LARAMIE, Wyo. – A bowl bid? Really?
Andrew Aho is glad you asked.
As Aho and the New Mexico Lobos take their 2-3 record to Laramie today as a 14½-point underdog against the Wyoming Cowboys, UNM’s senior starting tight end says he and his teammates have not wavered in their quest for the postseason.
“Plain and simple,” he says. “I know for us seniors, that’s the goal that we’ve been trying to pass down through the classes.
“It starts with the coaches. They preach it as much as we do. For me, anything less than a bowl game (is unacceptable). It’s been a long time.”
Talk of a bowl bid for this New Mexico team might sound premature at best and like pure folly at worst, considering both the program’s recent and distant past.
The Lobos haven’t been to the postseason since 2007, when they throttled Nevada 23-0 in the New Mexico Bowl. Aho’s older brother James, a place-kicker, joined the team the next year and saw the program nose-dive: a 7-41 record and, well, duh, no bowl games from 2008-11.
Andrew came to UNM as a walk-on a year after his brother. After redshirting in 2009, the former Roswell Coyote gradually worked his way up the depth chart and earned a scholarship. His younger brother, George, is a walk-on redshirt freshman linebacker.
Last year at this time, talk of a UNM bowl bid was not limited to the players.
The Lobos, in coach Bob Davie’s first season, had just beaten Texas State 35-14 to even their record at 3-3. On Oct. 13, 2012, they beat Hawaii in Honolulu. The Lobos thus had a winning record for the first time since that New Mexico Bowl game in December 2007.
Since the Hawaii victory, though, UNM has dropped nine of 11. There would be no bowl bid in 2012. And losses this season to UTSA and Mountain West Conference rival UNLV, two teams that appeared quite beatable back in August, severely dimmed hopes that the Lobos would rise above preseason predictions of a last-place MWC finish.
Last Saturday’s 66-17 throttling of New Mexico State (0-6) has not significantly improved the Lobos’ profile – hence their significant underdog status today against Wyoming (3-2, overall, 1-0 in MWC play) despite a rushing offense that leads the nation with 367.8 yards per game.
The Lobos, 0-1 in conference play after a 56-42 loss to UNLV on Sept. 28, now head into the teeth of their Mountain West schedule. Logic and common wisdom say they needed to beat UTSA or UNLV, if not both, to have a reasonable chance for six or more wins and a bowl bid. With little doubt, they’d be underdogs today against any of the remaining teams on their schedule.
Still, there’s this.
Of the seven teams left on that schedule, two – Utah State and San Diego State – didn’t play the Lobos last year. Fresno State beat the Lobos 49-32, but UNM had the Bulldogs on the run, leading 21-0, before quarterbacks B.R. Holbrook and Cole Gautsche both left the game with injuries.
The other four – Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State and Boise State – beat UNM by a combined 17 points. In all four games, the Lobos were one play away.
How confident are the Lobos – coming off the New Mexico State game with that No. 1 ground attack and with a defense that made significant strides against the Aggies – that there are at least four wins left on the board?
A year ago, Davie wasn’t talking about a bowl game. He’s not talking about one now, at least not with the news media within earshot.
Of this team’s eventual fate, he says: “We’ll see. It’s all Mountain West Conference from here on out. We know we have to raise our level of play.
“I’m pleased, but we’ll know more as we go.”
Aho, for his part, says he knows this much: The UNM offense is a confident unit.
“We pride ourselves on our technique and our effort,” he says. “We try to be as technically sound as possible, which is why we’re No. 1 in the nation in rushing.”
The defense, he says, has the trust of the team after its improved performance against NMSU. Better things, he believes, are ahead.
Bowl game? Really?
“I don’t know if the town’s ready, but I know (the team’s) ready,” Aho says. “Especially the seniors.”