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2007 New Mexico Bowl - Nevada vs. New Mexico
New Mexico WR Marcus Smith
New Mexico WR Marcus Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Dec 14, 2007


2007 New Mexico Bowl Preview - Nevada vs. New Mexico

Nevada (6-6) vs. New Mexico (8-4)

Dec. 22, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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Alright New Mexico, let's try this again.

USC might get to play in L.A. and LSU gets to battle Ohio State in New Orleans, but when it comes to home field advantages in the bowl games, no one will get a bigger boost than New Mexico playing in the New Mexico Bowl for a second year in a roll. It didn't matter much last year as San Jose State stuffed the Lobos with a great defensive performance, and while UNM wasn't supposed to be able to play here two years in a row, a quirk of the bowl lineup allowed it to happen. It's a bigger deal than you might think.

National Rankings
Nevada New Mexico
Total Offense
7th  488.92 ypg 84th  131.08 ypg
Total Defense
71st  403.92 ypg 23rd  329.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
18th  36.25 ppg 78th  24.83 ppg
Scoring Defense
97th  32.92 ppg 25th  20.58 ppg
Run Offense
11th  225.83 ypg 84th  131.08 ypg
Run Defense
79th  172.58 ypg 31st  126.67 ypg
Pass Offense
35th  263.08 ypg 57th  226.33 ypg
Pass Defense
67th  231.33 ypg 22nd  202.42 ypg
Turnover Margin
83rd  -0.33 47th  0.08
Nevada
at Nebraska L 52-10
at Nwestern L 36-31
Nicholls St W 52-17
UNLV W 27-20
Fresno State L 49-41
at Boise St L 69-67 4OT
at Utah St W 31-28
Idaho W 37-21
at NMSU W 40-38
Hawaii L 28-26
at SJSU L 27-24
La Tech W 49-10
New Mexico
at UTEP
L 10-6
NMSU W 44-34
at Arizona W 29-27
Sac. St W 58-9
BYU L 31-24
at Wyoming W 20-3
at SDSU W 20-13
Air Force W 34-31
at TCU L 37-0
Colo. St W 26-23
at Utah L 28-10
UNLV W 24-6
Position Ratings
relative to each other
N 5 highest
1 lowest
NM
3.5 Quarterbacks 3.5
4 RBs 4
4 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 3.5
3.5 Linebackers 3.5
2.5 Secondary 3.5
3.5 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 3.5

The Lobos have a nice 8-4 season going 5-1 in Albuquerque, with the lone loss coming to Mountain West champ BYU, while Nevada lost four of its six games away from Reno. So that should be enough for the Wolf Pack to just enjoy the scenery and not worry about actually winning the game, right? Not quite.

The explosive Pack offense has the weapons and the talent to hang 500 yards and 40 points on just about anyone, but the New Mexico defense has bee solid all season long while the offense has shown flashes of explosion. It should be an entertaining game led by several good young playmakers, but it'll all come down to whether or not Nevada can play a little bit of defense.

Playing in the WAC, Nevada saw its share of shootouts, but it always seemed to come out on the wrong side highlighted by a 69-67 four-overtime thriller of a loss to Boise State, which set a record for points and yards in game. There was a 49-41 loss to Fresno State and a 28-26 battle with Hawaii to go along with a 36-31 loss at Northwestern and a 40-38 win over New Mexico State. This is a team used to going up and down the field, and it's also used to close games with eight decided by eight points or fewer.

Unlike Nevada, New Mexico managed to be on the right side in most of its tight battles going 4-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer. Call it a sign of maturity that the team was able to beat San Diego State, Air Force and Colorado State all by three points each over the second half of the season as the Lobos won five of their last seven games. They come into the game hot, while the Wolf Pack is just looking to put a nice cap on an inconsistent season.

Few teams can lose their starting quarterback and get better, but that's what happened after Nick Graziano was knocked out for the year with a foot injury. 6-6, 215-pound redshirt freshman Colin Kaepernick stepped in and turned into one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterback with 567 rushing yards and six touchdowns to go along with 19 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. While he has the talent, he has to improve on his overall accuracy and has to shine in a big-stage audition for what'll be a quarterback battle going into next year.

