Isleta New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico State vs Fresno State

By Simon Carroll

Welcome to Bowl Season! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the Isleta New Mexico Bowl:

Where and When

Isleta New Mexico Bowl

Location: University Stadium, Alburquerque, NM

Date: 16th December 2023

Time: 5:45pm (ET)

The Story So Far...

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Since 2006, the New Mexico Bowl has been one of the early bowl games in the postseason calendar. Despite it’s low prestige amongst some of the bigger spectacles as we get closer to New Years, this game has not lacked for action or drama – in a two year stretch there was a total of 190 points scored (2012-13), and more than half of the 17 contests have been settled by just one score.

Despite being one of just two in-state FBS programs, New Mexico State have never appeared in this bowl game. Not many tears may be shed over this; the New Mexico Bowl has been held on the campus of rivals New Mexico every year except for 2020, where COVID changed plans. That being said, Albuquerque is only a three hour drive north of Las Cruces, and considering the strong 10-win season the Aggies have enjoyed it should be well attended. It also represents the first time the team has gone to back to back bowl games in 63 years, and is jut their third postseason appearance in that timespan. Make no mistake – this is a big deal for Jerry Kill and his team.

The New Mexico Bowl traditionally pits a Conference USA team and a Mountain West team against each other, and returns to that tie-in in 2023. Fresno State are gearing up for their fourth postseason appearance in Albuquerque, and their second in three seasons after a win over UTEP in 2021. The Bulldogs are much more accustomed to Bowl Season than their opponents, having gone bowling 18 times in the last 24 years. Jeff Tedford – in his second stint with the program – has picked up where his successor Kalen DeBoer left off, winning 18 games in the last two seasons. Sadly, Fresno’s head coach will not lead the team in the game on Saturday, having stepped away temporarily for health reasons.

With two in-form teams fighting it out for the 20-inch ‘Zia Pueblo’ pottery trophy, the New Mexico Bowl looks set to be a sneaky good contest.

The Quarterbacks

After recently being named the Conference-USA Offensive Player of the Year, New Mexico State QB Diego Pavia looks set to be a problem for Fresno in the upcoming matchup. Returning to the city where he was born and raised, Pavia has had an incredible season so far, throwing for more than 2,900 yards, and racking up another 850 on the ground. He’s also accounted for 32 touchdowns in total, and took to life at the FBS level effortlessly after beginning his college career at an in-state Junior College. It will be interesting to see Pavia’s plans for next year, whether that be returning to Las Cruces, testing himself at a higher level in the transfer portal, or perhaps declaring for the NFL Draft.

Fresno State QB Mikey Keene has also enjoyed a strong season after transferring in from UCF last year. More of a typical pocket passer, Keene might not have the ground game that Pavia brings to the New Mexico Bowl, but he does pretty much match his counterpart in passing stats – and that includes leading his team to a pair of victories over Power 5 opponents (Purdue, Fresno State). The Bulldogs have lost their last three games, and Keene hasn’t thrown a touchdown in 10 quarters of football – he’ll have to try and reverse that trend without receiver Trent Hudson, who hits the transfer portal after posting a 10 TD, 570 yard season as a junior.

Prospects To Watch

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Fresno State have enjoyed sending a steady stream of talent to the NFL, and if you’re looking for a name to continue that trend, look no further than linebaker Levelle Bailey. The 6’2, 225lb beast is a fearsome hitter who has recorded a whopping 269 tackles in his Bulldogs career. Despite being fairly long, Bailey enjoys impressive sideline to sideline speed, which when paired with good backfield vision allows him to shadow running backs and meet them coming through the line of scrimmage. He’s also predatory dropping into space too, with three interceptions in 2023 and six in total during his college football career.

New Mexico State’s impressive season has been predicated on a stout defensive front, led superbly by enforcer Izaiah Reed. 6’2″ and 300lbs, Reed showed some serious versatility, flitting between two-gap nose tackle and penetrating 3-tech. He stepped up from the FCS level with Murray State and didn’t miss a beat – and his eight sacks in two seasons in Las Cruces shows his ability to offer that rare commodity at the next level; interior pass rush.


This time last season, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about who would win a matchup between these two football programs. But a lot can change in 12 months, and what Coach Kill has achieved in the desert, from Ponchos in Week 0 to making it to a Conference Championship Game, should not be underestimated. Fresno are on a slide, have lost some weapons, and will consider this bowl game an end of season party. But this is a business trip for the Aggies, and a chance to put the cap on an incredible year. Give me New Mexico State to triumph in their rival’s back yard.

New Mexico State 28 – 13 Fresno State

Mock Draft