Arizona football will play Nevada in Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Rich Rodriguez speaks during the press conference to officially announce his appointment to the head coach of UA football, on 22 Nov. 2011.
Keith Hickman-Perfetti/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Arizona football team has accepted its invitation to play in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, athletic director Greg Byrne announced at the Westin La Paloma Resort on Sunday night.
“We’re very pleased to have been invited,” Byrne said. “It’s a great opportunity for our seniors and the entire team has bought into everything coach Rodriguez and his staff have done. It’s a great tribute to the seniors and the coaches who are able to return to the postseason.”
The Wildcats will face Nevada of the Mountain West Conference at University Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M., on Dec. 15 at 11 a.m.
Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) finished out its regular season with a 41-34 loss to rival ASU on Nov. 23, but Rich Rodriguez’s first season as a head coach was a success, as the Wildcats return to bowl season after missing out last year.
“It’s exciting for our players, in particular our seniors,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t set down a particular goal at the beginning of the year but we wanted to be in a bowl game, so we get a couple more weeks with our seniors and get to enjoy that part.”
Arizona was under consideration for the Las Vegas Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and Sun Bowl, Byrne said, in addition to New Mexico, but Wildcat players and coaches said they weren’t too concerned with what bowl they would be playing in.
“A bowl game is a bowl game,” running back Ka’Deem Carey said after Friday’s practice. “I’m excited to play in another game.”
Carey, an All-Pac-12 first team selection, is the nation’s leading rusher with 1,757 yards, but Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson is hot on his tail.
Jefferson has 1,703 yards for the Wolf Pack (7-5, 4-4 MWC), and has two more rushing touchdowns than Carey with 20.
“I didn’t know that,” Rodriguez said. “I know they got a real good one. I think they wear the same number. They’re a very good rushing team.”
In addition to the battle for the rushing title, there are a few other storylines at play.
For one, the early Dec. 15 date might prove problematic for the Wildcats, being the earliest bowl game of the season.
Plus, the UA’s graduation is that same day, meaning the Wildcats’ graduating seniors will miss it, and the No. 9 Arizona basketball team has a prominent matchup with No. 7 Florida that night.
“I know there’s a couple of conflicts that day,” said Byrne, who will be attending both the bowl and basketball game at 8 p.m. at McKale Center. “We hope that as many fans as possible will get a chance to travel to Albuquerque it’s not that far of a drive for them, and be there that day.
Rodriguez said Arizona’s athletic department did its best to campaign for the Sun, Hunger and Las Vegas bowls.
“Of course I’m biased,” Rodriguez said Friday. “But I think we bring a lot to the table from a fan base, to having them cover some of the most explosive players in the Pac-12, and we’ll travel well. So I think we bring a lot to the table.”
One of those ‘explosive’ players is receiver Austin Hill, who was an All-Pac-12 second team selection after recording 73 receptions for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Hill went to Roosevelt High School in Corona, Calif., with Wolf Pack defensive back Aaron Brown, and said on Friday he’d be excited to face his old friend.
“I think it’d be cool to get an opportunity to play him,” Hill said. “Especially since we played high school ball together but in the end it doesn’t matter where we go.”