This was San Diego State's first bowl appearance since the 1998 Las Vegas Bowl. Under second year head coach Brady Hoke the Aztecs posted an 8–4 regular season record. Although this is SDSU's first appearance in the Poinsettia bowl the game will mark the second time that the Aztecs will be playing a bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium. They were defeated by Iowa in the 1986 Holiday Bowl, 39–38. The Midshipmen and the Azteks had previously played each other twice, in 1994 and 1997, with San Diego State winning both contests with scores of 56–14 and 45–31.
Following seven straight days of rain in Southern California (often referred to as a Pineapple Express), the San Diego River overflowed and the stadium and surrounding parking lot were flooded. Thanks to external pumps, the field was cleared the morning of the game.