PROVO — UTEP football coach Mike Price could hardly contain his enthusiasm Friday when the New Mexico Bowl officially extended an invitation to the Miners to play BYU in the Dec. 18 game in Albuquerque.
Not only is Price happy to be leading UTEP to its first bowl game since 2004, but he's also fired up about the destination, and the chance to face the Cougars.
"It's going to be great to go back (to Albuquerque). We're going to have a great time," Price said during Friday's news conference and announcement party. "I just know that it's a really exciting opponent to play. I'm really, really thrilled with the opponent."
Price is familiar with BYU's history, having served as head coach at Weber State from 1981-1988. In 1989 and 1990, his first two seasons as the head coach at Washington State, Price's teams played the Cougars in Provo twice, splitting the two games.
"The last time I was in (BYU's) stadium — this is the truth — I was doing a live TV show on the 50-yard line after we had just beat them in a really exciting game," Price said. "And just as the cameras went on, it was in the late afternoon, I got bombed by a seagull, right here (pointing to the top of his head) on live television. And it was a load. I said, 'Those darn BYU guys are after me wherever I go.'
"So I have some payback for that, getting crapped on in their stadium. But seriously, we're going to have a great time. We're going to work really hard."
The New Mexico Bowl will kick off at noon and will be televised by ESPN.
This is a match-up between two 6-6 teams and a pair of former Western Athletic Conference opponents. The Cougars lead the all-time series with the Miners, 28-7-1. The two teams haven't played each other since 1998, when BYU defeated UTEP 31-14 at El Paso.
Twenty-five years ago, the Miners staged a monumental 23-16 upset of the then-No. 7 Cougars in El Paso, regarded as one of the biggest wins in UTEP history. It happened months after BYU won the 1984 national championship.
"We are anxious to participate in the postseason and kick off the bowl season with UTEP at the New Mexico Bowl," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "Coach Price is a very successful coach, and UTEP and BYU have a long history as former conference opponents that fans from both schools can renew and enjoy."
Bringing the Cougars and Miners together for this bowl game required plenty of brokering — a convoluted trade involving five conferences and three bowls. The New Mexico Bowl is supposed to pit teams from the Mountain West Conference and the WAC.
"I honestly don't know everything that went into it. I know it was multi-faceted," said New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda. "This is one piece of a much bigger puzzle. I will tell you this — weeks ago, there was interest in having UTEP playing in this game. ... We are all very happy that things worked out the way they did and UTEP is coming to the New Mexico Bowl. We are thrilled to have the Miners and their incredible fans as a part of this event. It just seems to be a natural."
"I was worried because it made way too much sense," Price said of his team going to New Mexico. "Sometimes things don't happen that way when they make too much sense."
UTEP, which hails from Conference USA, enters the New Mexico Bowl having lost five of its last six games, including a 31-28 setback at Tulsa in its regular-season finale on Nov. 20.
"I would have been the most disappointed college coach in America if I hadn't led this team to a bowl game, because I recruited these guys and I told them four years ago we were going to be here and they finally made it," Price said. "I was just along for the ride."
The Miners, who will be the home team for the bowl game, beat New Mexico 38-20 in Albuquerque on Oct. 2.
Price said the New Mexico Bowl provides UTEP fans a great opportunity to attend the game due to its relative proximity. Albuquerque is about a four-hour drive from El Paso.
The Miners are the first team from outside the MWC and the WAC to play in the New Mexico Bowl, which started in 2006.
New Mexico Bowl
BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
Saturday, Dec. 18, noon
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM