As former quarterbacks of the teams they now coach, New Mexico's Rocky Long and Nevada's Chris Ault have a personal commitment to creating perennial winners at their respective schools. That commitment is beginning to pay dividends.
New Mexico is going to its fifth bowl game in the last six years, and its tenth in history. The Lobos are making back-to-back appearances in a bowl game that just created last season and is played on their own home field. Despite having home field advantage, New Mexico lost 20-12 last year to San Jose State.
So, the next step for New Mexico is to actually win a postseason game. It last accomplished that feat in 1961 when the Lobos beat Western Michigan in the only Aviation Bowl ever played. Its biggest bowl win occurred in 1945 when it defeated Denver in the Sun Bowl.
Nevada is on a 3-season bowl streak and is headed to just its eighth bowl in history. The Wolf Pack won the 1947 Salad Bowl but didn't experience another bowl victory until the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl.
Nevada barely made it in to this postseason, knocking off Louisiana Tech in the final game of the season to become bowl eligible. The Lobos, meanwhile, improved from 6-6 last season (6-7 after the bowl loss) to 8-4 in 2007. New Mexico finished the regular season tied with Utah for 3rd place in the Mountain West, while Nevada finished fourth in the WAC behind Hawaii, Boise State and Fresno State.
New Mexico's strength is defense while Nevada brings the offense. The Lobos' Mountain West conference has five teams ranked in the top 26 for total defense, and New Mexico itself is ranked 23rd. Conversely, only two MWC teams are ranked in the top 40 on offense and those honors go to BYU and Air Force. New Mexico ranks 84th.
Nevada, meanwhile, plays in a conference where offense is king and the Wolf Pack are one of three teams to finish nationally-ranked in the top ten. Nevada is 2nd among WAC offensive units, trailing only Hawaii, and rank 7th nationally. The Wolf Pack is 71st nationally in total defense.
Nevada is led by two-way threat QB Colin Kaepernick who threw for 2,038 yards with 19 TD's and only 3 INT's. He also added 6 TD's and 567 yards on the ground as the teams' second-leading rusher.
Luke Lippincott led the Wolf Pack's ground forces with 1,380 yards and 15 scores. He added 26 catches for 295 yards and 3 more TD's. Marko Mitchell led all receivers with 1,033 yards and 8 touchdowns.
New Mexico's offense is paced by RB Rodney Ferguson who gained 1,177 yards and scored 13 TD's. Ferguson is junior who has racked up two-year totals of 2,411 rushing yards and 20 TD's while tacking on 555 receiving yards and 3 scores. But Ferguson has been ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game. Paul Baker, a junior who has 298 yards and no TD's on 87 carries, will be the primary back.
That will put more pressure on Lobo QB Donovan Porterie, a sophomore who saw extensive action last season playing in eight games. This year, he threw for 2,652 yards and 13 TD's but also had 8 passes picked off. However, Porterie had seven games where he did not throw a single interception, and only 3 games where he failed to toss a touchdown pass.