The New Mexico Bowl kicks off the glutton of 35 bowls in the over saturated and non-satisfying bowl season. Hey, it is football and we will all watch most of these games. I know this has been mentioned a bunch of times, but the New Mexico Bowl is cursed with the winning team of the New Mexico Bowl has never had a winning season since. Teams that have been struck by this curse include the following teams: San Jose State, New Mexico, Colorado State and Wyoming. So, if you want to see a team have future failures then root for that team, now if it is your own team I would advise to cheer at your own risk in fear of short term gratification for years of agony.
Most may not realize that UTEP and BYU used to be in the WAC; the two were league mates from 1967-1999 which was when the Mountain West was formed by eight of the 16 WAC schools. BYU dominated UTEP during their tenure during the WAC. Even though BYU fans are not pumped for this game University Stadium could be a record crowd. UTEP is a reasonable four hour drive to Albuquerque while BYU has a lot of fans around the United State and out West.
Both BYU and UTEP and both teams are going in completely different directions. UTEP started the season at 5-1 before falling off and limping to a 1-5 record and their loan win was a victory of C-USA West winner SMU. While on the other side of the field BYU is surging after starting the season 1-4 due to the coaches inability to make a decision at quarterback and started both Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps. It was not until a season ending injury to Riley Nelson that BYU went to the hyped true freshman Jake Heaps. With Heaps getting all of the first team reps BYU improved and the team also improved when defensive coordinator Jaime Hill was fired and head coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defensive play calls.
Since then BYU went 4-2 and nearly 5-1, but they lost to Utah by a blown fumble call that did not go BYU's way and then were blocked on the game winning field goal attempt. While BYU's offense is nothing spectacular they are just good enough to move the ball by throwing or running the ball. When freshman quarterback Jake Heaps gets in a groove he is a very good quarterback, so UTEP will need to knock him out of a rhythm to cause him to make some mistakes. Heaps will be making some history in being BYU's first ever true freshman quarterback to start a bowl game. There are no dominant receivers and the leading receiver is running back J.J. DiLuigi who has 42 receptions on the year and that is very rare for a BYU offense to have a running back leading the way. The running game for BYU consists of three solid backs with the lead back being J.J. Di Luigui has racked up 819 yards and seven touchdowns. The other two backs who are heavy contributors are Bryan Kariya who has 519 yards and five scores plus true freshman Josh Quezada who has 408 yards and four scores. This trio is capable of moving the ball on this UTEP defense which is about average.
UTEP has some offensive weapons that will be tough for BYU to cover. However, the injury bug hit UTEP which is the reason for their late season slide. The key player on the mend is iron man quarterback Trevor Vittatoe who has started every game since his freshman year, which equals 48 starts prior to this game. Nothing will keep him out of this game, and the fact that he has had the injury for the past few weeks and will start. Vittatoe has a quarterback rating of 121.6 and averages just over 200 yards passing per game and has a 1.9 touchdown to interception ratio.
However, Vittatoe has a very good wide receiver on his side in Kris Adams who is possibly the best athlete on the field come Saturday. He has 917 receiving yards on only 44 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He is a deep play threat and will be a tough player for the BYU secondary to guard.
Running back Donald Buckram has had a subpar year when comparing last year where he had three games of over 200 yards rushing. Last year he was the nation's fourth leading rusher, but this year he is second in rushing on his own team due to a bruised knee he suffered prior to the season. All assumed Buckram would be limited for a few weeks, but he has been hampered by this injury all year long. Buckram so far has 325 yards. However, he is expected to be the healthiest all year for this weekends game. The back who has stepped up to lead the team is Joe Banyard who rushed for a modest 612 yards. The running attack is not what UTEP hoped for but it has been at least serviceable.
The odds makers have BYU as a 13 point favorite, but that seems a bit generous to me. I think BYU will win but it will be about a touchdown game. The only way it will be a blowout is if Jake Heaps can find a grove and offensive coordinator Robert Anae keeps throwing the ball instead of inexplicably deciding to run the ball.