Often a good matchup on the basketball cOurt, these teams haven’t played each other in football since 2008. Arizona battled injuries most of the year and finished with Four losses in its final five Games. New Mexico was the opposite with three upset wins in its final Four. But the Wildcats are expected to get healthy with a couple weeks of rest and are currently -10 point favorites (at 5 Dimes Sportsbook).
There wasn’t much Arizona could do this year after getting dealt blow after blow. The Wildcats lost SCooby Wright, arguably the best linebacker in the country, multiple times early in the season. Throw in quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson and it’s not surprising this team fell apart down the stretch. However, there is a possibility all of these guys will return for the bowl Game. This is a team that finished with 10 wins last year, yet was never fully healthy this season. They recently won against Utah, but also lost 49-3 at Washington. It’s been a weird season.
New Mexico had a great turnaround this year after having only Four wins in 2014. The Lobos got to seven wins partly due to luck. They have some big wins (at Boise State), but also bad losses (vs. Tulsa) and even with seven wins, never were an over-the-top team. OUtside of a win over a bad FCS school, New Mexico never beat anyone by more than 12 points. This team grinded out wins, highlighted by a 28-27 home win over 3-10 Hawaii. And that’s exactly how they want to win, though.
The Lobos are run-heavy with 2,959 rushing yards and 38 rushing TDs as a team this year. Sophomore quarterback LAmar Jordan has been good (672 rushing yards, 6 TDs), but Austin Apodaca has seen time for a reason. Those two have combined for only five TDs and 11 INTs in the passing Game. If SCooby Wright returns for this Arizona defense, UNM may have issues running the ball. But before that happens, it can’t be ignored that the Wildcats are in the bottom half of the nation in run defense.
The Lobos will do their best to run the ball behind duo Jhurell Pressley (846 yards, 11 TDs) and Teriyon Gipson (766 yards, 6 TDs). If they can do that, this should be a close Game. But if they can’t, similar to an earlier meeting at Arizona State this year (34-10 loss), New Mexico could lose big. And against bigger teams, New Mexico has struggled.
Arizona, at its best, can put up a ton of points. Even at its worse, the Wildcats are still pretty good (outside of that Washington mishap). Through injuries, they still averaged 36 points per Game, including back-to-back 37-point outings to close the season. There’s no reason to believe UNM can stop this offense as a team that is mediocre at best on that side of the field.
In his sophomore season, quarterback Anu Solomon has been great when on the field. His numbers are better across the board if extended for an entire season. He has 18 TDs and only 4 INTs, and he’s mobile as well, although 186 rushing yards doesn’t really show that. He and running back Nick Wilson (725 yards, 8 TDs) have been a dynamite backfield at times. In the passing Game, Solomon spreads the ball plenty and the Wildcats have Four receivers with at least 500 yards and Four touchdowns.
If healthy, Arizona could easily go for 40 or 50 points in this Game. The defensive side will be the question for them, though, after allowing 35.7 points per Game on the season. New Mexico will want to run the ball and grind the clock down, much like they have all season. Will SCooby Wright be a factor if he returns? He could decide who covers this Game by himself.
The Lobos are 1-5 ATS in their last six following a straight-up win. The over has hit in Four straight non-Conference Games for the Wildcats.
Our Pick – Handicapping the Bowls can be tricky. Motivational angles can be drastically different for two teams. In this spot, it’s safe to say Arizona had their sights set much higher. Certainly, they didn’t anticipate playing in the very first Bowl Game of the Bowl season.
New Mexico on the other hand, has to be thrilled to have won 7 Games and earned a Bowl birth. Throw in the location of the Game and the fact that the Arizona defense has given up buckets of points this year and you have the makings for a potentially close Game.
To be clear, Our model predicts an Arizona win by 2 to 3 TD’s depending on the time frame parameters used. However, due to the motivational angles and the way Arizona finished the year, we’re going to back New Mexico and hope for a wild last team with the ball wins type of a Game. New Mexico +10