The first Saturday of the Bowl season gives ESPN a chance to knock off the dust of the highlight tapes from 1980. None of the players in this game had even been born yet, so while fun to look back on, certainly has no bearing on the game coming up this Saturday. But when SMU and BYU take the field in the 2022 New Mexico Bowl, the scoreboard operator better be ready to keep up with plenty of scoring.
The 2022 New Mexico Bowl
Date: Saturday, December 17, 2022
Game Time: 7:30 EST
Venue: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
How To Watch: ABC
Historic Bowl Match Up
While SMU and BYU do not have an extensive history playing each other, their first-ever matchup was one for the ages. The 1980 Holiday Bowl pitted 8-3 SMU from the Southwestern Conference against 11-1 BYU who was a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Their “Pony Express” offense headlined this Mustang team; a two-heading ground game that featured Craig James and Eric Dickerson. Both James and Dickerson lived up to their billing as they ran out to a 45-25 lead with just four minutes remaining in the game.
But BYU quarterback Jim McMahon and the Cougars led one of the great comeback efforts of all time. BYU scored 21 points in the last 2:33 which included the following: a touchdown drive, recovering an onside kick, a touchdown drive, a forced punt attempt, a blocked punt, and a 41-yard hail mary completed as time expired. The Cougars won their first-ever bowl game by the score of 46-25.
BYU Is Banged Up
This season has been of real unpredictability for BYU. There were times, especially early in the season, when it seemed like a potential 12-0 run was on the table. But then they had stretches of just playing competitive football. Coming into this one, BYU scores an average of 31.9 points per game, good for 39th nationally. They also ran for an average of 179.3 yards and threw for 266.6 yards per game, 52nd, and 32nd respectively. But the question on everyone’s mind is “Will quarterback Jaren Hall be available for the bowl game?
“Jaren has not been eliminated from contention to play, so there’s that,” head coach Kalani Sitake said on Monday. “He hasn’t been participating as much as we’d like him to be in practices, but this week will tell. If Hall is unable to suit up, it likely will be Cade Fennegan starting. This is in part because BYU’s backup quarterback Jacob Conover entered the transfer portal. Fennegan has not appeared in a football game since the 2020 season.
Sitake’s defense ranked 93rd in the nation, allowing 409.7 yards per game. They also ranked 100th nationally in scoring defense, yielding an average of 30 points per game. Don’t expect this game to be when they have their best defensive performance of the season either. The Cougars will be without the three linebackers who were starters when the season began: Keenan Pili, Max Tooley, and Payton Wilgar. Pili has entered the transfer portal, while Tooley and Wilgar were injured a month ago.
Rhett Lashlee’s Mustangs aren’t built on a powerful “Pony Express” rushing game. It is their passing game, led by Tanner Mordecai, which had produced some attention-grabbing statistics. Overall, The Mustangs score 38.4 points per game, 13th-best nationally. Mordecai has passed for 3,306 yards, 31 touchdowns, and nine interceptions on 64.3 percent completion. However, the offense is going to be without its most dynamic player-maker on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Rashee Rice is opting out of the bowl game. Rice was easily Mordecai’s favorite target this season. He had a total of 96 receptions for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Much like BYU, the Mustang defense isn’t a pillar of stopping teams from scoring. Statistically, the Mustangs are slightly worse than BYU. The defense allows 34.7 points per game, ranking 123rd nationally. On the ground, they allow an average of 203.2 yards (121st nationally). It isn’t much better when yielding yards through the air at a 242.6 yards per game clip (91st). Don’t forget, it was this SMU team that was a part of history on November 5th when it out-gunned Houston 77-63 in the highest-scoring regulation contest in FBS history. SMU also has allowed 59+ points in two of its last four games.
2022 New Mexico Bowl Prediction
SMU has never defeated BYU. In fairness, the teams have only met three times. The most recent of these meetings came in 1997. Due to the sheer volume of injuries for BYU, they simply won’t be able to keep pace. The Cougars’ offense will still be able to score a little due to the lack of resistance by the SMU defense. But, as teams have seen this year, the offense simply can outscore opponents no matter what the defensive effort has or hasn’t been all season. The Mustangs get their first-ever victory over the Cougars pretty easily in this one.
SMU 51, BYU 35