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New Mexico vs. San Diego State Football Prediction and Preview

Greg Bell, San Diego State Aztecs Football

Greg Bell and the undefeated Aztecs open Mountain West play at home against the reeling Lobos

The bye week brought a whole bunch of good news for the San Diego State Aztecs.

First, they were named to the AP Top 25 for the first time this season, earning the No. 25 spot despite being idle in Week 5.

Then came news two starters — quarterback Jordon Brookshire and running back Greg Bell — look ready to return for the incoming New Mexico Lobos when the two Mountain West teams square off Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

Brookshire, a senior, has been out nearly a month with a right ankle sprain.

"If Jordon is 100 percent healthy, Jordon will go," San Diego State offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

That's good news for the Aztecs. As is the idea of Bell likely returning after he went out two weeks ago with a left shoulder/collarbone injury in a 48-21 win over the FCS Towson Tigers.

Both are a boost to the Aztecs, who are riding high with a perfect 4-0 record and a rise into the national rankings, supplanting the Clemson Tigers at No. 25.

Meanwhile, New Mexico (2-3, 0-1 MW) is trying to put the brakes on a three-game losing skid after consecutive losses to the then-No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies 34-0, the UTEP Miners 20-13, and — just last week — the Air Force Falcons 38-10.

The first two of those games came on the road, and it won't get any easier heading into San Diego for this one.

But there's nowhere to go but up after what head coach Danny Gonzales termed a "terrible" performance by his charges against triple-option Air Force in Week 5.

"I take full responsibility for our kids playing terrible on Saturday," Gonzales told reporters. "We've got to do a better job of giving them a chance, and that's been the emphasis over the last three days.

"I say it all the time that players win games and coaches lose games and coaches can screw them up — and we screwed them up. That's my fault. And we can fix that. I promise you they won't be confused this Saturday."

The Lobos hope so in an effort to even both their overall record and their conference mark. It also would mean an end to San Diego State's seven-game winning streak head-to-head against New Mexico.

New Mexico at No. 25 San Diego State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 9 p.m. ET
TV: FS1
Spread: San Diego State -19.5

When New Mexico Has the Ball

The Lobos have to find the end zone more often to snap this losing string. They average just 16.8 points a game and have scored just three touchdowns during their three losses, and that won't get the job done against San Diego State.

It's obviously not good enough, and Gonzales emphasized that in the lead-up to this game while again putting the onus squarely on his shoulders.

"We've got way too many guys that are cutting guys loose and aren't firing off the ball," Gonzales told reporters. "And if that's the case, they're thinking too much and we're putting too much on their plate."

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The Aztecs are allowing a paltry 19 points per game — the 10th stingiest among Group of 5 teams.

For the Lobos to be in contention for a victory, they'll likely have to do it through the air since SDSU's allowing only 46 rushing yards per game. So the burden falls on senior QB Terry Wilson to get the job done. He's been solid, going 88-of-149 for 931 yards and seven TDs against three interceptions.

He's found a connection with freshman Luke Wysong, who's got 17 grabs for 171 receiving yards — both team highs. But it's not just Wilson to Wyson, as the Lobos have shared the wealth in the passing game with 18 different players catching at least one ball.

If they can get the run going, it'll be on the back of freshman Aaron Dumas, who's turned 46 carries into a team-high 207 rushing yards.

When San Diego State Has the Ball

It's a run-heavy offense — and it works no matter who's toting the rock. With 409 yards on 73 carries, the senior Bell was fourth in the nation in rushing yards when he went down.

But he's not the only reason they put up 255 yards per game — the ninth in the country. Four others have at least 96 yards on the year — running backs Jordan Byrd with 142, Chance Bell with 138, and Kaegun Williams with 128, plus quarterback Lucas Johnson with 96.

That rushing success is reason No. 1 why San Diego State is one of 15 FBS teams still undefeated. But it won't be easy against the Lobos.

While they're not the best team against the rush, allowing 143 per game, the defense has kept games close by allowing 26.8 points per outing. And New Mexico will need every bit of that and more against the Aztecs, who've had their way so far with an average of 37 points per game.

On 26-of-45 passing for 193 yards and a pair of TDs, Johnson has been effective in place of Brookshire, but the senior's return gives the offense back a clutch performer to help the team continue its perfect season. Brookshire comes in with so-so stats — 16-of-33 for 259 passing yards and two TDs — but he has the trust of head coach Brady Hoke and the offense.

And Hoke and the QBs trust all their weapons, as well, with 13 different Aztecs catching at least one ball. Senior tight end Daniel Bellinger tops the pass-catching unit with five grabs and 138 yards.

Final Analysis

It's the first Mountain West game on the calendar for the Aztecs, who are looking like the top team in the conference. The Lobos certainly think so.

"I think right now they're the best team in our league," Gonzales told reporters. "We may not be good enough to beat the team we're playing, but it won't be because we're confused and making mistakes. You're going to see a football team that goes out there and plays hard and has an opportunity."

Easier said than done with San Diego State looking like it's back to full health and full of confidence with its newfound place among the top 25 teams in FBS.

"I think for coaches it has a different meaning than it does for the players," Hoke told reporters. "I think as a coach you're always looking to that next competition. Is it good for the program? No doubt about it, but you have to keep going forward and keep working hard.

"We have to take care of ourselves and the way we play. When you look at things we have to do better, we haven't started fast at all, we have to end the half better, or you look at the Utah game (despite an impressive 33-31 home win) we have to do a better job of putting teams away."

This Saturday, they will, improving to 2-0 at home.

Prediction: San Diego State 32, New Mexico 12

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— Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.