Here's an article about Arizona and its matchup with Nevada this Saturday from one of ESPN's best writers K.C. Joyner:
Previewing the New Mexico Bowl matchup between Nevada and Arizona - College Football - ESPN
Some of the most interesting elements of the college bowl season are the battles for conference supremacy.
Most of the attention surrounding those conflicts centers on matchups between the BCS conferences, yet other bowls can offer just as much insight as to the relative strength of a given conference.
An excellent example of this will occur on Saturday in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl with a matchup between the Arizona Wildcats and the Nevada Wolf Pack. This clash should help illustrate whether a top-level Mountain West Conference (MWC) team is every bit as good as or better than a mid-range Pac-12 club.
At first glance, it would certainly seem that these teams are very evenly matched.
It starts at quarterback, where both teams have very good dual-threat signal-callers (Cody Fajardo for Nevada, Matt Scott for Arizona) who combine solid passing skills with ground-game prowess (both rank second on their respective teams in rushing.)
Both teams also have quality pass-catching corps. The Wolf Pack had four receivers (Brandon Wimberly, Richy Turner, Aaron Bradley and Zach Sudfeld) who ranked in the top eight in the MWC in receiving plays of 10 yards or more, according to cfbstats.com.
Two of the Wildcats' receivers (Austin Hill and Dan Buckner) ranked in the top five in the Pac-12 in receptions of 10 or more yards, an amazing achievement considering the Pac-12 may have the deepest set of quality pass-catching talents in all of college football.
As notable as the passing-game achievements are for these teams, the central melee in this matchup will be between two very strong rushing attacks, led by Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson, two of the top four leading rushers in the Football Bowl Subdivision during the regular season.
Carey and Jefferson will each face rushing defenses that had issues stopping the run this season. Nevada ranked ninth in the MWC in rushing yards allowed per game (213.1), and Arizona ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in that same category (189.8).
Those numbers may make it look like Nevada's ground game should be as productive as Arizona's rushing attack, but upon closer examination, the Wildcats have a fairly significant edge.
All of Nevada's wins occurred against teams that ended the season with a losing record. In fact, no club the Wolf Pack posted a win against this season won more than four games, and Nevada was 0-4 against teams with records of .500 or better.
That trend shows up in the stats as well; the Wolf Pack gained less than 200 yards on the ground in all but one of those games against teams with records of .500 or better. To be fair, Nevada did post a solid 7.7-yard mark in the good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric in games against Fresno State and Boise State (their last two tough matchups of the season); however, they had a mediocre good blocking rate (GBR) of 45.6 percent. ("Good blocking" is roughly defined as when the offense doesn't allow the defense to disrupt a rush attempt.)
Now contrast that to how the Arizona defense played down the stretch. Over the last six games of the season, the Wildcats faced Washington, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State.
To understand how strong a slate of foes this is from a rushing perspective, consider that UCLA and Arizona State ranked in the top four in the Pac-12 in rush yards per game, and USC ranked third in the conference in rush yards per carry. In addition, Washington featured talented RB Bishop Sankey (fifth in the conference in rush yards) and Utah had John White (sixth in the conference in rush yards).
The Wildcats gave up 7.7 GBYPA in these games to go along with a 51.2 percent GBR. In other words, they allowed about the same rushing stats and percentages to these powerful Pac-12 rush attacks as Nevada posted against two top MWC clubs.
The problem for Nevada is that Arizona allowed less than 140 rushing yards in three of those games. Though the Wildcats give up a lot of rushes of 10 or more yards (69, tied for 91st in the FBS), they don't give up many gains of 20 or more yards (11, tied for 28th). That isn't a good omen for a Wolf Pack club that racked up only 16 rushing plays of 10 or more yards versus teams with winning records.
And that is where the litmus test truly lies. Even if Nevada's rushing offense is up to the caliber of most of those Pac-12 clubs, it might not be enough to grind out a win.
As a result, the Wildcats will likely to prevail in this game. But even if they don't, their future still looks quite bright.
Arizona is currently tied for first in the Pac-12 in overall recruit commitments in the 2013 ESPN recruiting rankings. Head coach Rich Rodriguez is very good at finding the right players for his system, and as the rankings summary points out, he seems to have found those fits with many of these recruits.
Rodriguez was able to concentrate on offense in this class in part because of the Wildcats' young defense. Arizona's projected starting defense for this bowl matchup features no seniors in its starting 11 and only one senior on its two-deep depth chart.
Another factor that bodes well for the Wildcats is that defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's multiple spread defense is a very good fit for the Rodriguez offense, and it will continue to improve as the young defensive talent starts to master the system's intricacies.
Added up, it's a set of circumstances that make RichRod's tenure in the desert more apt to be like his days at West Virginia than his time at Michigan.