One of the biggest spreads of all 42 college football bowl games is in Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl as UTEP faces Fresno State from Albuquerque. Which way to lean at BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks?
UTEP Miners vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Saturday, December 18, 2021 – 02:15 PM EST at Dreamstyle Stadium
This Saturday is the busiest bowl day of college football’s postseason with six games, and the second one to kick off is this New Mexico Bowl matchup between UTEP of Conference USA and Fresno State from the Mountain West. ESPN has the telecast, but some ESPN network telecasts nearly every bowl game so get used to it.
It’s the third time in this bowl game for both programs. UTEP lost 52-24 to BYU in 2010 and lost to Utah State 21-6 in 2014. Fresno State lost 40-35 to Colorado State in 2008 and lost 35-28 in double overtime the next year to Wyoming.
Fresno State leads the all-time series with UTEP 8-3-1 at BMR’s top-rated books, although the Miners have won two of the last three matchups. They haven’t played since 2004.
Dimel Working Wonders at UTEP
Coach Dana Dimel has worked a minor miracle at UTEP as he arrived the season after the Miners were 0-12 and possibly the worst program in the FBS. UTEP went just 1-11 in each of Dimel’s first two seasons but improved to 3-5 in the shortened 2020 campaign and then 7-5 this year, the program’s most wins since finishing 7-6 in 2014 – which was the school’s last bowl appearance (this game).
Dimel is leading a team into a bowl game for the first time as a head coach.
UTEP’s best player is sophomore receiver Jacob Cowing, who caught 67 passes for 1,330 yards (6th nationally) and 7 scores and also rushed three times for 72 yards and a TD this season. He already has tied the school record with 13 career 100-yard games and was named first-team All-Conference USA.
QB Gavin Hardison has thrown for 2,966 yards, 17 TDs, and 12 picks – he’s not a dual-threat. Ronald Awatt has rushed 144 times for 803 yards and 5 scores.
Defensively, sophomore end Praise Amaewhule was first-team All-Conference USA. He leads the team with 13.0 tackles for loss (46 yards), is tied for the lead with 7 breakups (as an end!), and added 39 tackles, 10 quarterback hurries, 5.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.
For what it’s worth, UTEP and Fresno State have had two common opponents this season: The Miners lost at Boise State, 54-13, and beat New Mexico in the Sun Bowl, 20-13. Fresno State lost to Boise State, 40-14, and beat New Mexico, 34-7.
UTEP is 5-9 all-time in bowl games and hasn’t had a victory in one since defeating Mississippi in the 1967 Sun Bowl, 14-7. The Miners are 7-18-1 ATS on the NCAAF picks in their past 26 games overall vs. teams with a winning record.
Coaching Changes at Fresno
It has been a wild couple of weeks for Fresno State (9-3) since ending the regular season with a 40-9 rout at San Jose State on Nov. 25. First, head coach Kalen DeBoer was hired to take over at the University of Washington, so he will not coach this bowl game. Ryan Grubb, the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons, followed DeBoer.
Lee Marks, an assistant head coach, and running backs coach will serve as the interim coach. Receivers coach Kirby Moore will call the offensive plays in this game. He’s the younger brother of Kellen Moore, the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator.
Jeff Tedford will take over as the full-time coach after the bowl. Tedford coached Fresno State from 2017-2019 before health issues forced him to step aside in December 2019. DeBoer served as Fresno State's offensive coordinator under Tedford in 2017 and 2018 and then replaced him as the full-time guy.
Star quarterback Jake Haener originally entered the transfer portal and was going to follow DeBoer to Washington, obviously skipping this bowl game. However, Haener has changed his mind, apologized on social media, and will play in this game. Haener is 2nd in the Mountain West in passing, averaging 317.5 yards per game. He has thrown 32 touchdown passes and has a passing efficiency rating of 158.81, which is the best in the Mountain West and 15th in the nation.
Haener has one of the Mountain West’s best running backs in Ronnie Rivers (788 yards rushing 5 TDs, 364 yards receiver, 4 TDs) and receivers in Jalen Cropper (827 yards, 11 TDs). This is a very explosive offense. Haener and Cropper were second-team All-Mountain West. Defensively, FSU allowed just 16 combined points in its final two games.
This marks Fresno State's first bowl game appearance since 2018 when the Bulldogs beat Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl. Overall, FSU is 11-12 in bowl games.
As long as Haener is good to play, the Bulldogs are the vastly superior team on both sides of the ball. Fresno State is 4-0 ATS on the NCAAF odds in its past four non-conference games.
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