The New Mexico/Arizona Bowl will take place on December 18 at 5:00 p.m. ET and will be telecasted on ESPN. Since these are college football bowl games, you might expect me to talk about the teams and what to expect this year. However, I am more interested in picking the games this year’s matchups. While I know it is early in the offseason, I believe there are a few teams that won’t disappoint and several that could shock the world.
New Mexico Lobos
Going into the season, many people had doubts about the New Mexico Lobos. Following their disappointing 8-4 season from a year ago and their 3-9 record in the previous two seasons, many believed that the team would struggle to put together a winning record. The Lobos defied those people and went 10-2 during the regular season, winning their final six games to finish the season ranked 13th in the nation. Since then, they have received an invitation to the Military Bowl where they will take on Army on December 28 at 5:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN. The team’s star quarterback, Chandler Hannon, will lead the way for the Lobos and can connect with wide receivers Omari Blanchard and Chris Godwin. Hannon threw for 3,348 yards and 29 touchdowns with just six interceptions this past season. His ability to take care of the ball and make quick decisions allows him to operate within the pocket and keep plays alive. With running back Keith Marshall finishing third in the nation in scoring and wideouts Blanchard and Godwin combining for 89 catches and 14 touchdowns, the Lobos offense is not one to be ignored.
The Arizona Cardinals went 8-8 last season and finished dead last in their division. They were also one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL, especially since they were expected to compete for a playoff spot. Despite the team’s struggles, they have a lot to look forward to in 2015. First of all, they have a new head coach in Steve Wilks, who replaced the now-retired Bruce Arians. Wilks is considered one of the top young coaches in the NFL and has a lot of talent to work with in Arizona. The team also added several veteran players through free agency, including wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson, who were both selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Both players will be counted on to help the team return to its winning ways.
As for their opponent in the New Mexico Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals are probably the biggest mystery in all of college football. They have not been competitive on the field since 2007, when they were led by a young quarterback by the name of Matt Leinart. Since then, they have only been decent, but nothing special. In fact, they have not won more than eight games since 2008 and only one since 2012. The Cardinals will be a tough out, but this will be a learning experience for the Lobos.
The Michigan Wolverines have not won a national championship since 1991, but they are back in the big game this year after losing four in a row. This will be Nick Saban’s 21st season as head coach of the Wolverines and they have a chance to make a lot of noise in the upcoming season. There are a lot of questions surrounding Michigan, but the one thing everyone knows is that they are a hardworking team. In 2015, they went 11-2 and won the Big Ten championship. They also beat the Miami Hurricanes, their first win over an ACC opponent after 17 years. This was mainly due to a strong showing from the defense, which limited the Hurricanes’ star running back, Mark Chapman, to just 64 yards on 23 carries. The Wolverines also have a great quarterback to lead the way, who is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Jake Rudel, who is listed as a potential 2016 NFL Draft pick, threw for 2,838 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions in just 12 games. The offensive line protected him exceptionally well and he was able to operate within the pocket, making good decisions and hitting receivers on time. Marvin Jones had a breakout season, leading the team in touchdowns with nine and has established himself as a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He finished second on the team in receiving yards with 995 and had seven 100-yard receiving games. If they can stay healthy, the Wolverines have a chance to make a run at the National Title.
As for the New Mexico Lobos, they will have their hands full this coming season. Not only do they have to deal with the challenge of beating an experienced team, but they will also need to deal with the distractions that come with being in the playoffs. In particular, they will need to keep their focus well-grounded and stay humble. The experience alone will make a difference and if they can keep their heads up and play smart, they have a chance to shock the world.