The Gildan New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico Lobos v Arizona Wildcats
The Gildan New Mexico Bowl features a matchup between two teams who arguably have very different feelings about their season ending with a visit to the New Mexico Bowl. Arizona is feeling deeply disappointed that the season turned out the way it did while New Mexico is going bowling for the first time in eight seasons and are surely delighted to be playing so close to home.
The Wildcats won ten games in 2014 and also won the PAC-12 South after defeating bitter rivals Arizona State in the final game of the regular season. So it was only natural that the fan base had high hopes for 2015 even if some key players graduated or left for the NFL. What happened was the team struggled with injuries on defense including star linebacker Scooby Wright who hasn’t played since September. While on offense they’ve really struggled for consistency as quarterback Anu Solomon didn’t improve to the level many expected he would.
Arizona went 3-6 in PAC-12 play and is only bowl eligible due to their cupcake out of conference schedule which saw them beat Nevada, UTSA and Northern Arizona from the FCS. Their only truly impressive victory came late in the season with a double overtime win at home to Utah, a win that crushed the Utes’ chances for the college football playoff and possibly a New Year’s six bowl game.
New Mexico Lobos:
It’s been a very gradual improvement for the Lobos under head coach Bob Davie who is into his fourth year in Albuquerque. The Lobos have improved from a three to four win team to winning seven this year. They finished the season strongly with wins over Utah State, Boise State (on the road) and Air Force to log a 5-3 campaign in the MWC. Their only matchup with a Power Five opponent was in week three when they lost 34-10 to Arizona State on the road.
Head coach Bob Davie is renowned for a power running offense and it’s no different at New Mexico as they had two running backs plus a dual threat quarterback in Lamar Jordan run for over 650 yards this season. The defense has been solid but inconsistent at times during the season as they finished ranked #103 in the S&P rankings.
On paper this should be a comfortable win for the Arizona Wildcats as they are more talented in pretty much every area of the field and have greater depth at the skill positions. The injuries they suffered on defense should improve given that they will have had three weeks off to recover and plan for this game.
But numerous bowl games in the past have been won not by the more talented team but the team that really wants to win the game. New Mexico will be immensely excited to be playing in its first bowl game in eight years in its home state while Arizona will probably just be glad for the season to be over and forgotten so they concentrate on 2016.
The issue for the Lobos is that Arizona’s strength on defense is against the run. Most the teams that have scored a lot of points against the Wildcats have been able to make big plays through the air which isn’t something New Mexico has been able to do.
The Wildcats should have enough to win this game by more than one score, but they might only pull away late in the game from this determined Lobos team.
New Mexico Lobos 17-31 Arizona Wildcats