The Arizona Wildcats have already scattered for the holidays, flying home to California and Texas and Louisiana or driving north to Phoenix for a few weeks without football.

They'll return after Christmas and New Year's to increased expectations and high hopes.

Call it the New Mexico Bowl bounce.

Winning in December typically leads to good things the following year. Saturday's 49-48 victory over Nevada has positioned Arizona for another bowl run in 2013.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey called the UA's comeback - the Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the final minute - "a big win for us," in part because of what it portends.

The Wildcats finished 8-5 in coach Rich Rodriguez's first season. On paper, they have a chance to do even better next year.

"We know what we want," Carey said, "and we've got to go get it."

Here are three reasons to believe that 2013 will be special:

1. Bowl wins lead to big things. Winning a postseason game has traditionally been a springboard to better tomorrows at the UA.

Arizona is 45-26-4 all-time in seasons directly following bowl victories, a .626 winning percentage that's well above the program's average. The Wildcats are 49-52 (.485) in seasons following bowl losses.

The best season in UA history, 1998, came a year after the Wildcats' Bowl win over New Mexico. The Insight and Albuquerque games were both played against smaller-conference, western teams; Arizona won both following some uncharacteristic struggles.

2. The schedule is softer. Arizona faced the nation's 16th-toughest regular season schedule in 2012. The Wildcats' opponents went a combined 86-57 during the regular season; nine of the team's 11 FBS (Division I) foes finished with winning records and earned bowl berths.

Expect an easier road in 2013. The Wildcats will face three teams in nonconference - Northern Arizona, UNLV and UT-San Antonio - that went a combined 18-18 this season.

And in Pac-12 play, Arizona will go back to facing Cal and Washington State after skipping them for the past two seasons. The Golden Bears and Cougars went a combined 6-18 in 2012.

Stanford and Washington are gone from the Wildcats' schedules for the next two years, and it's a good thing: The Cardinal and Huskies went 18-7 in the 2012 regular season and are awaiting bowl games.

3. The talent is returning. The biggest reason to believe Arizona's bound for better things has to do with players, not statistical facts or schedule strength.

The UA will return 17 of the 22 players who started in the New Mexico Bowl, including all 11 defensive starters. Underclassmen scored six of the UA's seven touchdowns in the win over Nevada.

Carey will return in 2013, as will linebackers Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers and cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight.

The Wildcats must replace quarterback Matt Scott and two-fifths of their starting offensive line. Kicker John Bonano and punter Kyle Dugandzic are both out of eligibility.

But the pieces are there, as is the potential to win eight games. Or more.

"I think we're going to go into the off-season with a full year under coach RichRod and our strength and conditioning staff," said Flowers, the defensive MVP in Saturday's win. "We know what we've got to do to go out and compete for a Rose Bowl next year."