MCGILL: New Mexico Bowl Offers Compelling Opponent, Attractive Destination
The Word on the Herd -- Dec. 4, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It shouldn’t only be Bobby Flay who finds Albuquerque as one of the most appetizing destinations in the United States.
Marshall fans, players, coaches and staff should be craving the trip, too.
The Thundering Herd football team accepted an invitation Sunday afternoon to the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, which will be played Saturday, Dec. 16 with a kickoff set for 4:30 p.m. Eastern/2:30 p.m. Mountain. Marshall (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA) will face Colorado State (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West), one of C-USA’s best bowl draws.
It is a long haul from Huntington to Albuquerque – around 1,500 miles – but fans who make the journey will likely be as enthusiastic as Flay. The popular chef and Food Network television star recently named New Mexico as the top food destination in the country, specifically mentioning cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Albuquerque is also a breathtakingly beautiful city steeped in culture and history, and the folks in charge of the area's tourism have an embarrassment of riches to entice bowl travelers.
The invitation to head west thrilled Marshall’s football players. They celebrated the bowl announcement on social media websites like Twitter, elated by the destination. On Monday afternoon, as they spoke with the media for the first time since the bowl pairings were released, they continued to share that excitement.
“This is what we wanted,” said Blake Keller, a senior defensive lineman. “I can’t wait for the food and it’s always sunny out there. I’ve never been that far west.”
Senior tight end Ryan Yurachek said he and his teammates are “excited when we get to go to a new destination. We love experiencing new places together.”
Levi Brown, a sophomore offensive lineman and Georgia native, rooted for New Mexico as the team’s bowl destination.
“You get to get on a bigger stage, play on national television and play against a different team like Colorado State,” he said. “This is something we really look forward to as a team.”
Albuquerque, New Mexico, is located in the center of a state with more than two million people, and Albuquerque ranks as the country’s 32nd-largest city.
Bowl travelers will find no shortage of places to eat, drink and entertain themselves before and after the bowl game.
The city’s culinary experience drew attention last month when Flay said that Southwestern food is making a comeback, and the state of New Mexico is at the center of that revival. Flay has long been known as a fan of red and green chiles, which are prominent in the local cuisine.
For those who enjoy craft beer, Albuquerque is one of the top beer cities in the United States. There are 21 breweries, and in February the blog VinePair named Albuquerque as “one of the next hot beer cities to travel to.” There are more than 40 breweries and taprooms within the city limits.
And because it is the holiday season, fans will be treated to the one of the 15 most spectacular holiday light displays in the United States, according to MSN. The River of Lights is a walk-through light show featuring millions of twinkling lights, open 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., daily through Dec. 30.
Visitors will certainly want to check out the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, which allows you to enjoy views while gliding through the mountains at over 10,000 feet on the longest tramway in North America.
There are children’s museums, trolley tours and hot air balloon rides. Old Town Albuquerque is the city’s 300-year-old cultural heart, which includes the San Felipe de Neri Church, various shops and restaurants.
The bowl also features a Ski New Mexico promotion. Free lift tickets are being offered in exchange for a used ticket to the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. The promotion runs from Dec. 17-24 for those travelers staying after the bowl game, and the free lift tickets are good at the following ski areas: Ski Apache, Taos Ski Valley, Ski Santa Fe, Pajarito Mountain, Red River Ski Area, Angel Fire Resort, Sipapu Ski Resort and Sandia Peak.
The Gildan New Mexico Bowl is played in Dreamstyle Stadium. This will be the 12th New Mexico Bowl.
Dreamstyle Stadium is a 39,224-seat venue that is the home of the University of New Mexico football program. The stadium opened in 1960 and sits at an elevation of 5,100 feet above sea level.
This is Colorado State’s third trip to the bowl. Last season, New Mexico defeated UTSA, 23-20. Arizona and Washington State are among the schools that have participated in past bowls. Conference USA schools are 0-3 in the bowl, with UTEP losing in 2010 and 2014, and UTSA falling last season.
The New Mexico Bowl is one of five bowl games on Dec. 16, the first day of the 2017 bowl calendar. Troy and North Texas will kick off the bowl season at 1 p.m. on ESPN in the New Orleans Bowl. Georgia State and Western Kentucky will follow at 2:30 p.m., on CBS Sports Network, in the Cure Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl will be broadcast on ABC and will feature Boise State and Oregon. Marshall and Colorado State will play in the fourth game of the day – and in an attractive slot of 4:30 p.m. on ESPN. Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State will provide the nightcap on ESPN, an 8 p.m. kickoff in the Camellia Bowl.
Conference USA teams are in four of the five games on the opening day of bowl season.
“We are pleased that ESPN Events, which owns the New Mexico Bowl, chose us to participate in what we believe is a strong matchup with Colorado State on ESPN on the opening day of bowl season,” said Mike Hamrick, Marshall’s athletic director.
This will be Marshall’s sixth bowl game since Hamrick took over as AD in 2009. The Herd is 5-0 in bowl games since Hamrick returned to his alma mater. This will be the 26th career bowl game of Doc Holliday’s career and fifth at Marshall (4-0).
The Colorado State Rams are from Fort Collins, Colorado, which is about 64 miles north of Denver. The team will have a 512-mile trip to Albuquerque, considerably shorter than the 1,500-mile trek that faces the Herd next week.
Colorado State finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference. How the Mike Bobo-coached team reached its final record – which is identical to Marshall’s – will seem familiar.
Colorado State lost three out of its last four games after a strong start to the season, and had games decided in the twilight of regulation or overtime. It is understandable to look at how those games unfolded and see the Rams as an 8-4 or 9-3 team.
The Rams held a 13-9 lead against Wyoming before the Cowboys scored a touchdown with 4:21 left of the fourth quarter and escaped with a 3-point win. Colorado State lost to Boise State, 59-52, in overtime. The Rams needed an overtime touchdown but fumbled on third down and 2 at the Boise State 6-yard line, ending the wild 111-point game.
Colorado State will enter the New Mexico Bowl well-tested. The Rams played three Power 5 programs, beating Oregon State in the season opener and losing to Colorado and Alabama in non-conference play. The performance in the loss at Alabama is impressive. In the 41-23 loss, the Rams scored the third-most points against the College Football Playoff-bound Crimson Tide, behind the 24 points scored by Mississippi State and 26 by Auburn, and gained more yards against the stingy Alabama defense than any team other than Auburn.
The bowl and venue will be familiar for Colorado State, too. This is the Rams’ third trip to the New Mexico Bowl. CSU won there twice – in 2008 and 2013. In 2008, the Rams defeated Fresno State, 40-35. In 2013, Colorado State scored 11 points in the final 33 seconds to beat Washington State, 48-45, finishing the comeback with a walk-off field goal as time expired.