LOGAN, Utah – Utah State football will face New Mexico State in the third-annual NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Friday, Dec. 29, at 3:30 p.m. (MT) at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., it was announced Sunday. The game will be televised live on CBS Sports Network (Comcast Ch. 269/753HD, Dish Network Ch. 158, DirecTV Ch. 221).
Utah State and New Mexico State have a history in bowl games, as NMSU posted a 20-13 win against Utah State in the 1960 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Ironically, that was the last bowl game NMSU had appeared in prior to this season.
As for Utah State, it played in five-straight bowl games from 2011-15 and won three-straight bowls from 2012-14, both of which are school records. All-time, USU is 4-7 in its 11 bowl games and this marks the first repeat opponent for Utah State in a bowl game.
Utah State also has a history with the Sun Belt Conference, as it was a football-only member of the league for two seasons from 2003-04.
“We are extremely excited to accept the invitation to represent Utah State University and the Mountain West in the 2017 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl,” said fifth-year Utah State head coach Matt Wells. “This bowl game is a great reward for our team and its accomplishments this year, and solidifies the strength and consistency of this program as we will be playing in our sixth bowl game in the past seven years.”
All-time, this will be Utah State’s 12th bowl appearance in program history as it played in the 1946 Raisin Bowl, the 1947 Grape Bowl, the 1960 Sun Bowl, the 1961 Gotham Bowl, the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl, the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, the 2014 Gildan New Mexico Bowl and the 2015 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“On behalf of Utah State University, we are thrilled to represent the Mountain West at the 2017 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, said USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell. “Utah State and New Mexico State have a storied past as members of three different conferences and that rivalry should make for an entertaining game for everyone, including both fan bases.
“I’m excited for our student-athletes to experience another bowl game and we look forward to the hospitality of Tucson.”
New Mexico State is 6-6 on the season and finished tied for fifth place in the Sun Belt Conference with a 4-4 record after winning three of its final four games, including a 22-17 home win against South Alabama in its regular-season finale on Dec. 2. All-time, NMSU is 2-0-1 in bowl games (1936, 1959, 1960).
“We are excited to prepare for a quality New Mexico State team that had an outstanding season. Our staff has great respect for New Mexico State head coach Doug Martin and the entire team with the success they had this season,” added Wells.
Utah State is 58-30 all-time against current members of the Sun Belt Conference, which includes a 30-7 record against New Mexico State, a 20-17-2 record against Idaho, a 4-3 record against Arkansas State, a 1-1 record versus Louisiana, a 1-2 record against both Louisiana-Monroe and Troy, and a 1-0 record against Texas State. USU has never faced Sun Belt members Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State or South Alabama.
Historically, Utah State’s series with New Mexico State is currently the seventh-most played in school history, trailing Utah (112), BYU (87), Colorado State (74), Wyoming (68), Idaho (39) and San José State (38). Furthermore, USU’s 30 victories against NMSU is the fourth-most against any opponent in school history, trailing the 38 wins versus Wyoming, the 36 victories against Brigham Young and the 33 wins against Colorado State.
In all, Utah State and New Mexico State spent 26 years as conference foes as both were members of the Big West Conference from 1985-2000, members of the Sun Belt Conference from 2002-03, and members of the Western Athletic Conference from 2005-12. In the Big West, USU held a 15-1 series advantage against NMSU, while the two teams split its two games as members of the Sun Belt. As memers of the WAC, USU had a 6-2 series advantage.
Utah State is 6-6 on the season and finished tied for fourth place in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West with a 4-4 record after concluding its regular season with a 38-35 loss at Air Force on Nov. 25. Offensively, USU is led by redshirt freshman QB Jordan Love, who is 104-of-191 (.545) passing for 1,377 yards (125.2 ypg) with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Senior RB LaJuan Hunt leads the team in rushing with 695 yards on 149 carries (4.7 ypc/57.9 ypg) with 10 touchdowns, and junior WR Ron’quavion Tarver has 40 receptions for 472 yards (11.8 ypr/39.3 ypg) with seven touchdowns. Defensively, junior LB Suli Tamaivena leads the team with 109 tackles, which includes 3.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, to go along with two fumble recoveries, while junior BS Gaje Ferguson has 86 tackles, which includes 1.0 sacks and 2.0 tackles for loss, to go along with one forced fumble. As a team, USU is averaging 31.0 points and 393.8 yards of total offense (223.7 passing, 170.1 rushing), and allowing 27.0 points and 401.7 yards of total offense (219.9 rushing, 181.8 passing).
Highlighting Utah State’s team this season is senior cornerback Jalen Davis, who earned first-team all-Mountain West honors. Davis finished the season ranking first in the Mountain West and seventh in the nation with his five interceptions, and first in the conference and eighth nationally with his 18 passes defended (1.5 pg). He also ranked first on the team with his 4.0 sacks and was second with his 5.0 tackles for loss, while adding one forced fumble as he started all 12 games. He finished the regular season with a team-best 13 pass breakups and ranked 10th with his 32 tackles.
Davis, who was named a unanimous mid-season All-American and one of 13 finalists for the Jim Thorpe Ward as the top defensive back in the nation, ranks tied for first in the nation with his three defensive touchdowns. He is also the only player in the nation with three interception returns for a touchdown and one of just three FBS players to have multiple interceptions in multiple games during the season. Furthermore, he is the first FBS player to have three interceptions and return two of them for touchdowns in the same game since 2012, doing so against BYU on Sept. 29. Davis also had a career-high four pass breakups against Hawai’i on Nov. 18, which ranks tied for the ninth-most in a game at the FBS level this year.
