Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games in 2012. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the first in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: The all-time series is tied 1-1-1, but the teams have not met in 72 years, with Arizona claiming a 26-7 decision in the schools' last meeting on Oct. 11, 1941. Nevada has an all-time mark of 4-8 in bowl games after dropping a 24-17 decision to Southern Miss in last year's Sheraton Hawai‘i Bowl. Arizona is bowl-eligible for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Wildcats' last bowl appearance came in a 36-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2010 Alamo Bowl. Overall, Arizona, which finished fourth in the Pac-12 South in 2012, is 6-9-1 in the postseason.
When Nevada Has the Ball: Nevada sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo, who ranked first in the Mountain West and 11th nationally in total offense during the regular season (319.2 ypg), will take aim at a Wildcat pass defense that has endured more than its share of struggles in 2012, ranking last in the Pac-12 and 116th nationally (295.92 ypg). Meanwhile, senior tailback Stefphon Jefferson, the nation's second-leading rusher (141.92 ypg) and third-leading scorer (23 total TDs), will attempt to exploit an Arizona rush defense that ranked second-to-last this season in the Pac-12 (189.75 ypg).
When Arizona Has the Ball: The only running back in the nation to average more yards per game than Nevada's Jefferson during the regular season was Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey (146.42). Carey, who has 20 rushing touchdowns, will be matched against a Nevada defense that allowed 213.17 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Wildcat senior quarterback Matt Scott (338.45 ypg) ranks seventh nationally and first in the Pac-12 in total offense. Sophomore Austin Hill (99.08 ypg) was the third-leading receiver in the Pac-12 during the regular season. Wolfpack senior linebacker Albert Rosette enters the game as the leading tackler in the MW (10.7 tackles per game). Senior Duke Williams led all MW cornerbacks in tackles during the regular season (100), while sophomore defensive end Brock Hekking ranked second in the league in sacks with eight.
Special Teams: Nevada senior Khalid Wooten averaged 16.4 yards to rank first in the MW in punt return average during the regular season. Wolfpack senior placekicker enters the contest having connected on 7-of-8 field goals (87.5 percent) and 50-of-51 extra-point attempts. Arizona senior kicker John Bonano was 51-of-52 on PATs during the regular season, but missed six of his 20 field goal attempts, including three from a distance of 20-29 yards.
Analysis: If you're a fan of offense, this has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season. While Nevada ranks first in the MW and 20th nationally in scoring offense with an average of 37.0 points per game, only 20 teams in the nation have allowed more points per game than Arizona (34.25), which has yielded more than 40 four times. Conversely, Arizona's offense averaged 37.25 points (second in the Pac-12) during the regular season, while Nevada allowed 32.5. Might defense prove paramount? Just a hunch.