College football's bowl season kicks off with what sizes up to be a western shootout, as the (7-5) Arizona Wildcats and the (7-5) Nevada Wolf Pack meet in the New Mexico Bowl Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The early New Mexico Bowl betting odds opened with Arizona favored by eight points, and that spread quickly got bet up to minus-nine at most sportsbooks tracked by OddsShark.com.
If Nevada's recent bowl history is any indication, this could be a spot to fade them, as they are just 2-5 against the spread (ATS) the past seven bowl seasons.
Nevada began this season with hopes of contending for the Mountain West title but struggled down the stretch and finished in fifth place at 4-4 in conference play. The Pack actually started 6-1, with a win over Cal, but lost four of its last five games, including a season-ending 27-21 decision to Boise State.
Offensively, led by QB Cody Fajardo (67-percent completions, 17/7 TD/INT ratio, 980 rushing yards) and RB Stefphon Jefferson (1,700 yards, 22 touchdowns), Nevada averaged 503 yards per game. But defensively, the Wolf Pack gave up 431 yards per game and allowed four of their last six opponents to score 37 points or more.
Arizona, meanwhile, was hoping to return to bowl eligibility in its first season under new coach Rich Rodriguez and with seven wins they made it. The 'Cats opened 3-0, with wins over Toledo and Oklahoma State.
But 'Zona then lost three straight to three ranked teams in Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. The Wildcats then won four of five, beating Washington, USC, Colorado and Utah but finished their regular season with a 41-34 loss to in-state rival Arizona State.
Powered by QB Matt Scott (60-percent completions, 24/12 TD/INT ratio), RB Ka'Deem Carey (1,750 yards, 20 TDs) and WR Austin Hill (73 catches for nearly 1,200 yards) Arizona averaged 522 yards per game on offense. But on defense the 'Cats allowed 486 yards per game, and seven of their opponents scored at least 36 points.
It's almost hard to believe, but these two programs, hailing from bordering states, haven't met since 1941.
New Mexico Bowl Pick: On paper these teams are fairly evenly matched; they're both potent on offense and shaky on defense. But Arizona had its sights set on a better bowl, before losing to Arizona State and motivation could be a factor. So we'll go with the underdog, playing its eighth straight bowl. (courtesy of PickShark.com)