New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan clashes with San Diego State for first time
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- After beating Ball State on Nov. 16 and earning its seventh win of the season, Central Michigan knew it would be in a bowl game.
Bowl eligibility marked a colossal turnaround for a program that won just a single game last season and hired its new head coach, Jim McElwain, in December 2018.
In fact, the turnaround from a 1-11 record was the biggest in the nation.
"People thought we would improve by a game or two, but now we have the biggest turnaround in college football," said senior center Steve Eipper. "That's a credit to the coaching staff, the strength coaches and the players for buying in."
After a regular season that far exceeded expectations, the Chippewas (8-5) qualified for the Mid-American Conference championship game by winning the West Division.
In that MAC title game, Central Michigan fell to Miami (Ohio), 26-21, at Ford Field in Detroit.
Fast forward two weeks later.
The Chippewas are set to play in the New Mexico Bowl against San Diego State. It will be the first showdown between the two programs.
“This is an exciting time for us to be able to go play in a bowl game,” McElwain said. “We’re looking forward to it. The people in Albuquerque do an amazing job with this game and take great care of the guys.
"We’re excited about the opportunity to go play an incredible football team.”
San Diego State's defense is what powers the team as it ranks within the top five nationally in scoring, rushing and total defense.
The Aztecs allow 12.8 points per game, which ranks fourth in the nation, 72.3 yards per game on the ground, second in the country, and 288.7 yards per game, fifth in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
"We just play as a team," said Aztec senior linebacker Kyhava Tezino. "We roll out there and play our best and we just hope the outcome goes in our favor.
"We're just going to go out there, play hard, play fast and physical. If the outcome doesn't go our way, we can say we gave it our best."
Where Central Michigan may be able to attack the Aztec defense is through the air. SDSU allows 216.3 passing yards per game, which is puts them No. 52 in the country.
CMU senior graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady said it will be a challenge to face the Aztec defense in his final collegiate game.
"They're a great defense; they fly around and do some different stuff," Dormady said. "It comes back to our preparation. We just have to go out and execute the plan and play as hard as we can for as long as we can."
Offensively, SDSU does not move the ball or score nearly as much as the Chippewas do.
CMU scores 31.9 points per game, while the Aztecs put up just 19. SDSU moves the ball under 200 yards per game both on the ground and through the air.
SDSU senior tight end Parker Houston said, while the numbers don't blow people away, the offense is effective and get the job done when called upon.
"One of the biggest upsides of our offense is we're scrappy," Houston said. "We don't hit big plays a lot but we find ways to grind out chunks and chunks of yardage. It's something that gets us to the end of the game, and hopefully, we can come out on top."
Since making the jump to the Division I in 1975, the Chippewas have played in 11 bowl games and have a 3-8 record.
CMU lost its first two bowl appearances in the 1990s before winning the Motor City Bowl in 2006 over Middle Tennessee State.
The Chippewas did not win a bowl game again until the 2009 GMAC Bowl with a 44-41 overtime win over Troy in Mobile, Alabama. CMU then won its next bowl appearance in the 2012 Little Caesar's Bowl with a 24-21 triumph over Western Kentucky.
Since then, the Chippewas have lost four-straight bowl games, including the 2014 thriller in the Bahamas Bowl when they scored on a number of laterals and lost after a failed two-point conversion with one second remaining.
CMU lost in the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl to Minnesota, the 2016 Miami Beach Bowl against Tulsa and the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Wyoming.
San Diego State, since making the jump to the Division I level by joining the Mountain West Conference in 2000, has made 13 bowl appearances.
The Aztecs defeated the lone Power Five opponent they faced, a 23-14 win at UCLA on Sept. 7. CMU is 0-2 against the Power Five in 2019.
Central Michigan and San Diego State have a common opponent in New Mexico State, which both the Chippewas and Aztecs beat this season. SDSU scored a 31-10 victory on the road while CMU picked up a 42-28 win at home.
Despite the bowl game being the first matchup between the schools, they will face each other again in September 2024 in Mount Pleasant and again in 2030 in San Diego.
In the bowl game, 15 Central Michigan seniors will suit up for the final time for Central Michigan.
“This game will be everything for me,” said senior safety Da'Quaun Jamison. “Just to leave my Chippewa legacy on this great program and this great university. This game will be a polish to show what this football team has for the future.”
2019 New Mexico Bowl
Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Stadium: Dreamstyle Stadium
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Odds: SDSU -3.5
TV: ESPN (Clay Matvick, Ryan Leaf and Dr. Jerry Punch)
Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Adam Jaksa, Brock Gutierrez and Riley Edwards)