- It will be a defensive slugfest in Las Cruces this weekend, but New Mexico State has an offense, too—visiting Wyoming doesn't.
While one might expect Wyoming’s offense to take a step back a season after losing Josh Allen as the No. 7 pick of the NFL draft, there isn’t room for the Cowboys’ offense to get much worse—Wyoming was only one of five teams among the 129 in FBS to average fewer than 290 total yards per game in 2017. So although the team returns its top two rushers from a year ago in Trey Woods and Kellen Overstreet along with its top two receivers in Austin Conway and C.J. Johnson, it’s fair to wonder whether those players will be any more effective now that redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal will be starting at quarterback as opposed to a player who turned out to be a top-10 NFL draft pick.
The strength of Wyoming is clearly a defense that returns eight starters after having ranked 23rd in the country in yards allowed per game in 2017. The Cowboys led FBS by a relatively wide margin with 38 takeaways and with a turnover margin of +24, comfortably ahead of the 32 takeaways and +17 turnover margin that placed 13-0 UCF second in each category. While a lot of the credit for that performance should go to the ball-hawking abilities of safety Andrew Wingard and others on the Cowboys’ defense, there’s always at least some amount of good fortune that goes into accumulating takeaways, which is why it’s difficult to expect Wyoming to post such gaudy numbers in that area for a second straight season.
New Mexico State will also be breaking in a new quarterback on Saturday evening with Matt Romero, a junior college transfer from California’s Palomar College, filling the vacancy created by the departure of Tyler Rogers, whose average of 334.7 passing yards per game last season ranked third among FBS quarterbacks behind only Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Romero, who threw for 5,873 yards and 49 touchdowns over his two seasons at Palomar, said of NMSU’s system at the Aggies’ media day in late July, “It’s really the exact same offense I ran at Palomar. There’s a lot of new terminology to learn but the plays are the same. That made things a lot easier for me.”
Further easing Romero’s transition is the fact that New Mexico State returns six offensive linemen with starting experience. The Aggies have seven more starters returning on the defensive side of the ball for what will be former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani’s second season as NMSU’s defensive coordinator. The only FBS team last season to rack up more sacks than the 43 the Aggies tallied was Miami, which had 44. It represented a drastic improvement over the prior season, when the only FBS teams to tally fewer sacks than New Mexico State’s 11 were Texas State and East Carolina.
This is only the second all-time meeting between these teams, and the first since 1953. The Aggies are coming off a season in which they ended the nation’s longest bowl drought at 57 years, and they’ve gone 4-2 ATS as a home underdog since the start of the 2016 season. Wyoming, meanwhile is 2-4 straight up and 1-4-1 ATS over its past six games as a road favorite, and the Cowboys are 1-10-1 over the past dozen games that they’ve been favored on the road by more than a field goal. Although the total seems to be relatively low at 46, a strong case can be made that each team’s defense ranks as its superior unit. It’s also worth noting that the average number of total points scored by both teams in Wyoming’s five 2017 road games was 39 and each of the eight home games New Mexico State has played since the midway point of the 2016 season has gone under the total. The preferred play in this one, however, appears to be New Mexico State on the moneyline as long as it stays north of +140.
Side Pick: New Mexico State +4
Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)
Total Pick: Under 46
Confidence Level: Moderate