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Odds presented by: DraftKings Sportsbook
|UTEP Miners||+11 (-110)
|O 50.5 (-110)
|Fresno State Bulldogs||-11 (-110)
|U 50.5 (-110)
UTEP hasn’t won a bowl game since 1967. That’s a long drought to use and there’s no doubt the Miners are using this trip to a bowl game to help with their recruiting. But Fresno State is at a different level as a program as far as mid-majors go. The Bulldogs are at a place where nine wins is the norm and a season that ends without a Mountain West title is a letdown. UTEP can try to make this a low-scoring game, but too many options for Fresno State will add up. We’re a bit concerned about the coaching shake-up, but the old coach’s return does help as far as stability.
Garcia’s 2021 record: (25-24)
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It’s going to be very difficult to ignore – but quarterback Jake Haener put himself in this position when he opened his mouth too quickly. After Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer announced he would be leaving to take the same job at Washington, Haener – who previously transferred from Washington – announced he would enter the transfer portal and leave Fresno State.
Just a few days later he walked those comments back, saying he was doing what he felt was best for himself given the coaching uncertainty, but that he was happy to stay with the Bulldogs.
Good thing for Fresno State, too, because he’s been one of the top quarterbacks all season long. Haener ranks near the top 10 in the country in passing yards (3,810) and 11th in touchdowns (32) while completing 67.5 percent (303-of-449) of his passes.
Haener had seven receivers with 19 or more receptions as well as 200+ yards and a score, showing his ability to spread it out, but there’s no doubt the leaders in the pass catching unit are Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly.
Cropper, a junior, leads the team in catches (76), yards (827) and touchdowns (11) followed by Kelly in those categories with 50 catches, 768 yards and three scores.
They go against a UTEP defense that is stout – ranking 42ndd in the country against the rush and 30th against the pass.
UTEP opened the season on a roll, winning six of its first seven games before crashing back to earth over the past month-plus. The Miners are 1-4 in their last five games with two losses in tight games and two in blowouts.
Part of the reason for the struggle was the offense slowing down, scoring 25 points in five of their past six games. Gavin Hardison comes off his best season as a signal caller thus far, the red-shirt sophomore threw for 2,955 passing yards and 17 touchdowns but did have 12 interceptions.
Turnovers have been the issue lately, too, with five picks in his past five games. But no matter what, Fresno State is going to have a tough time slowing down Jacob Cowing – a sophomore from Maricopa, AZ with fantastic hands and speed for days. The former 2-star receiver led the team in catches (67), yards (1,330) and scores (7) and now, despite only being a sophomore, has the most games with 100+ receiving yards in school history.
Fresno State ranks 33rd in the nation in total defense and has played some of its best football on that side of the ball the past two weeks, holding its last two opponents to 16 total points.
We haven’t talked about either team’s rushing attack yet for a reason – that’s the x-factor for both sides as each is middle of the pack but UTEP (85th) comes in ranked just higher than Fresno State (92).
Ronald Awatt emerged as UTEP’s go-to rusher, running 144 times for 803 yards and five touchdowns. However, he was quieted in the season-finale against UAB, totaling just 23 all-purpose yards.
As for the Bulldogs, it’s a familiar face in senior running back Ronnie Rivers who leads the work on the ground. Rivers has attempted at least 100 rushes each of the past five years, rushing for at least 500 yards and five touchdowns in each season.
He is the model of consistency, finishing this year with more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns.
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|UTEP Miners vs Fresno State Bulldogs Information|
|Teams||UTEP Miners vs Fresno State Bulldogs|
|Location||University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico|
|Time||Saturday, Dec. 18, 2:15 p.m. EST|
|How to watch||ESPN|
Tony writes about baseball for WSN.com after recently graduating with his Masters from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Tony was a local sports reporter for MLive Media Group, based out of Jackson, Michigan where he covered everything from high school to professional sports. He graduated from Michigan State in 2015 with a degree in journalism. During his time there he covered the Michigan State football and men’s basketball teams from 2013-15 and hosted a sports radio show on WDBM 89FM.More info on Tony Garcia
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