Nine days of hand-wringing and back-room politicking by Arizona Wildcats officials couldn't mask the football program's biggest flaw: A 7-5 record that wasn't attractive enough to move the team above its postseason "slot."
So the UA will play in the Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl, where it will face a team - Nevada - with many of the Wildcats' same strengths and weaknesses. The Saturday game will kick off at 11 a.m., Tucson-time, and be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Bowl teams were announced at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, though rumors of an Albuquerque trip had been swirling for days. Arizona officials had also reached out to the Sun, Las Vegas and Fight Hunger bowls last week to gauge their interest. The Wildcats gained some traction in the Sun and Las Vegas games, but the bowls took USC and Washington, respectively.
The UA's players and coaches learned of the New Mexico Bowl selection Sunday night, just before the start of their end-of-the-season banquet. The team will take today off, and begin focusing on the Wolf Pack on Tuesday.
Athletic director Greg Byrne said he's "certainly happy and glad that we're in this position, talking about bowl games for our seniors and our team as well."
The New Mexico Bowl is the postseason's first game, meaning the Wildcats will have relatively little time to prepare. It also takes place on the same day as the UA's winter graduation; and that night, the No. 9 UA men's basketball team will play a highly anticipated home game against No. 7 Florida.
First-year coach Rich Rodriguez called Albuquerque "a good location for fans," even if the game might be a tough sell.
"There are some conflicts that day," he said, "but the close proximity makes it doable."
Said Byrne: "We know there are potential conflicts. We hope as many people as possible can make the trip."
Rodriguez and Arizona's players blamed themselves for the bowl drama. The UA blew a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead and lost the Territorial Cup game to Arizona State on Nov. 23.
The Sun Devils' come-from-behind victory secured them a spot in the Fight Hunger Bowl, and relegated the UA to an eighth-place finish in the surging Pac-12.
Oregon and Stanford bowl earned Bowl Championship Series berths, leaving six remaining conference teams for six bowls. The Alamo Bowl took Oregon State, the Holiday Bowl selected UCLA, and the Sun Bowl picked USC. After the Las Vegas Bowl selected Washington and the Fight Hunger Bowl took Arizona State, the Wildcats were left for the Pac-12's lone remaining bowl partner.
The New Mexico Bowl was started in 2006, and - until this season - had featured teams from the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences. The UA is the first Pac-12 team to play in the game.
Nevada (7-5, 4-4) finished its regular season Saturday with a 27-21 loss to Boise State, and has lost four of its last five games. Running back Stefphon Jefferson leads a Reno ground attack that ranks No. 7 nationally with 260 yards per game.
Arizona will counter with Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's top rusher per game (146.4 yards). Jefferson is second at 141.9 yards per contest.
Both teams have more offense than defense. Nevada allows 32.5 points and 431.17 yards per game, and is ranked No. 86 nationally in total defense. The Wildcats rank 116th out of 120 FBS teams.
"What a great matchup to kick off college football's postseason," said Jeff Siembieda, the New Mexico Bowl's executive director. "Two of the top offenses in America, the top two running backs in the country, two of college football's top quarterbacks and playmakers all over the field.
"I think we've got the potential for a great, exciting football game."
• The Arizona Wildcats have added another quarterback to the mix for 2013.
Former USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins verbally committed to the UA on Sunday, according to a report from Scout.com.
Once though to be the heir apparent to USC's Matt Barkley, Scroggins fell down the depth chart -and out of favor -before transferring to El Camino College last summer. Playing in eight games this season, Scroggins completed 79 of 172 passes for 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns. Scroggins plans to enroll at the UA in January and will be eligible to play next fall. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
• Carey and quarterback Matt Scott were named the Cats' most valuable players at Sunday's team banquet.
Linebacker Jake Fischer was given the Tedy Bruschi Award, and center Kyle Quinn was named lineman of the year.
On StarNet: Can you top Ryan Finley? Take his bowl challenge - and invite friends to play in a group. The contest is free. Find it at azstarnet.com/bowls
• What: New Mexico Bowl
• Who: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
• When: 11 a.m. Dec. 15
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1490-AM, 107.5-FM