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The UTEP Miners had one of the biggest turnarounds in college football this season and their reward is a matchup with the Utah State Aggies in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Matt Wells is one of the hottest up-and-comers in the college football coaching world and that means that Sean Kugler’s job is certainly a tough one for this game. The Aggies are a double-digit favorite in a game with a relatively low total, so the UTEP offense is the key to this game.

New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Utah State College Football Preview

Date/Time: Saturday December 20, 2:20 p.m. ET

Venue: University Stadium (Albuquerque, NM)

TV: ESPN

College Football Betting Odds from WagerWeb

College Football Betting Favorite: Utah State -10

Total: 46

Matt Wells is going for the program’s second double-digit win season in three years. Wells is 18-9 straight up and 15-12 against the number since taking over for Gary Andersen. Andersen stayed through Utah State’s bowl in 2012, so this is Wells’s second crack at a bowl game. The Aggies won as a pick ‘em over Northern Illinois last season. Sean Kugler went from 2-10 straight up and against the number to 7-5 straight up and a strong 9-3 against the spread. This is his first bowl game.

UTEP Miners:

The UTEP Miners rely heavily on the legs of running back Aaron Jones. Jones ran for 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns in his true sophomore season. He missed a little bit of time with an injury, but he was one of the country’s most productive running backs. Jameill Showers was given the task of taking care of the football and managing the game. He did that with just five interceptions. The biggest turnaround for the Miners was that of the defense. The defense improved by more than 10 points per game this season. They gave up 39 points per contest last year. An improved offense certainly helped, but the Miners took better care of the football and really matured in Kugler’s second season. The Miners program has not won a bowl game since 1967, so they have a big motivational edge in this one.

Utah State Aggies:

After playing Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl last season, the Aggies may not be all that excited to go to Albuquerque for this game. They’ll have to overcome those feelings against a UTEP team that is really eager for an upset. The Aggies won 45-10 in Albuquerque against New Mexico in 2013, so most of the team has been there before. That familiarity may help, but UTEP should have a fairly strong crowd presence. The Aggies went through four different quarterbacks this season and freshman Kent Myers is the one that will get the nod in this game. The strength of the Aggies is on defense, and that explains the spread with the low total. The Aggies have allowed less than 21 points in each of the last three seasons and regularly have one of the top run defenses in the conference.

Free Pick: UTEP

UTEP has a motivational edge for this game and they could have an advantage going up against a freshman quarterback in his first bowl start. Matt Wells is an excellent coach and that’s a concern for the Miners, but the five-game improvement from Sean Kugler suggests that he can coach a little bit as well.

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