Utah State vs. North Texas, New Mexico Bowl: TV channel, live stream, watch online, prediction, pick, odds
Utah State is without Matt Wells while North Texas still has Seth Littrell
Bowl season kicks off in earnest on Saturday afternoon, and one of the first games could produce a top matchup when Utah State meets up with North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl. Both teams fell short of conference title contention, but each were clearly a cut above the rest of their respective leagues, especially an Aggies team that broke into the top 15 of the AP Top 25 before losing in the regular season finale at Boise State.
However, complicating matters for this 10-win Utah State team is the departure of head coach Matt Wells, who accepted the head coaching job at Texas Tech to replace Kliff Kingsbury. The Aggies have tapped co-defensive coordinator Frank Malle as its interim coach for the bowl game, but don't be surprised if Gary Andersen is lurking somewhere around Dreamstyle Stadium on Saturday. Utah State announced this week that Andersen is back for a second stint as the Aggies head coach, replacing the man who replaced him six years ago.
North Texas also saw its promising head coach on the rise in the mix for a Power Five job during this spin of the coaching carousel, but Seth Littrell opted to return to the Mean Green instead of reportedly further pursuing the opportunity to replace Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Littrell has led North Texas to back-to-back 9-win seasons for only the second time in program history, and built an offense that has shattered school offensive records in his tenure.
Event: New Mexico Bowl
Date: Saturday, Dec. 15 | Time: 2 p.m. ET
Location: Dreamstyle Stadium -- Albuquerque, New Mexico
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN
Utah State: Turning back to Andersen promises some continuity, and could override any of the usual concerns with teams playing in a bowl in the midst of a coaching change. The play-calling for the game will be handled by offensive coordinator David Yost, whose work with quarterback Jordan Love made him one of the most prolific passers in the country this season. Love enters the bowl game ranked T-10 among FBS quarterbacks with 28 passing touchdowns and the offense ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring, averaging 47.2 points per game. Wells had a huge role in helping build Utah State's dominant offense, but his absence shouldn't be considered a hinderance to performance with Yost and the rest of the offensive staff in place for the bowl game.
Another key to Utah State's this season has been its success in creating game-changing plays with its defense and special teams. The Aggies rank No. 2 in the nation in defensive touchdowns, No. 3 in forced turnovers and No. 1 in kickoff return averages. In a game that's sure to have explosive plays between the offenses, it's the defense and special teams that could end up being the difference.
North Texas: The Mean Green offense is led by junior quarterback Mason Fine. The 2017 and 2018 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year is the school's all-time leader in career passing yards, career passing efficiency and enters the bowl game ranked No. 8 nationally in passing yards per game. Fine is just the fifth player in league history to have been named Offensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and when he starts his senior season in 2019, he will do so as the FBS active leader in career passing yards.
Fine's performance under Littrell's leadership has elevated North Texas' standing among its peers, and this bowl game against a top-30 opponent can serve as a way to kick-start a championship run for 2019.
Game prediction, picks
Buckle up for what's going to be a thrill-ride of a game between two of the most explosive offenses in college football. Bowl games have a tendency to be friendly to overs, so don't be afraid of this high number (68) and lock in for a game that could easily be decided in the mid-80s. Ultimately, Utah State is the better team here, so expect the Aggies to pull away late and cover the spread. North Texas improved defensively this year, but it's still a Conference USA team more than comfortable going up and down the field. I like the Aggies and the over. Pick: Utah State -9.5
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