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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: New Mexico Bowl (Bowl #5)...By S.H. Austin

NEW MEXICO BOWL (Albuquerque)
12/23, 4:30 p.m. ET ESPN

New Mexico by 4 points, total of 48.5

San Jose State: 8-4
New Mexico: 6-6
Neither team was expected to be in a bowl this year. The Athlon preseason publication projected one clear win for San Jose State, eight losses, and three coin flips. New Mexico had three projected wins, eight losses, and one coin flip. San Jose was ranked 112th in the country, but ended up going 8-4! Great job by Dick Tomey, as he showed that coaches who wash out in major conferences can still have a great impact at the mid-major level. New Mexico gets to go to a bowl because the program arranged to host a bowl. They may not have gotten any invites otherwise.

San Jose State: 25-22 versus the 102nd ranked schedule
New Mexico: 23-24 versus the 88th ranked schedule
Very comparable results versus similar schedules. Remember that you have to factor in home field advantage here. You can see why the Vegas spread sits where it does when you adjust the scores for strength of schedule, then give New Mexico three points for home field. San Jose State had the better won-lost record. These stats say the teams were basically dead even.

San Jose State: 8-3 versus the spread
New Mexico: 7-3-1 versus the spread
There were a lot of nice value teams off the beaten path this year. You saw that with East Carolina and South Florida in the last game...and with BYU and Rice before that. The oddsmakers were slow to catch on to improvement in a variety of areas. San Jose went 1-2 ATS against WAC powers Boise State, Hawaii, and Nevada. So the team was 7-1 ATS when not playing WAC powers. They really showed up with a purpose when not overmatched. New Mexico was a slow starter, but covered each of its last five games.

San Jose State: +10.6, with a season turnover differential of +5
New Mexico: -49.9, with a season turnover differential of +6
This is a surprise for a bowl team. You almost never see one that's minus 50 in the per-game yardage average. That's why it helps to host your own bowl! Part of that big minus is due to a 653-418 yardage loss to mid-major power BYU. It has to be said though that San Jose was still positive despite a 568-192 yardage loss to Hawaii in a similar situation. San Jose had better stats, no way around that. They didn't turn that into much of a scoring advantage though, or that section where we looked at scoring and schedule strength would have popped something out.

San Jose State: 19-8, which speaks well of quarterback discipline
New Mexico: 17-9, a virtual match of what you see above

San Jose is trying to get tougher under Tomey. They focused on running the ball on offense, only throwing to mix things up or in desperation mode. The team passed less than 20 times in a game on five different occasions. They don't have the athletes yet to play physical defense, so they'll have some "wear down" games. That didn't happen against Boise State in a 23-20 loss at home. Total yardage was 341-248 for Boise, suggesting a tough, physical encounter. We've used the phrase "Rutgers model" a few times already this year. Maybe we'll just use that for shorthand for all of these teams who are trying to focus on the point of attack rather than play the bombs away style that used to be more prevalent in the mid-majors.

New Mexico is a slightly more wide open version of San Jose State. They only had one game with less than 20 passes, but five games at 27 or less. The defense had some strong outings when not overmatched by somebody like BYU, or chasing around a run-and-shoot team like New Mexico State. If you're a fan of smash mouth football, you have to love seeing all of these smaller programs embrace physicality. The shorter games allow for that because undersized guys don't wear down by mid October anymore.

San Jose State matched up well against this kind of team. If a coach specializes in a certain style, then you can assume that his team will often have an edge against other teams who are trying to play that style. Tomey can coach this kind of team in the right kind of game with good success.

New Mexico's season is split in an odd way. They were poor early on, so they did poorly vs. this kind of opponent. They got hot later, and played well versus this kind of opponent. The Lobos outgained a very physical TCU team 298-192 on this field in a 27-21 loss.

