By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
No, it’s not part of the College Football Playoff. And no, it won’t be held on New Year’s Day.
What the New Mexico Bowl is, however, is big-time matchup — and a throwback of when bowl games were meant for teams that had outstanding seasons, and weren’t simply “bowl eligible.”
On Dec. 15 , the 13th-annual game will pit the Mountain West’s Utah State Aggies — who were 10-2 and came oh-so-close to making the league championship game — against Conference USA’s North Texas Mean Green, who were 9-3.
The game is on ESPN and will kickoff at noon Mountain Time at Dreamstyle Stadium, home of the New Mexico Lobos.
“I am really excited,” said Jeff Siembieda, the executive director of the New Mexico Bowl. “This says a lot about how much our game has grown. These teams both have great records.”
The combined 19-5 record is the best in N.M. Bowl history, and is one of the best of all 39 bowl games this season. According to N.M. Bowl officials, the combined record is, percentage wise, better than any bowl game outside of the New Year’s Six.
“I was confident we would have a really good matchup — but after doing this for 13 years, I know how fluid it can be. But this is the kind of matchup we’ve been honing in on for a little while.”
The records are so glossy for the annual game, held at Dreamstyle Stadium — home of the UNM Lobos — that the teams both have a better record than any of the previous 24 particiapns. A number of teams have come to the game with 8-4 marks, which was the previous best record.
“And the matchup makes sense,” Siembieda told Enchantment Sports. “We’ve got a really good game between two really good regional tams. We’ve had pretty good luck putting teams together for a good game over the years, and I think we’ve got one with a couple of fan bases that we hope will travel,”
The bowl has had luck with some outstanding games over the years, and now looks like 13 could really be a lucky number.
The Aggies tied with Boise State at 7-1 in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division, but lost the tiebreaker because of losing 23-14 at Boise State in the teams’ head-to-head meeting. That was the last game of the regular season. The loss snapped UItah State’s nine-game winning streak — which included a 61-19 blowout of the University of New Mexico.
USU is ranks third in the nation in scoring at 47.2 points a game, is 11th in total offense withg 493 yards a game and 20th in passing offense at 289 yards a game.
The Aggies were ranked as high as 14th in the Associated Press Top 25, holding that spot for two weeks in early November.
Utah State’s success, however, resulted in head coach Matt Wells leaving to take the head spot at Texas Tech last week. Wells is a former assistant coach at UNM.
Utah State is playing in its seventh bowl game in eight years. The Aggies’ last bowl win was in the 2014 New Mexico Bowl.
North Texas (5-3 in C-USA), is located in Denton, Texas, and is bowl-eligible for the third straight season. The Mean Green won six of their first seven games this season.The program’s last bowl victory came in 2014 against UNLV of the Mountain West’s in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“(Coach) Seth Littrell has grown a special program in his three-seasons in Denton,” Siembieda said. “The Mean Green are extremely talented, exciting, explosive and physical and are having a great year. I’m looking forward to having them and the great North Texas fans in Albuquerque.”
It is the 11th bowl game for the Mean Green, who are 3-7 in such games. In a touch of Irony, the North Texas men’s basketball team plays in the Pit on Dec 18 against the Lobos — just three days after the bowl game.
Tickets are on sale, and range from $25-to-$40. They can be purchased at the University of New Mexico ticket office, located in The Pit, online at www.unmtickets.com, or by calling 505-925-LOBO.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in New Mexico history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.