has thrown for a career-high 3,664 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. He topped 300 yards eight times after failing to do so in his previous 22 games before Clawson arrived.
Bowl organizers believe there are 16,000 Idaho alumni in the Boise area, but the Falcons enter with four straight road victories and are familiar with Bronco Stadium, losing to Boise State 20-7 on Sept. 13, 2008.
"I'm sure it'll be like an away game for us," Clawson said. "Our guys are excited to get back on the blue turf."
Idaho has worse memories of its last game in Boise, a 63-25 loss to then-No. 6 Boise State on Nov. 14.
Bowling Green won't have suspended defensive tackle Kevin Alvarado available after he was charged with assaulting a female last month. Alvarado is third on the team with 2½ sacks.
"We are aware that Kevin was involved in an incident and we've been working with the dean of students and the authorities from the very beginning," Clawson said. "The conduct of our players and discipline in our program is extremely important. We will not permit any of our players to physically assault someone else. That's not acceptable and will not be tolerated."
Without Alvarado, the Falcons will try to contain Nathan Enderle and the high-powered Vandals' attack. Enderle is rated seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 122.75 quarterback rating and has thrown 18 touchdowns.
Enderle missed two games with a shoulder injury before returning and throwing for three scores Nov. 28 in a 52-49 season-ending loss to Utah State. He had 35 interceptions over the previous two seasons before cutting down on his mistakes with nine in 2009.
The quarterback will hand the ball off to DeMaundray Woolridge, who had a strong year with Idaho after not playing since he flunked out at Washington State after the 2006 season. Akey, a Cougars assistant during Woolridge's time there, brought him to Idaho.
Woolridge averages 5.7 yards per carry and rushed for a team-high 853 yards, splitting time with Princeton McCarty (605 yards) and Deonte Jackson (381) in a three-back attack.
"He's truly a back who can wear a defense out," said Enderle about Woolridge. "He's hitting on every play. By the end of the game (opponents) are tired."
Woolridge and Enderle are among 11 Vandals to earn all-WAC honors. They are looking at the bowl bid as a chance to redeem themselves for the poor finish to the regular season.
"No one else expected it but us," Woolridge said. "You go through a lot of hardships to get to this point."