San Diego State and New Mexico State were common opponents. SDSU played an ugly slow game that fits into the style we're discussing today. New Mexico State plays like Hawaii with a few less receivers, a worse quarterback, and no lei's around their necks. Here's what happened:

VERSUS SDSU: San Jose State won 31-10, winning yardage 418-239 and turnovers 2-3. New Mexico won 41-14, losing yardage 431-301, but winning turnovers 0-4. (We're bigger on yardage than score, and we think this shows a big edge to San Jose State. If you've got to win turnovers 4-0 to win a blowout, you're the lesser team).

VERSUS NEW MEXICO STATE: San Jose State won 31-21 on the road, losing yardage 429-361 and tying turnovers 1-1. New Mexico won 34-28 on the road, losing yardage 532-426 but winning turnovers 0-5. The Rutgers model of team has to play rope-a-dope against the run-and-shoot style. The run-and-shoot style piles up yardage between the 20's, but not necessarily points. That's how both teams could win despite getting outgained. It would be great if New Mexico wasn't plus nine in the turnover category in these samples. That helps create a muddled picture. If you throw out turnovers, San Jose looks to be the better side.

San Jose State might be flat because they won their season finale against northern California rival Fresno State (revenge off a 45-7 loss the prior season), or because they have to play on somebody else's home field in their bowl.

New Mexico surely likes getting to host a bowl game. Hawaii has shown in recent years that it's not an automatic win (more on that when we get to the Hawaii Bowl).

Neither made it to a bowl

San Jose State hasn't been to a bowl since 1990, possibly boosting their motivation here. New Mexico is 0-3 straight up and ATS in bowls this century, losing their last two games by scores of 34-19 and 55-14 even though they were 3-point favorites and 2-point dogs respectively. That doesn't speak well for coach Rocky Long in terms of bowl preparation.

If you start with a bias towards underdogs because that's what bowl history says you're supposed to have...then you add in a clear yardage differential...and probable edges in terms of coaching preparation...then it's hard to see why you shouldn't take the points here. Yes, you're taking the road team. But, you're taking a road team that plays physical ball for a head coach that has a chip on his shoulder when he's watching "Mary Poppins."

New Mexico surely isn't going to roll over and play dead on their home field the way they did in their prior bowls. This all adds up to what is likely going to be a physical low scoring game that could go either way at the end. Only cheap points off of turnovers or special teams' points could turn this into a shootout, if the coaches enforce their typical styles on the game.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

50%: a tight 23-20 or 20-17 kind of game that goes either way straight up. 30%: what would have been a tight defensive game that blows up in favor of the home team because the road team makes turnovers. 10%: San Jose State catches the home team flat footed and wins surprisingly easily. 10%: San Jose State is so flat off the Fresno State win that they just don't show up.

That adds up to 60-40 in favor of the dog San Jose State.

For the total, we have that entire first hunk of 50% going Under. Let's say that 30% of the "weird stuff" goes Over. That's still 70-30 to the Under. We'd like the Under in the regular season to be sure. With the caution you need to have in bowls, we should maybe think of that as 60% Under. Be sure to check the forecast to see if New Mexico weather might help out the Under on game day.

If you throw out the games these teams played against major conference opponents, or against spread offense run-and-shoot style teams in mid-majors, you get:

San Jose's game totals: 24 vs. Cal Poly, 41 vs. SDSU, 35 vs. Utah State, 41 vs. Idaho, and 38 vs. Fresno State.

New Mexico's game totals: 23 vs. Portland State, 31 vs. Air Force, 24 vs. Wyoming, 72 vs. UNLV (!), 65 vs. Utah, 39 vs. Colorado State, 48 vs. TCU, and 55 vs. San Diego State.

That's about two-thirds Under today's total...with turnovers or special teams points having a big influence in the TCU and SDSU games. It just seems extremely likely that it's going to take cheap points to inspire a shootout with these coaches and these styles of play.

Good luck whichever way you end up going in this bowl. Feel free to share your thoughts below!

S.H. Austin

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