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NM Bowl pairing remains in flux

For Gildan New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda, as Sunday’s bowl selections loom, this is not the year of the finagle.

Probably. He’s seen too many crazy final weekends, he said, to be sure.

Friday in a phone interview, Siembieda said he didn’t know who the competing teams will be in the New Mexico Bowl’s 12th installment on Dec. 16. That, he said, is not unusual.

He’s fairly confident, though, that the game will involve teams from the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA, as per the game’s contract with those leagues.

“Those are our primary partners, and both have filled or exceeded the number of (bowl-eligible teams) they’re contracted to have,” he said. “That would be my expectation.”

Should New Mexico State fans, provided the Aggies become bowl-eligible today by beating South Alabama in Las Cruces, give up all hope that NMSU could find itself in the New Mexico Bowl?

That possibility, Siembieda said, obviously has come up. “We’ve had that thought since the day we started this thing (in 2006), that New Mexico State would be attractive to us.”

But, he said, “This is what people need to understand, is that (NMSU) is in the Sun Belt Conference, and the Sun Belt has contracts with bowls, and we have primary contracts with two (other) conferences.”

Most projections have NMSU, should it win today, going to the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl — one of the Sun Belt’s tie-ins — in Tucson on Dec. 29. For Las Crucens, that’s just an hour longer trip than the drive to Albuquerque.

About the bowl finagle: Three times in the past, the New Mexico Bowl has had at least one participating team not from one of its two conference partners.

In 2010, the game matched Brigham Young against UTEP, neither of which were from the Mountain West or Western Athletic conferences. Siembieda and ESPN Regional Televison (now ESPN Events), which owns the New Mexico Bowl, finagled a match between a team from the region (UTEP) against one with a national following (BYU). The game drew a crowd announced at 32,424, second-best in its history.

The following year, Temple of the Mid-American Conference played Wyoming of the Mountain West. The Pac-12, contracted to provide a team, was unable to fill all its slots.

In 2015, Arizona of the Pac-12 played New Mexico of the Mountain West after Conference USA fell one bowl-eligible team short.

This year, Siembieda said, is a much more orderly scenario. There already are enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the 80 bowl slots, with three more teams — NMSU, Florida State and Lousiana — going for win No. 6 today.

This week’s New Mexico Bowl projections lean toward San Diego State (10-2) as the Mountain West representative, but with some support for Fresno State (9-3, pending today’s MWC title game against Boise State), Colorado State (7-5) and Wyoming (7-5).

Conference USA teams mentioned are Florida Atlantic (9-3) and North Texas (9-3), pending the outcome of their C-USA title game today; UTSA (6-5) and Middle Tennessee (6-6).

Siembieda was noncommittal, but said bowl directors generally look for two things: a strong regional draw and teams with comparable records.

“That’s the formula right there,” he said.

JAWS TO SPEAK: Siembieda said Ron Jaworski, a former Super Bowl quarterback (SB 15, Philadelphia Eagles) and longtime ESPN NFL analyst, will be the guest speaker at the New Mexico Bowl kickoff luncheon on Dec. 15.