The fourth bowl of the opening weekend of the bowl season features Conference USA vs. the Mountain West in the first of two hookups between these conferences.
This will be the 16th edition of the New Mexico Bowl with UTEP facing Fresno State. The Miners had a better than expected season at 7-5 and they will be fired up to be in the Land of Enchantment with this their first bowl game since 2014. The Bulldogs expected to be back as bowlers for the first time in three seasons, but a fine 9-3 season was not anticipated. This led to head coach Kalen DeBoer leaving for the same job at Washington.
UTEP Miners vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Saturday, December 18, 2021 – 02:15 PM EST at University Stadium
Top sportsbooks like FanDuel have Fresno State as an 11.5-point favorite with a total of 51. In the history of the New Mexico Bowl, favorites are 7-7-1 ATS. Favorites of more than a touchdown are 5-1 SU, yet only 2-4 ATS.
Scouting Report on UTEP
The Miners (7-5 ATS) got off to one of their best starts in school history at 6-1. Things came unglued for UTEP with close three-point road losses at Florida Atlantic and North Texas. And they didn’t have the talent to stay with conference champion UTSA or UAB and finished 1-4 SU. However, it still was a very successful year, and getting a bowl game is a big deal.
The offense was a little below average, listed 70th in total offense, ranked 85th in rushing and 53rd in passing. Based on who the Miners played, their 25.2 points a game was below what the competition allowed, which was 30.2 PPG.
QB Gavin Hardison does a good job and had 17 touchdown passes, but also was picked 12 times. His favorite target is Jacob Cowing, who caught 67 passes and averaged an outstanding 19.9 yards catch. Ronald Awatt is the feature running back and he totaled over 800 yards on the ground at 5.6 yards carry.
The defense was the strong point of the team and against their first seven opponents, they conceded just 22.5 PPG. When the conference schedule picked up strength-wise, that number ballooned to 34.2 PPG for the Miners and they looked worn out.
Scouting Report on Fresno State
For many programs when a head coach leaves before a bowl game there is upheaval, generally, it is about a 50-50 proposition about how a team might play. Though assistants on DeBoer’s staff will run the team, the rehiring of Jeff Tedford should bring continuity. Tedford was the head coach at Fresno State from 2017-2019, amassing a 26-14 record in three seasons before health issues forced him to step away from the program, clearing the way for DeBoer to take over.
Fresno State (8-4 ATS) averaged 33.6 PPG while permitting only 20.3 PPG. The offense is quarterback-driven, led by Jake Haener, who led the No. 9 passing attack in the country at better than 330 yards a game. Haener had put his name in the transfer portal but withdrew it after Tedford was hired, having been recruited by him originally.
The yards the Bulldogs allowed are similar to what their opponents gained this season, however, the stop troops held them to almost four points below their scoring average.
Who Covers the Spread?
This is the second New Mexico Bowl for both teams, with Fresno State losing 40-35 in 2008 to Colorado State as a 2.5-point favorite. UTEP was in Albuquerque in 2014 and fell to Utah State 21-6 as 10-point underdogs.
These clubs have not met in 17 years and given the problems the Miners had versus stronger offenses, not sure they will be able to hold up against the potent Fresno State passing attack. At the same time, the UTEP offense has been ordinary and the Bulldogs defense could limit them to more field goals than touchdowns.
Though this is a spread larger than we’d prefer, it’s hard to make the case for the Miners to dig up a point spread cover for college football picks.
NCAAF Pick: Fresno State -11.5 (-110) at FanDuel