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San Diego • December bowl appearances are becoming a tradition for Utah State, and the Aggies keep meeting Mid-American Conference opponents.

The variable is USU's starting quarterback, with freshman Darell Garretson taking the stage in Thursday night's 21-14 defeat of Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.

In the Aggies' two Famous Idaho Potato Bowl games in Boise, Adam Kennedy played in a 24-23 loss to Ohio in 2011 and Chuckie Keeton beat Toledo 41-15 last year.

Keeton made a brief appearance against Ohio after his injury in early November had enabled Kennedy to seize the No. 1 job. This season, Keeton was lost to a knee injury in early October and Craig Harrison started the next game before Garretson took over.

"The kid hasn't blinked, hasn't flinched one bit," said USU coach Matt Wells, summarizing Garretson's performance after being activated from redshirt status.

Opportunity ahead

The Poinsettia Bowl will remain part of the Mountain West's affiliations in the new bowl cycle of 2014-19, but schools such as Utah State and Northern Illinois will have bigger ambitions. In the College Football Playoff that's replacing the BCS, a spot in one of the top six bowls is reserved for the highest-rated conference champion in the Group of Five — the MW, Conference USA, the Sun Belt, the MAC and the American Athletic Conference.

Northern Illinois will have a place in history as the last school from outside the power conferences to play in a BCS game. The Huskies lost 31-10 to Florida State in the Orange Bowl in January.

Familiar face

As a member of the San Diego Chargers' practice squad, Kerwynn Williams reunited with his former USU teammates this week. Williams was the star of last year's bowl victory, rushing for 235 yards and three touchdowns against Toledo.

Williams joined the Chargers in October after being released by the Indianapolis Colts, who made him the third Aggie running back to be drafted in two years.

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