Two years ago Wyoming was heading to the New Mexico Bowl as a big underdog against Fresno State. Now the Pokes are in a similar situation this year when facing Temple. On paper this again looks like a mismatch for the Cowboys but if you went strictly by the numbers and odds this season then Wyoming would not be playing in a bowl game. Most analysts look at two figures Temple's rushing yards (256 per game) and Wyoming's rushing yards allowed (230 yards per game) and stop their analysis from there.
Two years ago I wrote 7 Reasons Why Will Win The New Mexico Bowl. Now I present to you the 2011 Edition of that article!
1. Familiar Turf
University Stadium in Albuquerque has been a home away from home for the Cowboys. For the seniors this will be their fourth time playing in this stadium in four years. Twice in regular season games against the New Mexico Lobos and now their second time in the New Mexico Bowl. The team and staff are comfortable with the hotel, the restaurants and the locker rooms. They know what to expect during the trip and won't be all starry eyed with all the proceedings.
2. Home Game In New Mexico
Thanks to this game being hosted by a Mountain West school Wyoming will have a much larger crowd at the stadium then Temple. Not only will Cowboy fans have a shorter drive or flight they will also get some help from the locals. Albuquerque residents will certainly be rooting on their fellow conference member as opposed to the invaders from the east. Wyoming has already sold over their 4100 ticket allotment for this game. Travel from Philadelphia is way tougher and requires an expensive plan ticket. Even the Owl fans that are staying home won't be watching the entire game as their basketball team faces Texas at the same time.
3. Plenty Of Oxygen
University Stadium sits at 5100 feet of elevation which is just under a mile. That will be a nice drop of 2100 feet for the Cowboys and it will be easier for them to play at a lower altitude. Meanwhile Temple not only travels two time zones backwards but also has to deal with an extreme elevation change. The Owls are not used to playing west of the Mississippi River or at altitude. The last time Temple played west of the Mississippi River was 2006 when they lost at Minnesota 61-7. Their last game at elevation was a 62-0 loss at Arizona State in 2005. Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown will have a tougher time running in the second half.
4. Underdog Is Normal
Wyoming has spent plenty of time being an underdog this year and come away with a number of victories. And winning on the road as a underdog has not been a problem as well. Wyoming beat all these teams on the road as an underdog: Bowling Green (-9.5), Air Force (-17) and San Diego State (-19). Being a seven point underdog to Temple is not scary at all for this team.
5. Strength Of Schedule
The Cowboys played six teams this season that are heading to bowl games this year and went 2-4. Three of those losses were to teams that are ranked in the Top 25: Boise State, TCU and Nebraska. Temple faced three bowl teams and lost to all of them: Penn State, Toledo and Ohio. The Cowboys faced a tougher schedule week in and week out. They were very close with Nebraska, Boise State and TCU for at least the first half of all those games. Critics will point out the Cowboys loss to Utah State as a terrible loss. However the team started playing much better after that game, it really was a turning point for the Pokes.
6. Get The Ball
A key factor to the success of the 2009 Wyoming team was their improvement in turnover margin. Wyoming finished up +8 overall for the season or .62 turnover margin per game. This year that number is even better with the Pokes sitting fourth in the nation at +15 or 1.25 turnover margin per game. Only one time this year has Wyoming been negative in turnover margin and that was a -1 performance against Utah State. Temple has done a nice job on turnover margin as well but they are just +6 overall this season. They've lost the turnover battle three times this season and lost twice. They were -2 against Penn State and -3 against Toledo, they were neutral in their two other losses. While Wyoming gets criticized for giving up lots of rushing yards, they do prevent touchdowns by forcing turnovers. The Pokes have forced 18 fumbles on the year.
7. History Repeating
Mountain West schools have won four straight New Mexico Bowls and are 4-1 overall. Wyoming was big underdog to Fresno State in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl. The Bulldogs featured the 7th best running game in the nation that year and current San Diego Charger Ryan Mathews. The Pokes out gained Fresno State on the ground that game 234 to 197 and stuffed the Bulldogs on the goal line four straight times in overtime. The Pokes have stepped up for big games and gotten the W this year. It will happen again this year.