2010 New Mexico Bowl - BYU vs. UTEP

Posted Dec 17, 2010

2010-2011 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2010 New Mexico Bowl - BYU vs. UTEP

2010 New Mexico

(6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)

Saturday, December 18th, 2:00 ESPN  

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Pick ATS: BYU  Confidence Score: 57
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 19 out of 35
SCROLL DOWN to the bottom for all the CFNers' confidence picks

By Richard Cirminiello

UTEP is thrilled to be back in the postseason. Surprisingly, so is BYU.

In the middle of October, there was no doubt that the Cougars' streak of five straight bowl games was coming to an abrupt end. They were 2-5 and coming off a deflating, 31-3 loss to TCU. It was a full-blown rebuilding year for head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and there was no way around it. Or was there? The rebuilding continues, however, the losing has stopped. Aided by a softer schedule, BYU regrouped on the fly, winning four straight games to become bowl-eligible before blowing a fourth quarter lead to Utah in the annual Holy War. Even better, for the first time since 2004, the program won't be finishing the season in Las Vegas. While it has a great following around Sin City, Albuquerque will be a welcome change of scenery in December.

National Rankings
80th Total
33rd Total
84th Scoring
32nd Scoring
46th Rushing
61th Rushing
86th Passing
21st Passing
48th Turnover
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
3 QBs 4
3 RBs 3.5
2.5 WRs 3.5
4 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 2
3 LBs 2
4 DBs 2.5
3.5 STs 4
4 Coach 3.5
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon
For BYU, it has been a volatile year on and away from the field. It all began in August, when the school announced it was leaving the Mountain West and becoming an Independent. Then it named highly-regarded true freshman Jake Heaps as the starting quarterback, a decision that brought both excitement and uncertainty. Predictably, the Cougars got better right around the time that Heaps began to mature. Over the last five games of the regular season, he threw 10 touchdown passes and only two picks, lending hope that he might be the next prolific passer in Provo. The future face of the program, he'll benefit from the extra game and 15 practices that come with a 6-6 mark.

UTEP, too, is 6-6, though it took the opposite path as BYU to get here. The Miners jumped out to a 5-1 start, feasting on awful competition, before imploding down the stretch. They finished 1-5, falling to the likes of UAB, Tulane, and Marshall, who are not bowl bound. Injuries played a factor, as all-time leading passer Trevor Vittatoe and star RB Donald Buckram were hobbled with ankle injuries. The hope around El Paso is that a month off will be the remedy that both players have been after.

Backing in or not, UTEP is ecstatic just to be playing a bonus game for the first time since 2005. The program got off to a fast start in head coach Mike Price's first two seasons, bowling both years, but hasn't been back since. Stumbling to the finish line, such as this year, has been a recurring theme for Price's last five teams. This version is a senior-laden squad that would love nothing more than to go out on high note, becoming the first Miner team since 1967 to win a bowl game.

A couple of former WAC rivals on different trajectories are set to kick off the 2010 bowl season in Albuquerque. The victor gets some hardware and a winning season. The loser will have something to stew about until spring practice kicks off in a few months.

Players to Watch: While Heaps was searching for a rhythm and some consistency, BYU leaned heavily on RB J.J. D Luigi, who proved to be a valuable all-around weapon. The team's leading rusher and receiver, he's run for 817 yards and caught 42 passes. While he'll be the focal point, the Cougars will also give touches to Bryan Kariya and rookie Jordan Quezada, two bigger options to soften a poor UTEP run defense. Whoever gets the ball will be running behind mammoth LT Matt Reynolds, who's good enough to leave early for the NFL Draft.

Unless Buckram is suddenly ready to recapture his 2009 form, UTEP is likely to spend more time trying to navigate the Cougar secondary. When his ankle isn't barking, Vittatoe is one of the school's best quarterbacks ever, showing an accurate arm, poise in the pocket, and a thorough grasp of the system. He has access to an athletic group of receivers that's led by Kris Adams. A big-play guy, who can get behind the secondary, he has 25 career touchdown passes and averages more than 20 yards a reception. He'll be squaring off with a BYU pass defense that's improved since the TCU loss, allowing five touchdown passes and picking off nine balls in the last five games.

The leader of the improving BYU secondary is former JUCO transfer Andrew Rich, a first team All-Mountain West safety with a future in the NFL. Built like a linebacker at 6-3 and 223 pounds, he's helped solidify a soft middle of the Cougar D, making 106 tackles and intercepting three balls. Both he and fellow all-star Vic So'oto, a nuisance at defensive end, will need to provide support for the team's undersized corners. If Rich can help in coverage and So'oto can pressure the pocket, it could be a long afternoon for Vittatoe, whose mobility will already a question mark.

