- Matt Wells will be on the Utah State sideline in the New Mexico Bowl, but he won’t be coaching. Can Utah State still handle North Texas without one of the game’s brightest coaches?
New Mexico Bowl: North Texas Mean Green vs. Utah State Aggies
Sat., Dec 15, 2:00 p.m. ET in Albuquerque, NM
Three things to know before betting on the New Mexico Bowl:
1. Over the last three seasons, the Mean Green are 0-7 against the spread when playing away from home against teams with a completion percentage of 58% or better. North Texas was also just 0-6 against the spread after games where it forced one or fewer turnovers this season, and covered in only one of its final eight games. Meanwhile, Utah State was an impressive 9-3 against the spread on the year. The Aggies came extremely close to playing in the Mountain West Championship Game, but were unable to earn a big road win against Boise State in the final week of the regular season. One issue this Utah State team is facing is the fact that Matt Wells will not be coaching in this one. Wells agreed to become the new head coach at Texas Tech, and he is bringing offensive coordinator David Yost with him. But Frank Maile—who will be in charge of this team until Gary Andersen comes back for his second stint with Utah State—knows that he’s best off not changing anything here. Wells’s up-tempo spread system is the reason Utah State was so good this year, and that is the team’s biggest advantage against North Texas.
2. Utah State’s offense has been explosive this season, and almost all of that has to do with the play of quarterback Jordan Love. On the season, Love threw for 3,208 yards with 28 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also added another six scores on the ground. Love is incredible for the Aggies because he plays within the offense and plays within himself. Utah State finds its success by getting to the line quickly and playing extremely fast. If Love is completing passes at a good clip—which he did this year, as evidenced by his 65.8% completion percentage—then opposing defenses are going to get tired quickly.
That should be exactly the case against North Texas, as the Mean Green passing defense is extremely beatable. North Texas gave up 246.1 yards per game through the air this season, which is only good for 88th in FBS. The team does force opposing quarterbacks to make a lot of mistakes—it had 17 picks this year—but Love isn’t the type of quarterback that will give the ball up very often.
3. While Utah State had the third-best scoring offense in the country this season, it’s important to note that this defense is capable of getting stops. The Aggies had the 38th-best scoring defense in the nation, which is why Utah State was fourth in the nation in average scoring margin. Where the Aggies have had some struggles is through the air, which isn’t exactly a perfect recipe for success against an offense led by a quarterback as good as Mason Fine. Utah State gives up a ton of yards, but the Aggies generally have been a bend-don’t-break defense. While the team has given up 240.1 passing yards per game this season (79th in FBS), the Aggies have only allowed 17 touchdowns through the air. That suggests that Utah State has the ability to somewhat slow the North Texas offense down. The Mean Green, however, don’t seem equipped to slow down Utah State.
Pick: Utah State -9.5
Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)