The New Mexico Bowl has managed to avoid lopsided games in the current decade.
In 2010 and ’11 BYU and Temple whipped UTEP and Wyoming respectively, but apart from Utah State’s 21-6 win over the Miners, no New Mexico Bowl since then has been decided by more than a single touchdown.
Yet as December 15th draws closer, sportsbooks are keeping a pretty wide point spread on the match-up between Utah State and North Texas. In fact, the line on the New Mexico Bowl is the widest point spread on a December bowl game from now until BYU vs Western Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl on 12/21.
The spread, however, has tightened since opening in double-digits.
Who: Utah State Aggies vs North Texas Mean Green
When: Saturday, December 15th, 2 PM EST
Where: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
Lines: USU (-8.5) vs UNT (+8.5) / O/U Total: (67)
Utah State went on an electrifying hot streak in autumn that has arguably never ended. It just ran over a speed bump at Albertsons Stadium in the waning days of November.
Following USU’s 38-31 loss to Michigan State to open the 2018 season, the team set out on what looked like a routine non-conference jaunt followed by some warm-up Mountain West action. The offense looked great against Tennessee Tech, New Mexico State and Air Force, but those programs are limited athletically compared to BYU, which loomed in Week 5.
Led by super-efficient QB Jordan Love and a stout run defense, the Aggies bulldozed the proud Cougars on their home turf in Provo, picking-off Tanner Mangum and forcing a pair of fumbles in the 45-20 win.
Utah State would dust-off its conference rivals throughout what turned into a 10-game unbeaten streak. The USU defensive backfield was a thief in the night against resurgent Hawaii, with massive, mobile LB David Woodward joining talented junior CB D.J. Williams for an interception party.
The Aggies were blessed by a conference schedule that omitted Fresno State and Nevada. USU’s pair of featured running backs have been ballin’ as much as any 1-2 combo in the MWC, with junior Darwin Thompson and classmate Gerold Bright combining for 1750+ yards and 22 touchdowns.
Good defense, efficient QB, great running game. What could stop a buzz-saw like that in a mid-major conference? Try the Boise Blue.
Utah State has hurt Boise State in big games before, but it was apparent by the 4th quarter of the crucial 2018 tilt that the Broncos would likely prevail. Love was prolific on the blue turf and Thompson was OK, but Bright dimmed for only 8 total yards as the squad was out-rushed 199 to 62.
It didn’t help that Utah State had briefly died and gone to purgatory in a weather-addled scrum vs weak Colorado State in the week prior. In one of the most bizarre and emotional finishes of the season, an illegal-touching call (made accurately) prevented the Rams from notching an unbelievable upset win while preserving the Aggies’ hopes to win a division.
Meanwhile, former Utah State head coach Matt Wells is trying to play the middle against the back end.
It is reported that while Wells, and current/former-ish Utah State OC David Yost, are headed out of town to coach Texas Tech, the pair are planning to attend the USU sideline at the New Mexico Bowl.
It feels like a move intended to keep up morale, but morale is always a question mark for a squad that is losing its coach before bowl season. Especially with the North Texas game approaching so quickly. If Wells didn’t have any issue traveling with the program for a while longer, why not go ahead and coach, even in a figurehead role?
We saw what happened to Oregon without Willie Taggart in the Las Vegas Bowl last season. North Texas can be a rather inconvenient opponent for a distracted team to play.
The Mean Green has to have a big chip on its shoulder right now. Not only is UNT the biggest underdog on the board for college football bowl season’s opening weekend, the squad has worked hard to improve in key areas only to have their progress disregarded on a national level.
Seth Littrell’s team destroyed Arkansas 44-17 on September 15th. It was one of the worst beatings taken by an SEC program against a mid-major in a while. The Mean Green rubbed salt in the wound by putting punt-return specialist Keegan Brewer up to some serious mischief that paid off in spades.
UNT looked darn near unbeatable at that point, with a stubborn defense (that would finish the season ranked #42 in the FBS) and a high-octane offense led by junior QB Mason Fine. The Mean Green followed up the Arkansas win by crowning a surprisingly-tough Liberty squad by 6 TDs.
Things began to slow down, mostly due to an inconsistent ground game. Any scrappy mid-major (UNT has an actual mascot named Scrappy) relies on its ground game to give the defense a chance to play downhill under well-rested circumstances. Loren Easly had a good 5th game against Louisiana Tech, but the backfield as a whole gained only 3.5 yards per carry as the Bulldogs prevailed 29-27.
Defense could be an issue – the unit at UNT is more banged-up than scant injury reports are purporting to show, and in November the Mean Green had a hard time stopping Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls, essentially a bad Power-5 roster posing as a mid-major team.
But North Texas finally has the offense it wants…and neither Fine, nor Torrey, nor 1000-yard receiver Rico Bussey Jr. are planning to leave campus any time soon.
I am expected a hard-fought game between a pretty good mid-major program on the rise and a dominant mid-major program that is rudderless and frustrated to have not won its conference.
That should lead to a close finish, and a cover for the underdog.
Take UNT and (8.5) points in ABQ.