Thursday December 17th, 2015

Arizona (6–6) vs. New Mexico (7–5)

Dec. 19, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch

Offense! Don’t be fooled by New Mexico’s commitment to running the ball—this is no plodding attack. The Lobos have shown they can put up points in bunches when need be. They finished the season averaging 33 points a contest over their last three games. The Wildcats have also scored at least 30 in each of their last three games, and when its key players are healthy, Arizona can make quick work of defenses under Rich Rodriguez’s scheme. Expect a lot of back-and-forth action in this one to start the bowl season. 

Keep an eye on: Arizona’s energy level

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The Wildcats finished the regular season a disappointing 6–6, which is especially a letdown considering their 10–win season last year. Will Arizona get up for this game? Although Rodriguez turned down South Carolina to stay in Tuscon, his heavy flirtation with another job could have some unintended consequences on his players. Meanwhile, New Mexico has exceeded expectations this year by making its first bowl game since 2007.

If the Lobos jump out to an early lead, the Wildcats’ defense could grow frustrated having to defend run after run after run. How the Wildcats jump out of the gate could go a long way in determining the rest of this game. Arizona is the more talented team across the board, but New Mexico could find itself controlling the game if it scores early and often. 

Did you know…?

Arizona and New Mexico used to be in the same conference not once but twice, serving as league mates in both the Border Conference and the WAC. The Wildcats and Lobos overlapped in the Border from 1931–50 before New Mexico left, and met again in the WAC from 1962–78, except this time it was Arizona jumping ship to the then Pac-10.

Each team was often solid but never outstanding during their tenures in the same conference. Arizona did make the 1949 Salad Bowl, but ended up losing 14–13 to Drake in a heartbreaker. 

Final Analysis

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Arizona is a more talented team than New Mexico. Injuries to star linebacker Scooby Wright and quarterback Anu Solomon derailed what, while it may not have been another 10-win season for the Wildcats, should have been better than a middling 6–6 year. With Solomon, Wright and running back Nick Wilson all expected to return at close to full health, Arizona should be at its strongest since the beginning of the season.

The Lobos have the advantage of playing in front of their home fans, and should also be buoyed by the excitement of playing in a bowl game for the first time in eight years. Although the Lobos’ rushing attack will likely give the Wildcats some problems, New Mexico’s defense, which allows over 400 yards per game, will ultimately be its downfall. 

The pick: Arizona 42, New Mexico 24

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