BYU and UTEP kick off bowl season in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday (ESPN, 2 ET) and they enter the game as polar opposites. The Cougars rallied down the stretch, finishing 6-6 after starting 2-5 to become bowl eligible for the sixth straight season. Their only loss in those last five games came at Utah after blowing a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead.
Unlike BYU, the Miners are struggling coming into this bowl game. After starting 5-1, UTEP lost 5 of its last 6 games to finish 6-6. UTEP is playing in its first bowl game since losing to Toledo 45-13 in the 2005 GMAC Bowl. The Miners have lost four straight bowl games, with their last win coming against Ole Miss in the 1967 Sun Bowl.
Mike Price is the second UTEP coach to take the Miners to three bowl games, joining Mike Brumbelow, who did so in the 1950s. On the other sidelines, Bronco Mendenhall is the first BYU coach to lead his team to a bowl game in each of his first six seasons.
These two schools have a history as former WAC adversaries, with the Cougars leading the series 28-7-1. The last time these teams played was in 1998, a 31-14 BYU win in El Paso, the year before the Cougars moved to the Mountain West. This is the first time these teams have met at a neutral site.
Despite their loss to Utah, the Cougars are outscoring their opponents 185-61 over their last five games. And the man who’s led that offense will make a historic start if he opens the game under center. BYU quarterback Jake Heaps will become the first freshman to start a bowl game at that position in school history.