Former conference partners, first in the Border Conference from 1931-51 and then the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) from 1962-78, will get reacquainted when Arizona and New Mexico meet in Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium in Albuquerque.
The Wildcats, who are limping into this game after losing four out their last five games to fall to 6-6, will look to salvage their season by finishing off a Lobos team that’s looking to win a bowl game in their own back yard. Arizona has struggled mightily at times this season after winning 10 games in 2014, and saw Rich Rodriguez turn down South Carolina’s overtures to become their next head coach, depending on who you ask.
Arizona has been marred by injuries all season, most notably those suffered by linebacker Scooby Wright, quarterback Anu Solomon, and running back Nick Wilson. A preseason All-America pick, Wright played in just two games before getting hurt. The good news is that Solomon and Wright are expected to return for the bowl game; a much-needed boost for a team looking to end this season on a winning note while also building some momentum for 2016.
Arizona vs. New Mexico (Albuquerque)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Arizona -9
Three Things to Watch
1. New Mexico Running Game
The Lobos know how to run the football. In fact, they’re the ninth-best in the country at doing so, averaging just shy of 247 yards per game on the ground. Tailback Jhurell Pressley leads the team with 846 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Look for New Mexico to rely heavily on its ground game, though it could be the Lobos’ kryptonite, with Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats looking to keep New Mexico one-dimensional.
2. Anu Solomon
The Wildcats quarterback has been up and down after an impressive 2014 campaign, but some of his regression can be attributed to the injuries he has had to deal with. When Solomon is healthy, he runs Rodriguez’s spread offense extremely efficiently, especially as a passer. Solomon has 18 TD passes against just four interceptions on the season, the best TD-to-INT ratio in the Pac-12.
With Solomon healthy, the Wildcats have an strong upper hand against the Lobos, as their passing game has been inconsistent throughout the year.
3. Arizona on Third Down
One thing New Mexico struggles with, is getting opposing offenses off the field on third down. What’s even worse is that Solomon has been extremely efficient on third down. According to SBNation’s Bill Connelly, on third down and seven yards or more to go, Solomon is 25-of-37 for 408 yards and two touchdowns.
Look for the Wildcats to utilize Solomon’s success through the air on third down to keep crucial drives alive early and often.
Though the Lobos are playing at home, this game doesn’t fare well in their favor against the Wildcats. Although Arizona has struggled this season, it’s been more due to health issues than talent concerns. Arizona should handle its business with ease and get back on track with the focus shifting towards a more successful 2016 campaign.
Prediction: Arizona 48, New Mexico 23
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.