Friday, December 17, 2010
New Mexico Bowl: BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
By Andrea Adelson
BYU and UTEP are former WAC rivals who are meeting for the first time since 1998. But you could say both teams probably have different feelings about being here. The Cougars struggled to a 6-6 record after four straight seasons of 10 or more wins. UTEP is in its first bowl game since losing to Toledo in the GMAC Bowl in 2005. One interesting side note: UTEP coach Mike Price recruited BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall out of Snow College in the 1980s. Price coached his brother, Marty, but was unable to land Bronco, who went to Oregon State instead.
WHO TO WATCH: BYU RB J.J. DiLuigi. Thanks to struggles in the passing game, BYU is more of a power rushing team than it has been in a very long time. The reason the Cougars were able to switch gears is because of DiLuigi, who has 819 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this season. He also emerged as a threat in the passing game, leading the team with 422 yards receiving and a touchdown. UTEP will try to key in on him to put the game on the shoulders of freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, but the Miners have had problems slowing down the run all season.
WHAT TO WATCH: The health of UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe. Even though he owns just about every major career record in school history, Vittatoe has been a vastly different quarterback this season because he has struggled through various injuries. His ankle has been the biggest problem, and will require offseason surgery. But Vittatoe will keep his starting streak alive against BYU even though he is nowhere near 100 percent. Still, a gimpy Vittatoe gives UTEP a chance to win. Just how badly his ankle affects his mobility and ability to set his feet will be crucial.
WHY TO WATCH: BYU is going independent next season, so this is your first chance to catch a glimpse of the Cougars on ESPN, their future network home. Heaps looks like the quarterback of the future. BYU also has a potential first-round NFL draft pick on the offensive line in left tackle Matt Reynolds, who must decide whether to leave school early to enter the draft or return for his senior season. Reynolds has said he will mull that decision after the bowl game.
PREDICTION: BYU 30, UTEP 13. The Cougars are better defensively, and enter on a bit of a hot streak, having won four of their final five games. They nearly upset Utah in the season finale. UTEP has lost five of its last six, and a hobbled Vittatoe is going to hurt the Miners. Another fun fact to remember: UTEP has not won a bowl game since 1967.