Offensively, Utah State had another first-team all-Mountain West honoree in sophomore placekicker Dominik Eberle, who is one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award this season. Eberle leads the MW and ranks sixth nationally in field goal percentage (.889), is third in the conference and ranks 35th in the nation in field goals made per game (1.33), and is eighth in the MW and 55th in the nation in scoring (7.8 ppg). He is 16-of-18 on field goal attempts this season, including 7-of-7 from 20-29 yards, 3-of-4 from 30-39 yards, 4-of-5 from 40-49 yards, and 1-of-1 from 50-plus yards, as those 16 made field goals are tied for the sixth-most in a single season in school history. He has also made all 45 of his extra points on the year, as those 45 extra points made rank tied for third and the 45 extra point attempts rank fourth all-time at USU for a single season.
Eberle, who ranks second all-time in school history with his 93 points scored by a kicker this season, also set a single-game school record for points scored by a kicker with 19 against San José State on Sept. 23, as he was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts (23, 52, 20, 27) and 7-of-7 on extra points, both of which are career highs. His 52-yard field goal against the Spartans was a career long and tied for the 10th-longest in school history, while his 19 points scored are the second-most in MW history by a kicker and the most by a non-senior. Eberle has also kicked off 69 times for 4,229 yards this season for an average of 61.3 yards per kickoff with 38 touchbacks, which is an average of 55.1 percent of the time.
In all, Utah State had three offensive players (OL-Roman Andrus, OL-Quin Ficklin, TE-Dax Raymond), two defensive players (CB-Jalen Davis, S-Dallin Leavitt) and one specialist (PK-Dominik Eberle) recognized for a total of six all-Mountain West honorees.
Offensively, Utah State ranks second in the Mountain West and 16th nationally in red zone efficiency at 91.4 percent, as it has scored 32 times on 35 trips, with 19 touchdowns and 13 field goals. And, the Aggies also ranked fourth in the conference with an average of 31.0 points scored per game. Furthermore, USU has allowed just two sacks in its last five games and Aggie running backs have recorded four 100-yard rushing games during that same time span.
Defensively, Utah State ranks second in the Mountain West and is seventh in the nation with 26 forced turnovers, while ranking first in the conference and second in the nation with its 15 forced fumbles. USU’s defense also ranks tied for second in the nation with five touchdowns, and is third in the MW and 18th in the nation allowing just 181.8 passing yards per game. USU’s defense also ranks tied for fourth in the conference and tied for 37th in the nation in red zone defense efficiency at 80.0, as it has allowed its opponents to score on 32 of 40 trips, with 20 touchdowns and 12 field goals. And finally, USU’s defense ranks fourth in the MW and 18th in the nation in fourth down conversions at 39.1 percent.
Tickets for the 2017 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl will go on sale Sunday, Dec. 3, at 3 p.m., and are available by contacting the USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, or by phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or (435) 797-0305. Tickets can also be purchased 24 hours a day at www.UtahStateAggies.com.
Ticket prices for the 2017 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl will range from $67 for midfield, $52 for the sidelines and north end zone, and $27 for the corners and south end zone. The priority deadline to purchase bowl tickets is Monday, Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. All orders placed before Wednesday, Dec. 20 will be mailed out through FedEx and orders placed after Dec. 20 can be picked up at will call in Arizona.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics, on facebook at Utah State University Athletics or on instagram at instagram.com/USUAthletics.
<strong>Utah State Football Bowl History (4-7)</strong>
1946 Raisin Bowl vs. San Jose State – L, 0-20 (Fresno, Calif.)
1947 Grape Bowl vs. Pacific – L, 21-35 (Lodi, Calif.)
1960 Sun Bowl vs. New Mexico State – L, 13-20 (El Paso, Texas)
1961 Gotham Bowl vs. Baylor – L, 9-24 (New York City)
1993 Las Vegas Bowl vs. Ball State – W, 42-33 (Las Vegas, Nev.)
1997 Humanitarian Bowl vs. Cincinnati – L, 19-35 (Boise, Idaho)
2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Ohio – L, 23-24 (Boise, Idaho)
2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Toledo – W, 41-15 (Boise, Idaho)
2013 SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl vs. No. 24 Northern Illinois – W, 21-14 (San Diego, Calif.)
2014 Gildan New Mexico Bowl vs. UTEP – W, 21-6 (Albuquerque, N.M.)
2015 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Akron – L, 21-23 (Boise, Idaho)
<strong>Utah State vs. Sun Belt Conference (58-30)</strong>
Arkansas State – 4-3 (Last Meeting, 2016)
Idaho – 20-17-2 (Last Meeting, 2012)
Louisiana – 1-1 (Last Meeting, 1994)
Louisiana-Monroe – 1-2 (Last Meeting, 2004)
New Mexico State – 30-7 (Last Meeting, 2012)
Texas State – 1-0 (Last Meeting, 2012)
Troy – 1-2 (Last Meeting, 2004)
(Have not played: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama)
<strong>NOVA Home Loans Bowl History</strong>
Dec. 30, 2016 – Air Force (Mountain West) 45, South Alabama (Sun Belt) 21
Dec. 29, 2015 – Nevada (Mountain West) 28, Colorado State (Mountain West) 23