Former conference rivals and two of the nation's top offenses face off in Albuquerque
North Texas and Utah State both used potent offenses to carve out successful seasons. Now the former conference rivals get to stake a claim on which team has the superior offense when they help open the 2018-19 bowl season at the New Mexico Bowl.
Utah State (10-2, 7-1 MW) is playing in a bowl game for the seventh time in eight seasons. The Aggies ran off 10 straight wins for the first time in school history before losing to Boise State in the regular-season finale. Utah State is 4-8 all-time in bowl games and is looking to snap a two-game postseason losing streak. The Aggies won a bowl game most recently in 2014 when they beat UTEP 21-6 in the New Mexico Bowl.
North Texas (9-3, 5-3 C-USA) has won nine games in back-to-back seasons for just the second time in school history. The Mean Green are appearing in their third straight bowl game and 10th overall. North Texas is 2-7 all-time in bowl games and, like Utah State, is looking to snap a two-game losing streak in bowls. The Mean Green earned their last bowl victory when they beat UNLV 36-14 in the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
This is the eighth meeting between the former Big West and Sun Belt rivals. Utah State leads the series 4-3, but North Texas holds a two-game winning streak in the series.
New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Dreamstyle Stadium (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Spread: Utah State -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Scoreboard explosion
A defensive battle isn't likely in the works when Utah State and North Texas clash in Albuquerque. Both teams found success this season by overwhelming opponents with productive and efficient offense.
Utah State ended the regular season leading the Mountain West in total offense and scoring offense. The Aggies produce 47.2 points and 492.5 yards per game. Utah State already set school records after finishing the regular season with 72 touchdowns and 566 total points. Those marks eclipsed the previous records of 60 touchdowns set in 2011 and 454 total points set in '12. The Aggies are within striking distance of the Mountain West record for points scored in a season. BYU set the current record of 608 points in 2001.
North Texas is almost as formidable on offense. The Mean Green lead Conference USA with 36.4 points per game. They are second in the league in total offense with 472.8 yards per game. North Texas is on pace to break school records in both categories. The current record for scoring offense in a season is 36.2 points per game, set in 1951. The current record for total offense is 454.7 yards per game, set just last season.
2. Jordan Love vs. Mason Fine
One of the appealing aspects of this year's edition of the New Mexico Bowl is that it will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the country. Love and Fine have each put up ridiculous numbers while leading their respective teams to success.
Love threw for at least 300 yards six times during the regular season and crossed the 400-yard plateau twice. The sophomore has a strong and accurate arm, totaling 3,208 yards, 28 touchdowns, and five interceptions during the regular season. He ranks second in the Mountain West in pass efficiency (159.9), third in touchdown passes (28) and completion percentage (.658), fourth in passing yards per game (267.3) and fifth in total offense per game (272.3). Love also ranks in the top 30 nationally in all those categories.
While Fine's numbers have dropped off a bit from a season ago, he's still a major playmaking threat. He has totaled 3,734 yards and 27 touchdowns while throwing only five interceptions. Fine is the career leader at North Texas in passing yards (9,358), passing efficiency (140.05), completions (774), and passing attempts (1,229). Fine ranks as the top Conference USA passer in total yards and yards per game (311.2).
3. Can North Texas survive pressure from Utah State's defense?
With both offenses being strong, the ultimate deciding factor will likely be defensive play. If that's the case, Utah State has a definite edge in that department.
The Aggies know how to turn up the pressure on opponents and create disruption in the backfield. Utah State has totaled 89.0 tackles for a loss this season. More often than not, those plays lead to turnovers. The Aggies rank third nationally with 28 forced turnovers and are second among FBS teams with six defensive touchdowns. They have produced three or more turnovers in four games this season.
North Texas will need to do a good job of protecting its quarterback against Utah State. The Mean Green have been average in that department this season. They have given up 26 sacks and 84 total tackles for a loss in 12 games.
Utah State will be going through a coaching transition as Gary Andersen returns to the program to succeed his one-time successor Matt Wells. Frank Maile will coach the Aggies in the New Mexico Bowl and David Yost will stay on to call plays before heading to Texas Tech with Wells. That's huge news for Utah State. The Aggies have a superior defense to pair with their potent offense and should be well equipped to handle what North Texas can throw at them. It should be a fun battle, but USU is the one who ultimately will get to snap their bowl losing streak.
Prediction: Utah State 34, North Texas 31
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.