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New Mexico Bowl preview: Arizona vs. Nevada

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)


New Mexico Bowl
Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
Dec. 15, 2013, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Wildcats: First-year coach Rich Rodriguez took Arizona back to a bowl game after a year hiatus, but this wasn't the type of season the Wildcats anticipated. After winning their first three games and climbing to as high as No. 22 in the national polls, Arizona went on to lose their first three Pac-12 games. Quarterback Matt Scott, who was going to help engineer a pass-happy Rodriguez offense, spent time on the sidelines with injuries and the Wildcats were never really able to find a consistent offensive rhythm. The best thing they had going for them was running back Ka'Deem Carey, a consensus All-American, who averaged 146.4 yards per game and had 20 touchdowns. A win in this game would give Arizona just its third eight-win season in the past 14 years.

About the Wolf Pack: Like Arizona, Nevada's offensive success hinges on it running game. Stefphon Jefferson averaged 141.9 yards per game, which is second nationally only to Carey. Jefferson owns the single-season school record with 22 rushing touchdowns and is 30 yards away from breaking Chance Kretschmer's record for single-season yardage (1,732). But Arizona also has to be weary of quarterback Cody Fajardo, who leads the Wolf Pack's pistol offense and already has 981 rushing yards. He doesn't have the cannon arm of former quarterback Collin Kaepernick, but he's a true dual-threat and will pose a lot of problems for an Arizona defense that hasn't handled dual-threat quarterbacks well this season.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Key number: 4
That's how many interceptions Nevada has this season, which is fourth-fewest in the country. That's not a great number when you're going up against a team with a quarterback like Scott. Scott has 3,238 passing yards and 24 touchdowns, but he also threw 12 interceptions, including eight in three of the Wildcats' losses. The key to beating Arizona is forcing Scott into mistakes.

Breakdown: If you a fan of rushing, this game should fit the bill. As noted above, both of these teams have fantastic running games and aren't shy about using them. Carey is the best running back in the country a lot of people didn't talk about. He's strong, downfield runner that can carry the pile with him. But don't sleep on these quarterbacks. Both have the ability to light it up and go to the air if the box gets a little crowded. No matter what the offense, this game should be exciting.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Arizona 35, Nevada 21
Arizona is a tough team to figure out (following a 39-36 win over USC with a 66-10 loss to UCLA?) but it was tested in the Pac-12 and is just a bit stronger than Nevada, which lost four of five to end the season and didn't beat a bowl eligible team all year.

Graham Watson: Nevada 34, Arizona 27
Calling the upset here. This pistol is a tough offense for which to prepare and since Arizona hasn't really seen anything like it this season, it's going to struggle. Both of these teams have terrible defenses, so expect this to be a fun and high-scoring game.

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