For New Mexico, a second-straight home bowl loss would be a devastating blow to a program that can't shake the tag of being one of the biggest bowl losers over the last several years. 0-5 in their last five bowls going back to 1997, the Lobos haven't won a bowl game since 1961. On the flip-side, no one has a more thrilling bowl history than Nevada, who has gone 3-3 with three of the games decided by one point, two decided by three, and two of the games decided in overtime. The biggest margin of victory in a Nevada post-season game came in a 13-6 win over North Texas in the 1948 Salad Bowl.

It's mid-level team and mid-level conference bragging rights time. This will mean a lot for both leagues, and for two teams about to undergo a bit of an overhaul, this will be a big moment for several young players to step up and shine going into the offseason.

Players to watch: New Mexico has the Mountain West's best set of skill players led by junior RB Rodney Ferguson and the tremendous senior wideout tandem of Marcus Smith and Travis Brown. However, Ferguson will likely be out meaning more will have to come from the passing game. Smith, a former running back, led the league with 86 catches for 1,039 yards and three touchdowns. Speed wasn't an issue after making the full-time switch to receiver last year, but consistency was. With the improvements from QB Donovan Porterie, Smith has become a more reliable target with at least five catches in every game but one and three 100-yard receiving days. Brown, who finished third in the league with 69 catches for 911 yards and five scores, was one of the nation's most productive receivers over the first half of the year with five 100-yard days in the first seven before Smith became an even bigger part of the attack. Brown has the ability to strike from anywhere on the field and should feast on a Nevada secondary that'll key on Smith first.

Ferguson was one of the lone bright spots in last year's 20-12 New Mexico Bowl loss to San Jose State with 102 rushing yards, and he's been a do-it-all workhorse for the attack this year with 1,177 yards and 13 touchdowns while finishing third in receiving with 18 catches for 264 yards and a score. While not necessarily a gamebreaker, he's great at being able to wear down defenses while providing a pop from start to finish.

While Kaepernick might be the star of Nevada's show, the offense actually revolves around junior RB Luke Lippencott, the best back in the WAC this season with 1,380 yards and 1The former safety has great power and quickness for a 215-pound back, and he has a nose for the end zone with five touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Louisiana Tech and four in the shootout against Boise State. With the Lobo defense needing to watch out for Kaepernick coming out of the backfield, Lippencott should be able to run up the middle all day long.

Nevada will win if... Kaepernick gets running early. Statistically this is a strong New Mexico run defense, but that's mostly because the Mountain West is merely average at pounding the ball. San Diego State, with running quarterback Kevin O'Connell, and Air Force, even though Shaun Carney only ran six times, were able to have some success on the ground, while TCU and Colorado State were able to pound away. Nevada will want to keep its mistakes to an absolute minimum and will get Kaepernick into the open on the outside as much as possible. The more the Pack can run the ball, and the less Kaepernick has to force throws on third downs, the better.

New Mexico will win if... Nevada LB Ezra Butler doesn't have a huge game. Butler will wow the NFL scouts at the combine and has WAC Defensive Player of the Year skills, but he had a slightly disappointing season as he wasn't nearly the pass rusher he was in 2006 and didn't do enough against the run until late in the year. It'll be up to him to make play after play as the mammoth Lobo offensive front, averaging 312 yards per man among the starters, should be able to shove around the front three of the Wolf Pack 3-4 all game long. If Butler isn't coming up with at least ten tackles and doesn't keep Ferguson under wraps, the Lobos will likely be dominating the time of possession and the tempo of the game.

What will happen: Nevada has the talent and the playmakers to get into a shootout, which it'll prefer, but it'll likely have to fight it out in a grind-it-out war with the UNM offensive line looking to establish its dominance early. The Lobos will have to throw and throw some more with Ferguson out attending to a "personal matter," and Smith and Brown will take advantage of single coverage as the game goes on. Can Porterie avoid making the big mistake? Probably not, but the overall matchup, and the home field advantage, favors New Mexico. Even though you never go against a streak, and New Mexico head coach Rocky Long has yet to prove himself in a really big game, the Lobos will come away with a tough win in a game that'll get better as it goes along.

Line: New Mexico -3 ... CFN Prediction:
New Mexico 34 ... Nevada 30

2007 New Mexico Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More