New Mexico Bowl Free Pick: BYU Cougars vs. UTEP Miners
(6-6, 7-5 ATS)
(6-6, 5-7 ATS)
The UTEP Miners and BYU Cougars have led fairly opposite lives this year. The men from the Lone Star State might have a relatively short trek to get to Albuquerque, but they certainly haven’t played well of late, losing five of their last six to limp into the bowl season. BYU is on fire though, having lost just once over the course of the last month of the season. The two will butt heads in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday to kick off the bowl campaign.
BYU really doesn’t have that much of an offense this year, which is really a big time switch from the norm. However, considering the fact that the school lost its quarterback (Max Hall) and tight end (Dennis Pitta) to the NFL and its running back (Harvey Unga) to an expulsion from the university, things aren’t all that bad in Cougar Country. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has done a great job keeping this program together, even if the entire offense really does revolve around just two men. QB Jake Heaps has come on strong in recent weeks, putting together nine of his 11 TD tosses over the course of his last four games. He has only thrown for 2,052 yards this year, but for a freshman, he is certainly coming along. You can bet that RB JJ Di Luigi is going to be a top target to watch here in New Mexico as well. Di Luigi was the heart and soul of the team, and he was clearly the MVP in a year in which he was supposed to be nothing more than a third down back. He rushed for 819 yards and caught 42 passes for 422 yards, totaling eight TDs, all of which were team highs.
This was supposed to be a year in which QB Trevor Vittatoe and the UTEP offense shined brightly, but that just wasn’t the way things panned out this year. The Miners didn’t score more than 28 points once in their last six games of the season. Ironically, it was without the services of RB Donald Buckram in the first half of the year that things were going well. Buckram never really got going this year like he was supposed to, leaving RB Joseph Banyard to carry the load. Banyard only had 612 yards on the ground, and the Miners consequently only ranked No. 60 in the land in rushing. Vittatoe only threw for 2,511 yards and was well short of his totals in recent years as the team’s starting quarterback. UTEP is one of the few teams in this bowl season that ranks in the bottom half of all teams in major college football in every major offensive category. The defense wasn’t all that swift either, as allowing 399.8 yards per game and ranking No. 73 or worse in all yardage categories wasn’t anything to be proud of, especially in Conference USA.
We normally hate laying this type of chalk, especially in bowl games, but we feel as though this is a nice spot to do it in. Conventional wisdom suggests that we roll with the hot hand, and knowing that the Cougars played a significantly harder schedule this year than the Miners did, we have no reservations about posting a victory of at least two TDs for the men from the Beehive State.
New Mexico Bowl Pick: BYU Cougars -11.5
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