There was a time when playing New Mexico in Albuquerque elicited the type of fear only reserved for terrifying clowns in our darkest nightmares. That time has quickly passed.
It's been two season since Utah's narrow escape from the Land of Enchantment - a win that preserved their BCS hopes. Much has changed since that 13-10 Ute victory and for New Mexico, none of it has been good. The Lobos forced out long-time coach Rocky Long and replaced him with the supposed offensive guru Mike Locksley. What followed was the worst possible stretch for a first year head coach in college football history.
There was the near-winless season (they finished 1-11). The 0-10 start and if it couldn't get worse, Locksley decked one of his assistants.
Needless to say, there wasn't much of a grace period for the first year head coach.
If there is any shred of good news that came from the 2009 season, it's that you wouldn't think it could get much worse. How do you not improve on 1-11?
Well 2009 Lobos, meet the 2010 Lobos. Two weeks into the season and New Mexico has already given up 124 points.
It's hard to believe just two years ago this was a team many hated playing because of their scrappy, hard-nosed defenses. Now everyone is scoring against New Mexico. They're like the Paris Hilton of college football.
For Utah, that's good news. If there is one team that had no business giving us fits, yet did, it was the New Mexico Lobos.
They did it every single year.
In 1994, they wrecked our perfect season. In 2003, they were the lone team standing between Utah and a perfect conference record. Of course, then there were hard to swallow defeats in 2005 and 2006.
Since that 06 debacle in Albuquerque, the Utes haven't fallen to the Lobos again. That includes last year's drubbing in Salt Lake City. It was, without question, the most dominant performance of the year for Utah and a rarity in this short but contested rivalry.
It's hard to imagine, with all their flaws and warts, New Mexico has somehow managed to regroup enough to shorten the gap between the two programs. If this were Rocky Long's team, this game would concern the hell out of me. Mike Locksley, though? I just pity the man.
With that said, we can't get too confident here. It's still the first road game of the year and it's unclear who'll be starting at quarterback for Utah.
What happens when you potentially overlook the Lobos because they're just downright horrific? Well ask the BYU Cougars, who came dangerously close to the program's most embarrassing loss ever last year. It took a huge defensive stop in the final minutes to preserve their 24-19 win.
It was an ugly, ugly game that had no business being that close in the first quarter, let alone the fourth. It's not that BYU was somehow exposed that night (they would go on to beat Utah and Oregon State), it's just that it was one of those games that leaves a good chunk of the country asking, "what the %@#%."
You know, the type of loss that Virginia Tech saw against James Madison last week. Sure, the Lobos aren't an FCS team - but they might as well be and that's where Utah can't get caught napping.
These types of bad teams thrive off just a sliver of hope. You give them a tiny opening and they'll take it because they have nothing to lose.
Utah can't allow that to happen and it starts by not allowing them to hang around. You strike first and often and the Lobos will retreat. I almost guarantee it. However, you let them linger and they'll slowly gain enough confidence to take the Utes down to the wire. That's what they did with BYU and if it weren't for their own stupidity, it would've worked.
Well I don't want this game to come down to whether or not New Mexico muffs it.
This needs to be a blowout. Not a high scoring blowout. Just a blowout. It can be methodical. It can be 28-0 for all I care. Just don't give people the perception nationally the Utes let a team who lost 72-0 to Oregon hang around with them for most the game.
Of course, if it comes down to a close win or a loss, I'll take the win every single time. But damn I hope it's not a close win.
Not with these Lobos. I expected it two years ago. That was commonplace. Not anymore. Not with Mike Locksley as coach. Not with Rocky Long now sunnin' it up on the beaches in San Diego.
Win it and win it big.
Utah wins if...Utah shows up and doesn't somehow overlook the hapless Lobos. New Mexico is an awful team. Texas Tech held them to 17 points and that's Texas Tech - where defense is a foreign concept. Show up, play defense and the Utes should win.
New Mexico wins if...Snark aside, if the Utes decide to mail this game in, you never know. Fans get excited when the 14th ranked team rolls into town and so do the players. They want to make a statement and a win over Utah would certainly do just that.
What will happen...Utah's defense pretty much shuts down the Lobo defense and Terrance Cain, assuming he starts, runs the vanilla offense well enough to score a decent amount of points. It shouldn't be close and I don't think it will be close. Utah wins 38-13.
What are your predictions?