New Mexico Bowl Presented by Progressive, which takes place in Albuquerque. The 10-2 Utah State Aggies will face off with the 9-2 North Texas Mean Green, an intriguing matchup of two solid programs from outside the Power Five conferences.
While these two schools may not have the profile or national following of the big boys in the world of college football, they are both as strong as their stellar records indicate. Utah State was a legitimate contender for the Mountain West crown and spent some time in the Top 25.
On an overall basis, North Texas is one of the stronger squads in Conference USA, but a 5-3 conference record prevented the school from taking down its division. We can expect both teams to be amped up for a national audience and ready to prove their programs are for real.
Let’s take a look at this game in full detail, starting with what the folks in the desert have to say.
Utah State vs. North Texas, 2 PM EST, Sat. December 15, ESPN
Utah State vs. North Texas pick:
Utah State opened up the regular season by pushing the Michigan State Spartans to the limit. While they walked off the field on the wrong end of a 38-31 decision to a Spartans squad that was ranked #11 entering the contest, the team’s strong showing was definitely a portender of what was to come in 2018.
North Texas opened up the season with a four-game winning streak, a span which saw the squad post 40+ points in each contest. The team hit a speed bump in the form of Louisiana Tech from that point, but its strong play continued for the remainder of the regular season.
|Utah State||10-2||7-1||566||276||L1||2-MW Mountain|
|North Texas||9-3||5-3||437||262||W2||2-CUSA West|
After losing to Michigan State, the Aggies would not drop another contest until the final game of the regular season. In between was an impressive 10-game winning streak in which they conquered foes such as BYU and Colorado State. The loss in the finale to Boise State was a bit of a heartbreaker, as Utah State fell by a score of 33-24, losing its shot at the Mountain West title game in the process.
After starting the season with a mark of 4-1, the Mean Green would go 5-2 the rest of the way. Unfortunately for North Texas, all three of their losses came in conference play, which set the stage for a solid UAB team to take down the Conference USA West division. It’s certainly not a reach to suggest they were actually the second-best team in the conference for 2018.
Utah State has a definite edge on offense, but North Texas brings the stronger passing attack to the table. It’s pretty much a wash defensively, but the Mean Green are stronger against the run than their opponents.
Pressure and turnovers are also even, but North Texas is weaker when it comes to protecting their own QB. Penalty yards per game tells us that North Texas is a slightly more disciplined squad, but it’s not enough of a difference to be overly concerned about.
These two programs have not met on the field since 2004 – a 31-23 North Texas victory – so there’s not too much to glean from historical meetings. Both squads went bowling last year as well. North Texas fell to Troy by a score of 50-30 in the New Orleans Bowl, while Utah State fell to New Mexico State by a score of 26-20.
Last year’s New Mexico Bowl saw Marshall defeat Colorado State by a score of 31-28, a mark that just eclipsed the Over/Under of 58 points.
We have another tidbit to consider while handicapping this game. Utah State head coach Matt Wells has accepted an offer to be the new head man at Texas Tech. Co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile will be the man in charge, while Gary Andersen will be taking over on a permanent basis.
What that means for the Aggies performance on Saturday is anybody’s guess, but it’s tough to see it as being a positive. While the game is naturally a big deal for the players, there is a lot to be said for continuity when we’re talking about athletes at the college level.
We could see them come out more fired up than normal and ready to prove their mettle even further, but it could also metastasize in the opposite direction. That being the case, we’ll be looking for a tighter contest than the spread indicates. In fact, North Texas pulling the on-paper upset wouldn’t exactly be a stunning development.
We’ll take North Texas plus the points.