2012 New Mexico Bowl
Arizona (-8) vs. Nevada (5Dimes)
Dec. 15, 2012, 1 p.m. ET
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The first bowl game of the year this year almost certainly won’t be the best one by the time they are all played, but it certainly is an intriguing one. And we can be certain of one thing — it won’t be boring. Nevada isn’t nearly as strong as they have been in recent years, but their offense is still potent and creative. Arizona is well ahead of where they are supposed to be in the first year of a bold and unrecognizable new era, and the Wildcats will be looking to end the year on a high note. Both teams averaged more than 500 yards of offense per game. And defense is a dirty word on both sides, so there is more than a chance that the scoreboard will get worn out in this one.
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Arizona - The Wildcats finished at 7-5 and were 6-6 ATS. They looked great at times and miserable at others, and they were generally tough to predict — as their ATS record suggests. They had great wins over Oklahoma State and USC and took Stanford to overtime, but then they lost 49-0 to Oregon, didn’t show up against UCLA in a 66-10 massacre, and were not at their best against weak Arizona State — their biggest rival. They changed absolutely everything about their program this year, and they were short on talent, so the struggles with consistency aren’t a real surprise or a major concern at this point. Coach Rich Rodriguez is in his first year with the Wildcats. He’s 3-4 in bowl games in his career, and his last appearance in a bowl — the 2011 Gator Bowl with Michigan — was a humiliating 52-14 shellacking that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. The biggest star of this explosive offense is sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey. He ran for 1,757 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he added 288 receiving yards and another TD.
Nevada - The Wolf Pack were also 7-5 this season, but they were an ugly 3-9 ATS. Their issue wasn’t with consistency but with stamina. They started very strong, with a 6-1 record through seven games, and the loss coming by just a single point. But then the schedule got tougher, the wheels fell off, and they lost four of their last five. Those losses came against San Diego State, Air Force, Fresno State and Boise State. Their biggest win was against Cal in the opener. Head coach Chris Ault is in his 25th year with the program and his 12th since the team moved to Division I. He’s a strong coach with an innovative system, but he is just plain lousy in bowl games. He is just 2-7 in his career, and he has dropped five of his last six. His star on this edition of the Wolf Pack is junior running back Stefphon Jefferson. He ran for 1,701 yards, ran for 22 touchdowns, and he caught another.
Will there be a touchdown on every possession? - It’s quite possible that the last team to touch the ball in this one will win. Nevada is 11th in the country in total yards and seventh in rushing yards. Arizona was 120th in total yards allowed and 89th in rushing yards. Incredibly, run defense is actually their strength — they are 121st against the pass. Offensively, Arizona is seventh in total yards and 15th on the ground, long with a Top 30 ranking for passing. Nevada’s defense is only 88th best in total yards and 112th against the run. Nevada’s defensive numbers are slightly better at first glance. However, their level of competition is worse, so they are probably generous. Perhaps the biggest lock in this game is that there will be more than 1,000 yards of total offense. If there wasn’t then that would count as a massive upset.
Will the break help Nevada? - The biggest problem Nevada had was that they just weren’t good enough against strong competition. They also got tired — more mentally than physically — as the season progressed, and their issues were exposed. Now they will have two weeks between their last game and their bowl game. It’s the shortest possible break in bowl season, but will it be enough for this team to regroup, refresh, and get focused on this opponent? Or will the mistakes and issues that have haunted them the last two months stick with them? If Nevada doesn’t find a way to tighten up and prepare for this one fully then they will be in trouble — even while facing a defense as bad as Arizona’s.
2012 New Mexico Bowl Picks and Betting Predictions
Nevada just hasn’t faced a very strong schedule this year, and they have struggled against the best of it. Arizona, meanwhile, has played a pretty respectable slate of Pac-12 opponents. They haven’t all gone well, but they will gain from that experience. Rich Rodriguez also has more to gain from a big game here because he’s building his foundation for the future. I expect a big effort from Arizona, and a comfortable cover.
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