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Albuquerque • The New Mexico Bowl isn't considered one of the top-tier bowls, with a payout of just $456,250 per team expected.

But don't tell UTEP or Utah State their bowl isn't major, as the way they both see it, Saturday's contest is huge for their programs.

The Aggies are trying to win three bowl games in a row, something that hasn't been done in school history, while UTEP is going for its first bowl win since 1967.

Utah State coach Matt Wells said winning bowl games is crucial for recruiting as well as providing a big stepping stone for future success.

"It's big-time motivation for us," he said. "It's never been done here before, three straight. Ten wins will be the second-most amount of wins in this program's history. Each of us that were here two years ago to be a part of that, that's something we'll have for a long time. We're doing a lot of things that have never been done before in Utah State football."

The Miners have a similar view of the bowl game thanks to a revival under second-year coach Sean Kugler who made the Miners a bowl eligible team after they went just 2-10 in 2013.

"This whole year has been exciting for everybody," Kugler said. "The atmosphere around campus has been so energizing. To get a bowl win would top it off."

The Miners' turnaround reflects the one Utah State made several seasons ago. The Aggies had suffered 13 straight losing seasons until 201l. That season, Gary Andersen's third as the head coach, the Aggies went 7-6 with a loss to Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

While the record may not have been impressive to casual observers, it marked a change in expectations inside the Aggie program. That small taste of success played a huge part in the Aggies' 11-2 mark in 2012, Wells believes.

"Success leads to success," he said. "I absolutely believe that."

He sees the Miners on a similar path and noted the desire for consistent wins could make UTEP an extremely tough opponent on Saturday.

"We know we are going to have our hands full," he said. "They're motivated just like we are."

All of UTEP's bowl wins have come in the Sun Bowl in El Paso with the last a 14-7 victory over Ole Miss in 1967.

Winning a bowl game would be a great way to cap off the season, but like Wells, Kugler is stressing the importance of winning for the future, not so much for the present.

"I don't look back, I always look forward," he said. "I don't even think once about last year. It was a necessary step that we had to go through to get where we are now. After this year, I won't even look back at this year. Our wheels are going forward and we are always looking to improve on and off the field."

The need to win for the future doesn't end just with the coaches. The players feel a responsibility to set the bar for future Aggies, senior Brian Suite said.

"We expect to win bowl games," Suite said. "We want to go out with one here so the seniors can go out right and we can keep the program moving forward."

So monetarily there might not be much riding on this game, but bowl wins? In the eyes of these teams, it would be priceless. —

Utah State vs. UTEP

P At University Stadium, Albuquerque

Kickoff • 12:25 p.m.


Radio • 610

Records • Utah State (9-4, 6-2 MW), UTEP (7-5, 5-3)

Series history • USU leads, 2-0

Last meeting • USU, 21-6, Sept. 16, 1961

About the Aggies • USU is 3-6 all-time in bowl games…The Aggies completed their fourth-straight winning season, the longest such streak since five winning seasons from 1971-75…USU has won 17 straight games when it has a rusher go for 100 yards or more…USU is averaging 227 yards rushing in its last five games…The Aggies are 13-15 against current members of Conference USA.

About the Miners • Tied for second place in the West division of Conference USA…Running back Autrey Golden 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns on 217 carries…Quarterback Jameill Showers is 146-of-262 for 1,732 yards and 12 touchdowns and five interceptions…The Miners are averaging 28.3 points and giving up 28.7 points…Coach Sean Kugler is 9-15 in his second season as the Miners' head coach.