Arizona Wildcats vs. New Mexico Lobos, Saturday Dec. 19, 2 p.m. ET
The first bowl of the year is never going to be the best bowl of the year. We could certainly see a worse game than this one to start things off, though. It's far from a perfect game, but there is enough for us to sink our teeth into to at least make things a little interesting. It could have been a different story, too, if Rich Rodriguez had done as expected and taken another job. He was reportedly offered the gig at South Carolina but wisely realized he has a good thing going at Arizona and was smart not to move on - especially not to a second tier SEC program. That's one less distraction for the team to deal with - or one less excuse to use, depending on how the game turns out.
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New Mexico Bowl Betting Storylines
Injuries have been an ongoing and confounding story for Arizona all year. They have been hit very hard, and that is the biggest contributing factor to their underwhelming 6-6 record. Perhaps the biggest issue has been QB Anu Solomon. He was spectacular as a freshman last year, but he was hit very hard against UCLA and has struggled with concussion issues. He hasn't been the same player since, and he was out for the last game of the season. At this point it seems like he will be back, but his status will be important to watch - and is a real cause for concern for bettors. Another key piece - and a clearer picture at this point - is linebacker Scooby Wright III. He was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last year, but injuries cost him 10 games this year. He is back practicing at full strength, and barring a setback will be ready for this game - and likely hungry for a big performance. Running back Nick Wilson is yet another star who has been hit hard. He missed three of the last six games and was all but irrelevant in the other three. The team runs well, but a healthy Wilson would really help on that front. I could go on, but the point is clear - the injury report is a bettor's best friend heading into this game.
New Mexico can't just rely on their home-field advantage to win here. The Wildcats are going to be able to score because the Lobos are a mess on defense. The Lobos will have to try to keep up if they want to have a chance. Their passing game is all kinds of awful, so it is going to come down to their running game - Top 10 nationally - to keep them in this one. It's reasonable to think New Mexico could have a good day running. Arizona is not good defensively and only slightly better against the run than in other areas. The pressure for the Lobos could rest on the shoulders of Jhurrell Pressley. The team's leading rusher is coming off his best game of the season, and he could expect to be the workhorse of the unit in this one.
You can decide for yourself how important and relevant common opponents are when it comes to handicapping. The fact is, though, that the teams had two common opponents, and the results tell a bit of an interesting story. They both played at Arizona State, and it didn't go well for either of them - New Mexico lost by 24, and Arizona by 15. The difference was in offensive success in the losing effort - Arizona scored 37 while New Mexico managed just 10 points. Both teams also made a trip to Nevada, and the divide between the results was much wider. In Week 2 Arizona crushed the Wolf Pack by a 44-20 score. Later, New Mexico lost 35-17. Arizona was favored by 9.5 in their contest, while New Mexico was a four-point underdog. It's too simple to draw direct conclusions from these results, but you can't completely ignore what they tell us, either.
New Mexico Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Arizona favored by 12 points. That has since fallen, with the Wildcats now giving just 9.5. The betting action is mostly split between the two teams, so that would suggest that sharp money was on New Mexico early on. The total, not surprisingly, opened reasonably high at 64.
Arizona has gone "over" the total in their last four nonconference games and in seven of their last eight against teams with winning records. The Lobos are 1-5 ATS in their last six games following a straight up win.
Arizona vs. New Mexico New Mexico Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I lean towards Arizona in this one. Despite their injuries, they are the more talented team, and if this one becomes a shootout - which it could - then they have the edge. The real value, though, lies in taking the over. Neither of these teams is even slightly competent on defense, and both have things that they do really well on offense. This one could get out of hand. The one concern on this front is that New Mexico mostly relies on the run, and that could slow things down. That/s not enough of a concern to change the play, though - the over is the way to go.
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