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Rams, Cougars to face off in New Mexico Bowl

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Colorado State’s Joe Hansley, left, breaks free of some Lobo defenders. CSU played in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Colorado State’s Joe Hansley, left, breaks free of some Lobo defenders. CSU played in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference and Washington State of the Pac-12 will face off in the eighth annual Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21 at University Stadium.

The game will be telecast on ESPN, with a noon kickoff time.

The New Mexico Bowl and Colorado State announced the Rams’ acceptance Sunday afternoon. Washington State announced its acceptance later in the day.

Colorado State finished the season with a 7-6 record, including a 56-42 defeat of New Mexico at University Stadium on Nov. 16. The Rams were 5-3 in Mountain West competition.

This will be CSU’s second appearance in the New Mexico Bowl. In 2008, the Rams defeated Fresno State 40-35. Under second-year coach Jim McElwain, Colorado State is bowl-eligible for the first time since ’08.

Running back Kapri Bibbs is the Rams’ No. 1 weapon. The 5-foot-11, 203-pound sophomore from Plainfield, Ill., led the Mountain West in rushing and ranks 13th nationally with an average of 120.9 yards per game.

Bibbs will be attempting to follow in the heavy footsteps of former Ram Gartrell Johnson, who holds the New Mexico Bowl rushing record with 285 yards against Fresno State.

Washington State, under second-year coach Mike Leach, finished with a 6-6 record (4-5 in the Pac-12).

The Cougars had a strangely uneven year. They lost to Stanford, Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State by a combined 124 points, but they beat Southern Cal and lost to Auburn, which will play in the national title game next month, by just a touchdown.

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, left, powers Mike Leach’s spread offense. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, left, powers Mike Leach’s spread offense. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Leach’s high-powered spread offense is triggered by quarterback Connor Halliday, a junior from Spokane, Wash., who passed for 4,187 yards and 28 touchdowns and ranked fourth nationally.

The Cougars haven’t played in a bowl game since December 2003, when they beat Texas 28-20 in the Holiday Bowl.

Jeff Siembieda, New Mexico Bowl executive director, said he felt the potential for offensive fireworks rivals that of last year’s game, in which Arizona beat Nevada 49-48. He noted that the Rams and the Cougars combined to win five of their last seven regular-season games.

“I think it’s two really even(-matched), explosive, exciting football teams that are peaking,” Siembieda said. “… I like the excitement around the programs, with second-year coaches who have their programs on the upswing.”

Siembieda said he’s confident both teams will be well-represented by their fans.

New Mexico fans will recall the colorful Leach’s decade at Texas Tech, during which he was 5-1 against New Mexico and twice brought the Red Raiders to Albuquerque. He beat UNM 49-0 here in 2002, but lost to the Lobos 27-24 at University Stadium in ’04.

Leach’s name was bandied about as a possible candidate for the New Mexico job after Mike Locksley’s firing in 2011 before Bob Davie was hired at UNM. Leach took the Washington State job a few days later.

The teams will share with their fellow conference members a combined payout of $912,500.

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