Gildan New Mexico Bowl 2016 Preview
The 2016 Gildan New Mexico Bowl features two teams that you might not know very well. And that’s O.K. for these two teams. Both New Mexico and UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio) are programs that are setting the foundation for future success. It’s a story with different pasts, but similar futures.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
When: Saturday, December 17th, 2:00 p.m. EST
Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Past as Prologue?
Both New Mexico and UTSA seem to be on an upward trajectory for their programs. While New Mexico’s history in college football’s top tier is over 100 years old, the path to relevance has taken place over the last 20 years. It started with Dennis Franchione in the mid-1990s and has continued to Bob Davie’s tenure today. Both Franchione and Davie have experience at the highest levels of college football — Franchione as head coach at Alabama and Davie as head coach at Notre Dame. New Mexico has also put several big name players into the NFL. The list includes Hank Baskett, Byron Bell, Stoney Case, Glover Quinn, and Brian Urlacher. Over the last two decades, New Mexico has eight bowl appearances. They’ve done this in the relative obscurity of the Mountain West Conference and in the shadow of Boise State.
UTSA’s path to relevance stands in stark contrast to New Mexico’s path. The Roadrunners are in only their sixth season in college football’s top classification. And no program has ever reached a bowl game faster than six seasons.
— UTSA Football (@UTSAFTBL) December 11, 2016
UTSA used a similar formula by hiring head coach Frank Wilson to lead their program. Wilson is a proven recruiter and was previously a very successful running backs coach at LSU. Wilson’s task is a bit different, however. He’ll have to combat several in-state schools for Texas’ talent, including Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, and Baylor. But with UTSA in Conference USA, his recruiting base will be larger, including hotbeds Florida, Louisiana, middle Tennessee, and Virginia.
While the pasts are different, the future looks similar for both programs. New Mexico stumbled to start the season, with losses to New Mexico State and Rutgers. But the Lobos finished very strong winning six of their last seven including against Wyoming and Air Force. The Lobos finished tied for first place in their division; one that includes perennial Group of Five (G5) power Boise State. With a proven coach in Davie, a second consecutive bowl appearance, and apparent vulnerability in traditional MWC-Mountain powers Boise State and Air Force, it’s easy to see the opportunity ahead for New Mexico.
The opportunity is there for UTSA as well. Situation nicely in central Texas, the Roadrunners are within a few hours drive of high school football hotbeds Dallas, Houston, and Austin not to mention their hometown of San Antonio. In a conference where coaches come and go and teams live on a razor’s edge of margin of error, you can also see the opportunity that lies ahead for the Roadrunners.
But the college football world is a Hobbsian environment and you must earn your way forward on the field.
New Mexico enters the game with an incredibly effective rushing attack. The Lobos are averaging a ridiculous 360.9 yards rushing per game. That leads the nation by more than 33 yards over the second top rushing team in the nation. The triple-option based service academy teams are the only other teams that average over 300 rushing yards per game. The Lobos will rely heavily on dual 1,000 yard rushers Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Owens to carry the day.
As effective as the rushing attack is, the defense still has room for improvement. The Lobos give up over 300 yards per game, but their scoring defense statistics are a little better. New Mexico only yields an average of 21 points to opponents.
UTSA can’t match the offensive output, but they are a more balanced attack. Consistency is the main issue with the Roadrunners offense this season. In a five week stretch early in the season UTSA only manages 14 points against Colorado State, then takes Arizona State to the wire, scores 19 against Old Dominion, then puts up 55 against Southern Miss, and follows that up with 14 points against Rice. That’s about as inconsistent as a team could be over a five week period.
For the Roadrunners to win, they’ll have to find an offensive rhythm early in the game and maintain that consistency for sixty minutes. Quarterback Dalton Sturm must use his athleticism to keep drives alive and capitalize on red zone opportunities.
That’s because UTSA’s defense will struggle to stop the New Mexico rushing attack. The Roadrunners are giving up almost 200 rushing yards per game in a pass-dominated conference.
And, of course, don’t discount the fact that the bowl game is played in New Mexico’s home stadium.
Rushing attacks traditionally do well in post season contests. New Mexico’s rushing attack, coupled with its home field advantage, should make this a Lobos victory. If UTSA can stack the box and play assignment defense to stop the Lobos’ rushing attack and capitalize on red zone opportunities on offense, they’ll have a chance at the upset. In the end, New Mexico finds its ninth victory of the season.
New Mexico 42, UTSA 31