The first Saturday of bowl season gets started with the New Mexico Bowl between the Central Michigan Chippewas of the MAC and the San Diego State Aztecs of the Mountain West. Game time is set for 2:00 EST on Saturday, December 21 at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Current betting odds have the Aztecs favored by 3.5 points with an over/under of 41 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this year’s bowl game betting odds.
Head coach Rocky Long is leading San Diego State into the program’s 10th straight bowl game, a streak started under Brady Hoke in 2010. Long has done a great job of continuing what Hoke started. The Aztecs have finished with a winning record in all nine of Long’s seasons, winning three Mountain West titles along the way.
This year, San Diego State fell a little short of the Mountain West title game. They tied Hawaii for the top spot in the West Division but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Rainbow Warriors. Nevertheless, the 9-3 Aztecs still have a chance to win at least 10 games in a season for the fourth time in the last five years, which would be an impressive accomplishment for Long, who is returning to New Mexico, where he served as head coach for 11 years.
Meanwhile, the Chippewas will be tying to bounce back after losing the MAC Championship Game to Miami (Ohio). Central Michigan got some fortuitous results late in the season, but they also won three in a row to close out the regular season, finishing 6-2 in conference play and winning the MAC West division. Despite losing the MAC title game, the Chippewas are bowling for the sixth time in the last eight years.
CMU’s season is even more impressive when you recall that they went 1-11 last season, going winless in MAC play. However, Jim McElwain turned things around in his first season at the helm. It didn’t take long for the former Florida Gators coach to put his stamp on the program. Win or lose, the Chippewas will be pleased about the direction of the program. However, they would prefer to snap a four-game bowl losing streak and win a postseason game for the first time since 2012.
While McElwain should be thrilled with his team’s performance this year, I’m not sure a bowl win is in the cards. The Aztecs had a better record and played in a better conference. San Diego State also poses challenges that I’m not sure Central Michigan can overcome. This will be a close, low-scoring game, so the 3.5-point spread is actually a lot. But I think the Aztecs will find a way to cover.
The San Diego State defense will be nothing like anything Central Michigan faced in the MAC this season. Whether they would hold up in a power conference, I’m not sure. But the SDSU defense was the crown jewel of the Group of Five this season. The Aztecs gave up less than 13 points per game, albeit against a schedule that only included five bowl teams. Only five teams surpassed 14 points against San Diego State with bowl-bound Utah State and Wyoming the only teams to crack the 20-point barrier when facing the Aztecs.
The closest the Chippewas came to facing a defense on SDSU’s level were in non-conference games against Wisconsin and Miami. The Chippewas managed 58 total yards and three first downs in a loss to Wisconsin. Against Miami, CMU turned it over three times and scored just 12 points, including a safety from their defense. I’m not sure the Aztecs will be quite that dominant, but I don’t like how the Central Michigan offense struggled against top competition.
In fairness, the Central Michigan offense was one of the best in the MAC this year. Quarterback Quinten Dormady ended up having a great year while the backfield tandem of Jonathan Ward and Kobe Lewis combined for over 2,000 yards. McElwain has a keen offensive mind, so he should have a good game plan. But even in the MAC title game, the Chippewas struggled to run the ball against a quality defense, so I’m skeptical about how they’ll fare against the Aztecs.
At the same time, I’ll admit to having a few concerns about the San Diego State offense. The Aztecs are usually among the best rushing teams in the country. However, they struggled to do anything on the ground this year, which is why they averaged just 19 points per game. On the bright side, senior Ryan Agnew gives the Aztecs an experienced quarterback who can manage the game and avoid mistakes. Plus, CMU allowed at least 24 points in six of their nine MAC games, so they don’t exactly have a lock-down defense.
Honestly, taking the under might not be a bad bet here, although 41 points is a low under on a college football game. I feel a little more confident taking the Aztecs to cover 3.5 points. Despite their offensive struggles, the Aztecs won eight of their nine games by at least four points, which makes me think San Diego State will take care of business and win by more than a field goal.