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Arizona Bowl Preview and Prediction: New Mexico State vs. Utah State


The battle for Aggie supremacy takes place in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl between a pair of old conference rivals in Utah State and New Mexico State.

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The history between these two programs stems over the course of three conferences in the old Big West, the Sun Belt, and the now defunct Western Athletic Conference.

This also is a rematch of the 1960 Sun Bowl, which was the last time New Mexico State appeared in a bowl game, as the Aggies have put an end to the nation’s longest postseason drought.

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Utah State

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET

Where: Arizona Stadium (Tucson, Ariz.)

TV Channel: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Utah State -4

Three Things to Watch

1. New Mexico State looking to cap off historic season

Who says there are too many bowl games? New Mexico State is thrilled to be in the Arizona Bowl with a chance to win a postseason game for the first time since that 1960 Sun Bowl against Utah State.

New Mexico State (6-6, 4-4 Sun Belt) earned its bowl bid at the end of the regular season by coming from behind against South Alabama and the city of Las Cruces celebrated like it was 1960 all over again. Next up on the agenda is to cap off the Aggies’ last season as a member of the Sun Belt before becoming an FBS independent by winning a bowl game for the first time in nearly six decades.

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2. Utah State playing in a bowl game for the sixth time in last seven years

It was a big bounce-back season for Utah State (6-6, 4-4 Mountain West) and head coach Matt Wells after posting a losing campaign in 2016 (3-9) for the first time since 2010.

The Aggies from the Mountain West had to win two of their last three to become bowl eligible and they nearly swept all three games.

Next to a win over BYU - which the Aggies accomplished this season - they love nothing more than getting a bowl victory which has become a new expectation in Logan after the success Gary Andersen brought to the program. Utah State’s last bowl win came in 2014 when an Aggies team that finished 10-4 beat UTEP 21-6 in the New Mexico Bowl.

3. New Mexico State’s top-five passing attack

The Aggies have aired it out often this season and they enter this game ranked fourth in the nation in passing at 352.6 yards per game. Senior quarterback Tyler Rogers is second in school history in touchdown passes, completions and pass attempts behind Chase Holbrook (current New Mexico State tight ends coach) and has already thrown for nearly 4,000 yards (3,825) this season. Eight other quarterbacks have thrown for more, but they all have played in at least 12 games. Rogers has accumulated his yards in 11 games. His average of 347.7 passing yards per game is topped only by Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph (379.4).

Rogers also has tossed 26 touchdowns and thrown 16 interceptions. Utah State has been solid against the pass thus far, coming in ranked 19th in the country at 181.8 yards per game. But the Aggies have faced just one team that ranks in the top 30 in passing offense (Colorado State, 20th). So the matchup against New Mexico State's pass-heavy attack will present a new challenge, especially with Rogers chasing history.

Final Analysis

College Football Rankings: New Mexico State

Utah State quarterback Jordan Love played some excellent football down the stretch to get the Aggies to bowl eligibility. The redshirt freshman quarterback is looking to build on this by leading his team to one more victory to cap off a winning campaign and head into the offseason with some momentum. However, the edge in the quarterback battle goes to New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers, who has put up big numbers this season to rank among the nation’s best signal-callers despite facing some quality opponents (namely Appalachian State, Arkansas and Troy).

Fairy tales don’t always end with a positive ending, but this one does as New Mexico State pulls off the upset led by Rogers’ arm as the Aggies close out their tenure in the Sun Belt and move on to the FBS Independent ranks once again.

Prediction: New Mexico State 31, Utah State 30

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)