Utah State vs. North Texas (New Mexico Bowl)
When: Saturday, December 15, 2:00 PM EST
Where: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
TV/Streaming: ESPN / Watch ESPN
Utah State Aggies (T-1st MWC Mountain, 10-2, 7-1)
Utah State has seen one head coach leave and another get hired with Gary Anderson the new man in charge in Logan. Caught in the midst of that transition has been Frank Maile, who was named the interim head coach after Matt Wells bolted for Texas Tech two weeks ago.
Utah State’s 10-1 start to this season was its best in school history, topping Merlin Olsen’s 1961 team that finished with a 9-1-1 record. USU also won 10 straight games for the first time in school history this year, topping Olsen’s 1960 team that won its first nine games. Overall, USU’s 10 wins this season are tied with the 2014 team for the second-most in school history and this is just the third time ever that USU has won 10 or more games, along with the 2012 team that finished with a school-best 11-2 record.
Utah State has already set school records this season with its 72 touchdowns and 566 points scored, bettering the previous marks of 60 touchdowns in 2011 and 454 points scored in 2012. The Mountain West record for points scored in a season is 608 by BYU in 2001.
Utah State ranks among the top 20 teams in the nation in 19 statistical categories and leads the nation in four of those, including scoring drives under one minute (24), kickoff returns (29.68 yards per return), passes intercepted (18) and three-and-outs forced (5.58 per game).
Key Player: QB Jordan Love was the terror of the Mountain West this year. He threw for 3,208 yards on the season. That includes 28 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and a QB rating of 159.9, good for second best in the conference. Look for him to be the coach on the field in this game and how well he
Fantasy Bonus Baby: RB Darwin Thompson is the running standout with his 951 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns this season for the Aggies but his back-up is more than capable as well in RB Gerold Bright(785 yards rushing, 8 TDs). Both will get their share of carries and both are great options for fantasy play in this game.
North Texas Mean Green (T-2nd C-USA, 9-3, 5-3)
In the 105 years that North Texas fielded a football team, it has won as many as nine games seven times, including this year. A win tomorrow would push the 2018 Mean Green’s record to 10-3, making this year’s North Texas team the first in school history to rack up double-digit wins.
Coach Seth Littrell and his players opened 2018 facing high expectations, a rarity for a program that’s won only two bowl games in its history. After finishing 9-5 in 2017, UNT returned 17 starters.
Littrell himself has reportedly been in contact with the Big 12’s Kansas State but withdrew his name as a candidate. Kansas State would get their coach in FCS North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman and Littrell with his entire staff is still with the Mean Green.
The biggest win for the Mean Green came at the SEC’s Arkansas. UNT, however, has faltered down the stretch, dropping a home game to Louisiana Tech and losing to Old Dominion and Alabama-Birmingham on the road to keep it away from the C-USA title possibility.
Despite this, UNT is a team on the rise and look to continue that with a win over a very good Utah State game in this bowl game.
Key Player: QB Mason Fine leads an explosive passing attack for the Mean Green. He’s completing 64.6 percent of passes this season with 27 touchdowns against just five interceptions. North Texas is averaging over 316 yards per game and Fine has been one of the most prolific passers in the entire nation. He will need to make the right reads against a very stingy Aggie defense.
Fantasy Bonus Baby: WR Rico Bussey Jr., should be the top receiver on the field Saturday. Bussey Jr. enters the game with 1,017 receiving yards on the season on just 68 receptions, and 12 touchdowns. Look for him and FIne to find each other a number of times in this game and will be great fantasy play from this bowl game.
Jamie: North Texas had one of the cooler punt return touchdowns this season. But Utah State is clearly the better team. Utah State 44, North Texas 27
Kent: Utah State has been the stronger of these two teams this year but will be interesting to know how the Aggies will perform with its interim coach. Utah State 29, North Texas 20
Chuck: The interim coach adds an interesting wrinkle, but ultimately I think Utah State’s talent wins out. Utah State 30, North Texas 24