The Aggies are 10.5-point favorites on NCAA football odds with a total of 48.5. for Saturday's Bowl game featuring Utah State of the Mountain West Conference and UTEP from Conference USA.
Kugler Has UTEP Rising
One of the biggest turnarounds in College Football this season came at UTEP. The Miners were just 2-10 last season but improved to 7-5 this year (5-3 in Conference USA) under Coach Sean Kugler. It's the school's first winning season since 2005. Conference USA isn't all that great, but the Miners did play two Big 12 teams, losing 30-26 to Texas Tech and 58-28 to Kansas State. UTEP closed the regular season with a 24-21 win over Middle Tennessee.
UTEP doesn't throw the ball much, averaging just 144.3 passing yards per game, which is 120th nationally. The team's star is sophomore running back Aaron Jones. He finished with 217 carries for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's only the ninth Miner to rush for 1,000 yards. Because UTEP runs the ball so often it tends to hang onto the ball. UTEP is ranked second nationally in time of possession (34:49) and turnovers lost (11).
Don't rule out a special teams score from UTEP kick returner Autrey Golden, who was named second-team All-Conference USA with Jones. Golden is the current active leader in FBS in kickoff returns for touchdowns (six), which is just one shy from tying the all-time record. He returned two this year for scores, coming in back-to-back weeks. The first came was 98 yards against Southern Miss and the second 92 against Western Kentucky. Golden also leads UTEP with 31 receptions.
It's the 14th bowl game in UTEP history and first since losing 52-24 to BYU in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl. UTEP is 9-3 against the spread and 5-7 'over/under' at sportsbooks.
Utah State Usually Wins with Defense
Utah State (9-4, 6-2 Mountain West) had a chance to play in the Mountain West Championship Game if it had upset Boise State in the regular-season finale, but the Aggies were pounded 50-19 for their worst loss of the season. USU had the best defense in the Mountain West, allowing just 4.8 yards per play, although you couldn't tell by that result as Boise had 498 yards of offense.
Utah State ranks 26th in the nation in rushing defense (129.3 ypg). Its defense has forced 29 turnovers, which is tied for seventh in the nation. It has scored five defensive touchdowns, which is No. 6 in the country. Senior linebacker Zach Vigil led the Mountain West and tied for 12th in the nation in tackles for loss (1.50 per game) and was second in the conference and ninth in the nation in tackles (11.2 per game). For his career, Vigil has 42.5 tackles for loss and needs a half-tackle to tie the school record set by Jermaine Younger (1990-93). Vigil's 19.5 tackles for loss this season are 2.5 shy of Younger's single-season school record of 22.0 set in 1993. He has 145 tackles overall. Vigil's younger brother Zach has forced five fumbles, second nationally to only Arizona’s Scooby Wright. Zach Vigil has 116 tackles (16 for loss) and seven sacks.
The Aggies aren't a great offensive team -- they lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton for the season early on. Kent Myers is the starter now and he was 74-for-107 for 798 yards and five touchdowns this season. He's the fourth quarterback the team has started in 2014. No other school in the country can say that. USU has three guys with at least 457 yards rushing, led by LaJuan Hunt's 524 on 107 carries. Utah State has won 17 straight games when it has a 100-yard rusher. The Aggies are averaging 227.0 rushing yards in their last five games.
Before placing your College Football picks, understand that a win in the bowl game would give the Aggies a double-digit win season for just the second time, joining the 2012 team that was 11-2. This is Utah State's fourth straight bowl game and ninth overall. The Aggies have won their past two. Utah State is playing a bowl game against a Conference USA opponent for the first time in school history. USU is 2-0 all time against UTEP, but the teams haven't played since 1961.
USU is 6-7 against the spread in College Football odds this season and 7-6 'over/under.'
Free College Football Picks: Utah State -10.5 and 'under' 48.5 points at BetOnline. USU has covered 16 of its past 21 vs. teams with a winning record. The 'under' is 5-1 in UTEP's past six overall.