Date/Time: October 3, 10:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Fresno State -1
The San Diego State Aztecs and the Fresno State Bulldogs each picked up their first conference win in Week 5 as SDSU downed UNLV and Fresno State bested New Mexico. One of them will get their first conference loss on Friday night in Fresno when these two teams meet under the Friday night lights. This is a big game for both teams with an all-important tiebreaker in the Mountain West Conference West Division on the line. It’s a three-team race with the Aztecs, Bulldogs, and Nevada Wolfpack, so this is certainly a game with conference title game implications. After San Diego State opened a small favorite, Fresno State is now a slight favorite.
The Aztecs are off to a bit of a difficult start offensively. Though they’ve scored 28 or more points in three of their four games, quarterback Quinn Kaehler has just two passing touchdowns against six interceptions. The running game behind Donnel Pumphrey has been a saving grace for Rocky Long’s team. Pumphrey has averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his 75 rushes and has racked up nine touchdowns on the ground. An injury to Ezell Ruffin has made throwing the football even more difficult and that showed against UNLV. Pumphrey ran for 167 and four touchdowns as Kaehler was only 16-of-27 for 207 yards. Fortunately for the Aztecs, the Bulldogs struggle mightily against the run.
Defensively, Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 scheme continues to have success. The Aztecs have held all four opponents, including North Carolina and Oregon State, to 31 points or less. The Aztecs held Oregon State to 372 yards. The Aztecs are hoping to allow less than 400 yards per game for the sixth consecutive season, which is no small feat in the offense-first, defense-second Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs held the Bulldogs to 341 yards in their 35-28 upset overtime victory last season, the lowest yardage output of the season for Fresno up until their bowl game against USC.
In that game last season, the Bulldogs still had Derek Carr, Isaiah Burse, and Davante Adams. It’s been a struggle for the Bulldogs to replace that kind of production. The Bulldogs are averaging 30 points per game after racking up 43.4 points per contest last season. Junior college transfer Brian Burrell is getting more comfortable in the offense as his completion percentage is approaching 60 percent and he has an 8/3 TD/INT ratio. Josh Harper, the returning top receiver from last season, has twice the receptions and receiving yards of anybody else on the team.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have suffered from a lot of breakdowns and a daunting schedule. The Bulldogs opened the season with three straight power five conference opponents and gave up at least 52 points to each of them. Against Southern Utah and New Mexico, the beleaguered defense gave up just 40 points, but those are hardly sound offensive teams. Ten starters returned from last season’s defense that avoided scrutiny because the Carr-led offense could outscore everybody. The spotlight is on the defense now.
Rocky Long has quietly been a solid coach in his second tenure at San Diego State. With a 2-2 SU/ATS mark this season, Long is now 27-16 straight up and 22-20-1 against the number. As an underdog, Long is 9-6-1 ATS over the last three seasons. Tim DeRuyter’s 11-2 ATS record in his first season has not carried over to the last two seasons. He’s now 6-11-1 ATS over his last 18 games. The Bulldogs were 6-0 ATS as home chalk in 2012 and are just 3-5 ATS since.
Free College Football Pick: Fresno State Bulldogs
Perception was down on the Bulldogs because of who they lost and how they looked to start the season, but like last week’s cover against New Mexico, the Bulldogs can still be a solid team against comparable competition. There’s a big difference playing conference competition than playing against power five teams, especially with so much transition on offense. There’s a revenge angle here after San Diego State’s overtime win last season. The initial line move is correct on this game and the Bulldogs should get to .500 with a win and cover over the Aztecs.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.