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Zeitler: If season-long momentum influences New Mexico Bowl, CMU will win


Central Michigan wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton carries the ball on the left sideline in the Mid-American Conference championship game at Ford Field in Detroit. 

The rest of the CM Life football coverage crew is stationed in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Bowl matchup between Central Michigan and San Diego State.

Meanwhile, I sit at home in Michigan with cheeks triple their normal size and a bowl full of applesauce next to me as I try to ward off dry sockets after my recent wisdom tooth surgery.

As the crow flies, over 1,300 miles separate me from my CM Life colleagues and the bowl game festivities going on in Dreamstyle Stadium. Even despite the distance, I can feel the excitement surrounding this opportunity for the Chippewas.

And I’ll come right out and say it: I think CMU will win this game.

Normally, I’m not a big believer in momentum when it comes to bowl season because there’s so much down time between the regular season and a team’s last game. In the Chippewas’ case, however, only 14 days have elapsed since they last took the field, which is really nothing more than having a bye week to prepare and recover from nagging injuries.

As the 2019 season wore on, CMU’s level of play improved tremendously. After starting 2-3 on the year, the Chippewas proceeded to win six of their next seven to clinch a berth in the Mid-American Conference championship game. 

Even though CMU lost to Miami (Ohio), 26-21, in the conference title game at Ford Field, the Chippewas outgained the Redhawks in both the passing and rushing departments and succumbed to a team that simply did exactly what was needed to overcome CMU in crunch time.

I feel the Chippewas are still near their peak and will channel that production in the New Mexico Bowl.

The Aztecs, on the other hand, are slumping. They got off to a blazing start in 2019, going 7-1 through their first eight games and moving into the AP Top 25. But in the month of November, SDSU went 2-2 in its final four games and managed only 13.5 points per game.

SDSU hopes that with a new month and an extended break from games, it’ll be able to rediscover its initial potency of play in time for the bowl game.

With that said, the Chippewas also hold an advantage when it comes to having extra time to prepare.

The matchup with the Aztecs will be the fourth time this season where CMU has had more than one week of practice to get ready for the next opponent: Albany back in August, Ball State and Toledo in November, and now SDSU. 

The Chippewas are 3-0 thus far in such games and look to improve that mark in the bowl game against the Aztecs, who haven’t played in three full weeks. 

Furthermore, SDSU hasn’t performed well at all this season with more than a week between games: in the Azetcs’ season opener, they won only 6-0 against FCS opponent Weber State. Then, on Nov. 9, SDSU came out of its bye week and fell to an inferior Nevada squad.

According to the polls for ESPN Bowl Mania picks, 84% of entries have the Aztecs defeating CMU. That makes sense -- SDSU has a better record and hasn’t had a losing season in a decade, whereas the Chippewas were the second-worst team in the FBS only a year ago.

But I think we’re in for an upset.

I won’t be in Albuquerque to take in the game from the Dreamstyle Stadium press box, and it’d be an understatement to say I’m bummed I couldn’t cover the bowl game fun alongside sports editor Evan Petzold, assistant sports editor Austin Chastain, fellow beat reporter Christian Booher and photo editor Isaac Ritchey. 

Instead, I’ll be kicked back in my lounge chair in Michigan tuned into ESPN, ice packs pressed to my cheeks and applesauce by my side as I watch the Chippewas try to defy the odds once again.