Bowl games: There are a lot of them. As a public service, the Doc is here to rank each game according to six crucial criteria, with help from the patron saint of the game in question. Today: The New Mexico Bowl!
Who: BYU Cougars (6-6) vs. UTEP Miners (6-6).
When: Dec. 18 (Saturday), 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Patron Saint: Fictional Albuquerque chemistry teacher turned cancer survivor and large-scale methamphetamine manufacturer Walter White, also known as "Heisenberg."
• Locale. The University of New Mexico's aptly-named University Stadium opened in 1960 with a UNM rout of the National University of Mexico (as is nature's way, the new must triumph o'er the old) and seats a little over 38,600. Outsiders probably like to think of it as an Enchantingly dusty field replete with Enchanting tumbleweeds and the occasional Enchanting outbreak of typhoid or something, but in fact University has hosted international soccer matches, concerts by the Rolling Stones and Metallica and, in1979-80, a I-AA bowl game known as the "Zia Bowl," named for the nearby Zia Pueblo north of the city.
• Tradition. The first two New Mexico bowls held true to the event's founding vision of shameless regional patronage, featuring the homestanding Lobos against WAC foes San Jose State and Nevada, respectively, in 2006 and 2007. With UNM falling on harder times in 2008, the game branched out to invite Mountain West rivals Colorado State and Wyoming, respectively, each of which left with an upset win over Fresno State. With two 6-6 outfits squaring off to avoid a losing season again this year, only three of the ten teams to appear in the game (San Jose State in 2006, Fresno State in 2008-09) have entered with a winning record.
• Sponsors, trophies and other ambiance. The trophy – as opposed to some piece of random, postmodern gobbledygook – is a piece of genuine Zia pottery, crafted by a husband-and-wife artist team from their home in the Zia Pueblo. (Another Zia artist crafts traditional leather shields for the most outstanding offensive and defensive players.) True, few traditional tribal pieces feature a crude football player or a corporate logo amid deers, eagles and other native icons, but at least it's not just another pedestal with a football on top of it.
• This year's match-up. The Cougars and Miners arrived at 6-6 from opposite directions: BYU salvaged a disastrous 2-5 start with a four-game conference winning streak down the stretch, while UTEP was busy losing five of its last six to offset a 5-1 run out of the gate. But their routes to mediocrity do have one thing in common: They were forged on the backs of some awful, awful opposition.
Of the dozen wins between both teams, only three (BYU's narrow escapes against Washington and San Diego State; UTEP's win over SMU) came against fellow bowl teams. The other nine came against lame-duck outfits that finished 4-8 or worse, including all four victims of the Cougars' season-saving streak, who combined to win nine games all season – six of them against one another.
• Star power. The brightest spot of BYU's second-half turnaround was the emergence of hyped true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, who couldn't have looked less like the No. 1 QB prospect in his class during the 2-5 start. Seven games in, he'd thrown a single touchdown to six interceptions, and the Cougars were averaging barely 14 points per game. Once the schedule hit the MWC bottom dwellers, though, Heaps caught fire with 10 touchdowns to just two picks over the last five, setting himself up as one of the top up-and-coming passers in the country with another solid effort to take into the offseason.
Final rating: out of five.
Well, it exists, it has one of the coolest trophies in sports and there may or may not be an elderly man wielding a pickaxe. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.