ALBUQUERQUE — The New Mexico Bowl has a laid-back vibe, and the teams were able to let loose at a team dinner Thursday night in a Family Feud-styled competition.
Arizona — adept at providing answers to survey questions such as “a game you played as a child,” “something you put on a baked potato” and “something in your garage” — won the event after four rounds of competition at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
With players crowding the platform and shouting helpful (and not-so-helpful) answers, five members of the Arizona coaching staff provided the win in the clinching round by defeating five defensive players from Nevada.
At least it’s a good omen. The past four winners of this New Mexico Bowl tradition have gone on to win the football game.
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The Arizona Wildcats need as much help as they can get to stop Nevada’s Pistol offense in the New Mexico Bowl, and senior Dominique Austin figures to be an unexpected boost.
Austin is listed as probable after missing seven games because of a foot injury.
“That’s tremendous,” junior linebacker Marquis Flowers said of Austin’s return.
“He means a lot. He plays a great technique. He helps us out in pass rush. He’s a great player. He’s been wanting to get back since he got hurt. It was unfortunate when they told him he was out for the season, being a senior and not having another year.
“For him to be able to come out and play this game, it’s exciting for the whole team.”
Austin, who redshirted last season, is one of two Arizona players who have played in a bowl victory. The other is senior receiver Dan Buckner, who helped Texas beat Ohio State 24-21 in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl when he was a freshman.
Austin had 14 tackles before being injured Sept. 29 in the fifth game of the season.
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The game will be officiated by an ACC crew. It’s hard to know whether there is a cause-and-effect, but the ACC had six of the nation’s top 16 least penalized teams.
Is the ACC more of a let-them-play league than the Pac-12? The Pac-12 has five of the nation’s eight most penalized teams.
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Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has a loyal coaching staff that followed him to Tucson sight unseen last winter. Four assistants previously coached with him at West Virginia and Michigan, and all but offensive line coach Robert Anae, who came from the former Arizona coaching staff, had some sort of direct connection to West Virginia or other new UA assistants.
There has been little buzz — at least so far — about turnover in the coaching staff.
Rodriguez said he wouldn’t be expecting any assistant to make a “lateral move,” but as the coaching carousel still spins, somebody could be offered a bigger role somewhere else in the next few weeks.
“I’ve got guys on my staff who I think would be outstanding head coaches, given the right opportunity,” he said.
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Arizona will be breaking out a new uniform combination Saturday. The Cats will wear red helmets, blue jerseys and red pants.