Two of the best Group of Five schools in the nation will meet in the Land of Enchantment in one of the first bowl games of the season. Neither the Utah State Aggies nor the North Texas Mean Green ended up playing in their conference championship games, but both schools had great seasons. With a win here, North Texas would finish with 10 wins for the first time in school history. Utah State just won 10 games for the third time in school history, and a win would match their best finish ever.
North Texas Mean Green vs. Utah State Aggies New Mexico Bowl Betting Odds: Utah State -8.5, O/U 66.5 Location: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico Date and Time: Saturday, December 15, 2018, 2 p.m. ET New Mexico Bowl TV Coverage: ESPN
It didn’t take long for Utah State to show the world they were for real this season. The Aggies nearly knocked off No. 11 Michigan State in their season opener, leading the Spartans by one point late in the fourth. They ended up losing that game, but they reeled off 10 straight wins afterwards, winning eight of those ten by double digits. Utah State was looking to win its first conference title, but a loss on the road to Boise State in the season finale left them out and sent them to Albuquerque.
The Mean Green pulled off one of their biggest wins in school history earlier this year when they hammered Arkansas. North Texas pulled off one of the most devious trick plays in recent memory in that game, and the Mean Green ended up spanking the Razorbacks 44-17. However, they lost three close games in Conference USA play, and that cost them a chance to play in their conference title game.
Both Utah State and North Texas were previously in the Big West and Sun Belt together, so these schools have some history.
Injuries and Absences
There are some concerns in the secondary for Utah State ahead of this game. Safeties Ja’Marcus Ingram and Shaq Bond both suffered season-ending injuries in mid-November, and they will be missed. Cornerback Deante Fortenberry is questionable to play, and not having one of their starters would certainly hurt. Back-up defensive tackle Gasetoto Schuster has been out since September, and wide receiver Jordan Nathan is questionable because of a concussion.
North Texas has been without the services of offensive lineman Brendon Weatherspoon for the entirety of the season, and running back Loren Easly was lost for the season in early October.
Utah State has yet to settle on a new head coach. Matt Wells was hired away by Texas Tech two weeks ago, and the Aggies have yet to name a replacement. According to multiple sources, former head coach Gary Andersen is likely to return to the program, but there has been no official announcement yet.
Seth Littrell has done a bang-up job at North Texas. Over the last three years, he has turned things around in Denton, and that has led to speculation that he is ready to take over at a larger school. He was rumored to be one of Kansas State’s top targets to replace Bill Snyder, but on Friday he announced that he would be staying at North Texas for the time being. It was a great day for the program altogether as Littrell and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell both decided to stay after some were reporting that he had signed on to be Mack Brown’s offensive coordinator at North Carolina. It appears like they will have their full coaching staff ahead of this one.
Player to Watch
Mason Fine was just named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season after another magnificent year. The undersized quarterback from Oklahoma was lightly recruited out of high school despite prodigious numbers, and he is now the school’s all-time leader in most passing stats.
Fine threw for over eight yards an attempt this season, and he did not make many mistakes. He tossed just five interceptions over the course of the year, and four of those came in North Texas’ last three games. Fine will be facing arguably the best defense he has faced this season though.
New Mexico Bowl Pick
Continuity and motivation are keys in bowl season, and those will contribute to North Texas pulling off the outright upset here. The Mean Green are just three points behind the Aggies in S&P+, and they will be excited to have Littrell and Harrell back. North Texas will want to prove a point, while Utah State is still determining how to go forward. Not having a head coach less than a week before a game is not an enviable situation, and the Aggies are likely to look out of sorts on the field.