If UTEP is going to slow down the BYU running game, it'll need big efforts out the defensive backs. The Cougars have been conservative on offense this season, which should allow the Miners to creep up the safeties and corners closer to the line of scrimmage. The defense prides itself on developing quality athletes on the last line of defense, who can fly all over the field to make plays. It'll be incumbent upon Travaun Nixon, Antwon Blake, Wiston Jeune, and DeShawn Grayson to take on bigger blockers and make contact before the backs can get to the next level of the D.

BYU will win if ... : it successfully moves the ball on the ground.

When the Cougars got the running game cranking this fall, they were tough to beat. In fact, they were 5-1 when they rushed for at least 200 yards, which will be the goal on Saturday. They'll leverage their massive edge at the point of attack , grinding it out behind Reynolds, C Terence Brown, and G Jason Speredon, who are all well over 300 pounds. UTEP simply doesn't have the bodies or the talent up front to get penetration on this group. If BYU starts to roll with Di Luigi, Kariya, and Quezada, it'll serve multiple purposes. It'll wear down an already suspect Miner D, keep the ball out of Vittatoe's hands, and set up Heaps on play-action. The freshman was at his best when he was able to make the defense bite, hooking up with veteran receivers Luke Ashworth and McKay Jacobson.

UTEP will win if ... : Vittatoe brings his "A" game.

Buckram is a potential wild card, but in order to deliver the upset, UTEP will need its senior quarterback to play like its all-time leading passer. He's more than just a hurler. He's a by-example leader and the kind of player who's capable of putting the team on his back and carrying it to new heights. When the Miners were rolling in September and early October, he was lighting up defenses, opening the season with 14 touchdown passes and just a pair of interceptions. It's no surprise that as he started to tail off, so did the rest of the program. He has to maximize the big-play ability of Adams, while also getting Marlon McClure and Evan Davis more involved. BYU isn't exactly equipped for a track meet, which is the kind of game UTEP can win, provided Vittatoe does his part through the air.

What will happen: The Cougar players have been here before. The Miners have not, and it'll show. Even with the loss to Utah at the end of the regular season, BYU is a team that's playing with confidence and a little bit of swagger. UTEP, on the other hand, is more of a product of a bloated bowl system. It's a marginal squad that's going to struggle, particularly with that super-sized Cougar offensive line. With holes for the backs and time for Heaps, BYU will control the tempo of the game on offense, eventually wearing down the Miners. The defense, while somewhat short on stars, has played well, holding six of the last seven opponents below their current season scoring average. It'll build a cushion, ride the running game, and never get seriously challenged in the second half.

CFN Prediction: BYU 33 … UTEP 17 ... Line: BYU -11.5
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Pick ATS: BYU  Confidence Score: 57
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 19 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - UTEP   Pick Confidence - 21
- Traditionally a dog of a bowl, the New Mexico Bowl gets a UTEP team that lost five of its last six games, has no offensive consistency, and little defensive line. BYU isn't the BYU of the past, but it managed to rally from an awful start to win four of its last five games to get here.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - BYU  Pick Confidence - 30
- After starting 2-5, BYU did well just to get to this point. The game and the extra 15 practices will be especially valuable to Cougar true freshman QB Jake Heaps, one of the cornerstones of the future in Provo.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - BYU   Pick Confidence - 35
- The Temple Owls want the bowl slot UTEP occupies. Meanwhile, this continual theme of the old Western Athletic Conference being re-created by teams in new conferences remains intact. BYU's final game as a Mountain West school comes against an old WAC foe from El Paso. Fascinating.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - BYU  Pick Confidence - 28
- This is the type of  bowl that makes those who whine about there being too many bowls more whiny.

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - UTEP  Pick Confidence - 1
- BYU has had a disappointing season, but fought hard in the Holy War loss to Utah. UTEP features senior quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, who faces a tough task going up against the Cougars' pass defense, which is ranked 21st in the country.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - BYU  Pick Confidence - 14
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - BYU  Pick Confidence - 8
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - UTEP   Pick Confidence - 20
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - BYU Pick Confidence - 9
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - UTEP   Pick Confidence -  25

New Mexico Bowl History
2009 Wyoming 35, Fresno State 28 2OT
2008 Col St 40, Fresno St 35
2007 New Mexico 23, Nevada 0
2006 SJSU 20, New Mexico 12