The Utah State Aggies (9-4, 7-5 ATS) are set to face off against the UTEP Miners (7-5, 9-3 ATS) in the 2014 Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:20 EST Saturday, December 20 at University Stadium in Albuquerque and will be televised on ESPN. Oddsmakers currently have Aggies listed as a 10.5-point favorite with the total set at 49 points.

Utah State finished in a tie for 2nd in the competitive MWC Mountain Division at 6-2, just a game back of Boise State. The Aggies will be making their 4th straight bowl appearance. They defeated Northern Illinois 21-14 last year in the Poinsettia Bowl.

UTEP ended the season tied for 2nd in the C-USA West Division with a record of 5-3. It was quite a turnaround for the Miners, who went just 2-10 in 2013 and had won a combined 5 conference games over the previous 3 years. This will be UTEP’s first appearance in a bowl game since 2010, which saw them lose 24-52 as a 11-point underdog to BYU.

Early Lean on Utah State -10.5

The job that 2nd-year head coach Matt Wells did this season with the Aggies isn’t getting near the praise that it deserves. Utah State returned just 8 starters, but were expected to be contenders in the Mountain West with star senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton back. Keeton played in the first three games of the season and was lost for the year. The injuries at quarterback didn’t stop there, each of the next two quarterbacks on the depth chart suffered season-ending injuries, forcing Utah State to turn to freshman Kent Myers.

That kind of turnover at the quarterback position would derail most teams, but Utah State went into their final game of the regular season against Boise State with a chance to win the Mountain Division and play in the MWC Championship Game. They ended up losing 19-50 to the Broncos. Typically this would have me expecting a letdown in their bowl game, but I just don’t see this Utah State team laying down after what they battle through during the regular season.

UTEP is 4-12 ATS in their last 16 games when listed as an underdog and have lost these matchups by an average of 19.9 ppg.

If anything that loss to Boise State should serve as a motivator for the Aggies. Utah State’s defense is the main reason why this team remained competitive and you have to believe that performance left a sour taste in their mouths. An inspired Aggies’ defense is bad news for UTEP, who don’t match up well at all in this one. The Miners’ offense is dependent on their running game, which ranked 34th nationally at 212.7 ypg, compared to 116th in passing (144.3 ypg). That plays right into the strength of the Utah State defense, which finished 26th against the run (129.3 ypg) and were tops in the MWC allowing just 4.8 yards/play.

The big key here is that I believe the Utah State offense will be able to generate enough offense here to win this game convincingly. UTEP finished a respectable 45th in total defense (369.8 ypg), but that’s more of a result of a soft schedule than this team being a top level defense. They are also at their weakest against the run, which is the one thing the Utah State offense has done well this season. They closed out the year averaging 218.8 ypg on the ground over their last 6 contests.

UTEP is 4-12 ATS in their last 16 games when listed as an underdog and have lost these matchups by an average of 19.9 ppg. Utah State on the other hand is a perfect 6-0 ATS in their last 6 off a bye and 7-0 ATS in their last 7 road games after a SU loss.