New Mexico Bowl 2010: Will BYU's Cougars Attack UTEP's Miners In the Mountains?

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New Mexico Bowl 2010: Will BYU's Cougars Attack UTEP's Miners In the Mountains?
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Dec. 22, 2009: Bronco Mendenhall and Max Hall celebrate their Las Vegas Bowl victory. On Saturday night, BYU will try to win another bowl game to add to their collection.

At sunset, the mountains glow anywhere from deep purple to bright orange—watermelon colors.  The word “sandia” is Spanish for watermelon.  The Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico provide a beautiful backdrop for this year’s New Mexico Bowl.

Featuring Brigham Young University and the University of Texas-El Paso, the city of Albuquerque hosts the game, and half of New Mexico is watching.

Actions surrounding the game are creating awareness and educating people about what it takes to go green in the future.  Compostable key cards, for example, are going to be used in the team hotels (Sheraton and Marriott). A Green Tent will be on the grounds for recycling old batteries, cell phones and T-shirts at the pre-game Fan Fest.  ESPN is sponsoring many of the activities in the mountain town.

Albuquerque is about a four-hour drive from El Paso.  I’m sure many students and fans will use the weekend as a sort of road trip vacation.

The El Paso Times reported 2,000 of 10,000 bowl seats had been sold to UTEP fans.  UTEP officials were happy with the fan count.

BYU is from the Mountain West Conference and UTEP (6-6, 3-5) is from Conference USA.  The Cougars finished tied for third with Air Force and San Diego State in their conference. 

Behind SMU, Tulsa and Houston, the Miners finished fourth in their division.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Nov. 7, 2009: Trevor Vittatoe throws a pass against Tulane in New Orleans. The UTEP Miners will be digging in hopes of striking gold against BYU.

The game reunites former Western Athletic Conference rivals.  Since their WAC days in 1998, against one another, they haven’t played a football game.

BYU defeated UTEP, 34-14, in their last meeting.  UTEP’s program is sort of reeling.  They could be motivated by revenge, however, and if they are, then they’ll play a little harder than normal.

“We’re excited about renewing our long-standing rivalry with BYU,” UTEP coach Mike Price said.  The teams are evenly matched in the shadows of the Sandias.

Based in Provo, Utah, BYU knows something about mountains.  They’ve climbed a lot of them in some of the most storied games in college football history. 

Former coach LaVell Edwards and quarterbacks Jim McMahon and Steve Young are mountainous BYU legends.  I wonder if they’ll be in Albuquerque.

The New Mexico Bowl is still young, but it’s big fun.  It’s one of six bowl games owned and operated by ESPN and is characteristically the bowl season’s inaugural game, held the Saturday before Christmas. The game usually pits a MWC team against a squad from the WAC.  In the coming years, the Pac-12 Conference will provide an opponent for a MWC team in the New Mexico Bowl.

The University of New Mexico appeared in the first two and went 1-1.  San Jose State, Nevada, Colorado State, Fresno State (2) and Wyoming have appeared in the game. 

Announcing and analyzing this year’s contest, Bob Wischusen and Brian Griese will be joined by attractive sideline reporter, Jenn Brown.  Dave Lamont, J.C. Pearson and Shannon Spake were assigned by ESPN Radio.

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. EST from University Stadium at the University of New Mexico on Dec. 18.    

The Cougars (6-6, 5-3 MWC) won five of their final seven games to get bowl eligible.  Having played in 28 bowl games, BYU has a storied bowl history.   This will be their 29th bowl appearance but the first in Albuquerque. They won the national championship in 1984. 

Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall has won two MWC championships.  He’s led his team to the Las Vegas Bowl every year since he was hired in 2005.  In 2009, they were BCS No. 14 after finishing the season 11-2.

His players will be in the middle of a battle with semester final examinations this week.

In college football’s run offense exams, BYU is better than average—ranked No. 46 of 120 teams.  UTEP is No. 69, but they average more yards per carry than BYU—4.6 versus 4.2.

BYU had 78 more total carries than UTEP.  Only about 170 yards separate the teams in total yards rushing—1,966 to 1,794—advantage BYU.  It suggests the Miners break off big chunks of yards in the run game.  They strike quickly. Neither team’s run defense, however, can afford to relax in this game. 

BYU gives up 151 yards rushing per game.  UTEP, ranked No. 90 in this category, allows 181.  Running the ball will be a big key. BYU is known for stellar quarterbacks and their own brand of aerial shows.  They won the national championship with Robbie Bosco calling the snaps. 

Jim McMahon won the Davey O’Brien Award in 1981 and so did Steve Young in 1983.  Ty Detmer won it and the Heisman Trophy in 1990.  BYU’s Luke Staley won the Doak Walker for the nation’s best running back (2001).

UTEP has never won a college football national championship.  They have yet to have a Heisman-winning player, or winner of the Davey O’Brien or the Doak Walker. 

The Miners are less known for passing offense, but they ranked No. 60—right in the middle of the pack.  BYU had one of its down years at the quarterback position.  They finished the season at No. 86 in pass offense. 

Believe it or not, BYU’s strongest asset is its pass defense mechanism.  Tied with South Florida, they’re ranked No. 21 in the FBS, while UTEP is No. 73 in pass defense. 

In the New Mexico Bowl, neither defense seems able to get enough consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.  But, coming into this game, BYU intercepted 13 passes and UTEP snatched nine.Interceptions are supposed to be grabbed at their highest point.

 

Prediction: UTEP averages 26 points per game, BYU 24.  This game is too close to call, but I’m going to call it.  It should be an exciting game and bring in the bowl season with a bang.

The Miners are reeling, having lost five of their last six games.  They will be playing in their first bowl game since 2005.  BYU leads the all-time series, 28-7-1.

Either Fresno State or Nevada was expected to represent the WAC in this year’s New Mexico Bowl.  Instead, UTEP will be the first team outside of the MWC and WAC to appear in the game. 

Playing solid football only in streaks, both defenses have been suspect for most of the season.  I don’t see it being corrected before Saturday.   

It could, though, be a low-scoring game.  The offenses aren’t exactly prolific.  But, BYU will find a way to do it in the passing game and win it, 32-26.

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