New Mexico Bowl: B.Y.U. vs. UTEP
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 16, 2010
It often not the end result that defines a season, but rather the journey. Case in point: both UTEP and B.Y.U. enter Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl sporting identical 6-6 records, but each .500 mark has a different tone — one team enters bowl play feeling good, another enters bowl play searching for answers. If nothing else, B.Y.U. and UTEP stand as evidence that not all records are created equal, that a 6-6 team can feel the confidence of a 10-win team and the despair of a team staying home during bowl play. And also: 6-6 in the Mountain West trumps 6-6 in Conference USA every day of the week, especially Saturday.
B.Y.U. (6-6, 5-3)
Regular season in review Bronco Mendenhall decided to take his lumps very early in September: once Riley Nelson went down to injury following a loss to Florida State, B.Y.U.’s sixth-year coach officially turned the keys over to true freshman Jake Heaps. Ready or not, the future is now. As expected, Heaps had his freshman struggles; in hindsight, asking him to put the ball up 99 times over his first two starts was a poor idea. While Heaps did lead B.Y.U. to an impressive win over San Diego State on Oct. 9, the team stood at 2-5, 1-3 in the Mountain West following a loss to T.C.U. the following Saturday. First-year struggles often lead to a brighter future, especially with burgeoning stars like Heaps. These better days typically come the next season, however, not the next month. After the 31-3 loss to T.C.U., Heaps and B.Y.U. would roll off four straight wins — none altogether impressive, to be fair — to clinch bowl eligibility in advance of the season finale against rival Utah. That game? Well, B.Y.U. wouldn’t win, doomed to a one-point loss thanks to four turnovers, but the Cougars sent a clear message both by hanging with the Utes and by winning five of seven to end the regular season: the future is now.
Regular season high point Three consecutive wins over U.N.L.V., Colorado State and New Mexico by the combined score of 144-24. The third, over the Lobos, gave the Cougars their sixth straight bowl berth under Mendenhall.
Regular season low point A 31-16 loss at Utah State on Oct. 1. It’s one thing to lose to T.C.U., Air Force, Florida State and Nevada, as B.Y.U. did over the first seven games of the season; it’s quite another to lose to the Aggies, winners of four games on the year. Those other three wins for Utah State? Idaho State, San Jose State and New Mexico State.
Regular season offensive M.V.P. Jake Heaps. As noted, he started slow — he made for lost time during B.Y.U.’s torrid finish. Over his last four games — a 3-1 stretch — Heaps completed 74 of his 120 attempts for 995 yards with 9 touchdowns and a single interception.
Regular season defensive M.V.P. Senior safety Andrew Rich, who paced B.Y.U. in tackles (106) and interceptions (3) en route to earning all-conference honors for the second consecutive season.
UTEP (6-6, 3-5)
Regular season in review Only in the world of conference bowl tie-ins would a team like UTEP, 6-6 in a very top-heavy conference, reach bowl play over a team like Temple, for example. Only in this world would an ice-cold UTEP team — losers of five of six to end the year — be allowed to continue its season. Of those six wins, only one was of consequence: a 28-14 win over S.M.U. on the first Saturday of November, one that snapped a three-game losing streak and clinched UTEP’s bowl eligibility. Well, the news isn’t all bad: at least UTEP has returned to bowl play under Mike Price, snapping a four-year absence that followed his surprisingly effective start. That’s the silver lining. One only wishes that UTEP could have built a finer season upon its 5-1 start, even if that solid first half was misleading — the best win of the set came against Rice, which should tell you something.
Regular season high point A 44-24 win over Rice on Oct. 9, UTEP’s fifth in six tries to start the season. The Miners would win only once the rest of the way.
Regular season low point Three straight losses: at U.A.B., home against Tulane — most damning of all — and at Marshall. It was during this losing streak that UTEP was revealed as merely average, if not worse.
Regular season offensive M.V.P. Kris Adams, who once again stood as UTEP’s only receiving option capable of producing on a weekly basis. He led the Miners with 44 receptions; no teammate had more than 26 catches. He paced the team with 917 receiving yards; next closest: 305. Adams also had 11 touchdown grabs, more than half of his team’s total. Most tellingly, despite being UTEP’s only meaningful option, Adams led the conference in averaging 20.8 yards per reception.
Regular season defensive M.V.P. Cornerback Trauvan Nixon, a JUCO transfer who provided a taste of big-play ability to the conference’s fourth-best passing defense. Nixon’s play — he made three interceptions — helped UTEP overcome the loss of all-conference safety Braxton Amy, who missed another season following a knee injury.
Know Your Sponsor
The State of New Mexico As one would think, the New Mexico Bowl is sponsored by the lovely Land of Enchantment. Among the bowl’s other sponsors — or “partners,” in bowl parlance: the Hard Rock Cafe in Albuquerque, El Pinto Restaurant and Casino, two local radio stations and the Albuquerque Journal, the state’s largest newspaper. A quick aside about New Mexico: a colleague of mine attended New Mexico State, and has noted several times in the past that his intake of a certain unprescribed medication was exponentially related to the goings-on — or lack thereof — in Las Cruces.
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