Stand up, Miner nation.
UTEP has a chance to win their first bowl game since 1967, effectively making this the most important Miner game in history. That 54-year drought is the longest in the FBS.
In their way stands Fresno State, a talented football team mired in controversy. Their starting quarterback, Jake Haener, originally announced he would transfer but then renounced that. Either way, there’s been no decision on if he’ll play in this game.
But even with the Haener controversy, the Bulldogs are still laying double digits in this game.
UTEP vs. Fresno State Betting Odds
UTEP Miners Odds
UTEP gave Miner Nation the most memorable season in years.
Before this year, UTEP hadn’t made a bowl since 2014 and had won just one conference game between 2017 and 2020.
But on the back of a stiff defense, the Miners shattered their win total by going 7-5. UTEP became bowl eligible way back on October 16th. Moreover, UTEP pulled bettors into Miner Nation, storming out to a 6-2 against the spread start.
It’s worth expanding on that defense. UTEP finished top-30 nationally in total yards allowed per game, and it held six of its final nine opponents under the team total points. The Miner defense was also efficient, finishing top-20 in Rush Success Rate, Pass Success Rate, Line Yards, and preventing Big Plays.
However, despite the dominant defensive approach, the Miners lost four of their final five games.
It was mostly inconsistency. UTEP couldn’t run the ball consistently, finishing among the bottom-10 in Rush Success Rate and offensive Line Yards. Moreover, the Miners couldn’t convert when they crossed the opponent’s 40, ranking 99th in Finishing Drives.
Quarterback Gavin Hardison finished the season with rather mediocre stats, and he even posted an improbable -52 rushing yards. However, the Miners still finished 20th in Passing Success Rate while passing at the ninth-highest rate nationally.
UTEP Vs. Fresno State Betting Picks Video
Fresno State Bulldogs Odds
So, here’s the problem with Fresno State.
Jake Haener is the Bulldog offense. He finished the season with 3800 yards and 32 touchdowns, completing almost 70% of his passes in the process. He ran the nation’s ninth-best passing attack by total yards and 11th best by Success Rate.
But he entered the transfer portal, and all the signs pointed towards him following his head coach to Washington. But then, Haener redacted his position and announced he would be staying with Fresno State.
Given that drama, we have no idea if he’ll play in the New Mexico Bowl. The Bulldog interim head coach has stated we likely won’t know the starting quarterback until kickoff.
Without Haener, we’d be looking at either Logan Fife or Jaylen Henderson starting. There isn’t much information on either quarterback, as the two combined for 12 pass attempts this season.
The backups could come in and ball out. But if they don’t, Fresno State might be in trouble. The Bulldogs offense finished outside the top-100 in Rush Success Rate, Line Yards, and Pass Blocking. So, the incoming quarterback wouldn’t have much support in this bowl game.
UTEP vs. Fresno State Prediction and Pick
My pick: UTEP +11.5 (-110 at BetMGM)
The Bulldogs are mired in controversy. If their starting quarterback isn’t playing, the backup will have to make his first start of the season against a very stout Miner defense. And a defense that’s particularly good generating pressure and defending the pass.
Meanwhile, UTEP is the most motivated team in the nation. This is the biggest game in UTEP history, yet it’s still grabbing double-digits against the spread.
That’s an auto-bet for me. Even if Haener starts, UTEP will try and muck the game up on defense, and this should be a grind either way.
I love UTEP at anything above +10.