Sunday, December 5, 2010
New Mexico bowl
By Andrea Adelson
BYU Cougars (6-6) vs. UTEP Miners (6-6)
Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
This is an intriguing matchup between former WAC rivals to kick off bowl season. While this season has been largely disappointing for the Cougars, UTEP is making its first bowl appearance since 2005. The game, which generally pits Mountain West vs. WAC, was able to work out a switch with several other conferences and games to get a more regional matchup -- El Paso, is about a four-hour drive from Albuquerque. BYU ran its bowl streak to six straight despite a 1-4 start, and nearly pulled off a major upset in its regular-season finale against Utah. The Cougars finished 6-6, their worst season since also going 6-6 in 2005, their first under coach Bronco Mendenhall. The big reason was a moribund offense, something that you rarely hear about in Provo. The Cougars started the season with two quarterbacks, but after Riley Nelson was sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury, true freshman Jake Heaps took over. He has made significant strides, and JJ Di Luigi has helped at running back. But there still is no true go-to playmaker on offense.
Mendenhall has taken over as defensive coordinator, and the unit has shown vast improvements. As for UTEP, the Miners are bowl eligible because they were able to beat up the bad teams on their schedule.
The Miners closed the season with five losses in their last six games, but they have been beaten up all season. Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe has been hampered with ankle injuries. Running back Donald Buckram, who ran for 1,594 yards last season, also struggled with a knee injury and only had 325 yards this season.