Previewing Utah State vs. North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl: Time, Date, Spread, How to Watch

Who: Utah State (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-3)

What: New Mexico Bowl

When: 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, December 15

Where: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Spread: Utah State -7.5

How to watch: ESPN, WatchESPN

Two of the best Group of Five teams in the country will meet in the New Mexico Bowl, and a victory could arguably represent the best season in program history for the winning team.

North Texas has never won 10 games in a season in its previous 53 seasons at the FBS level. Seth Littrell, a former offensive coordinator at North Carolina, Indiana and Arizona, is in his third season as the head coach at North Texas. The Mean Green went 9-5 last season but a win on Saturday would mark Littrell’s first bowl win as a head coach and it would cap off a 10-3 season.

It won’t be long until Littrell, 40, is hired by a bigger program given his quick turnaround in Denton, Texas, and his experience as the offensive coordinator for multiple Power Five schools.

Utah State knows that feeling — having a successful, young coach leave for greener pastures — well after former coach Matt Wells was hired by Texas Tech earlier in December. Wells spent six years at the helm of the Aggies’ program, leading them to five bowl games (including wins in the 2013 Poinsettia Bowl and 2014 New Mexico Bowl) and three seasons with at least nine wins. The school has since re-hired Gary Andersen, who was previously the head coach at Utah State from 2009 to 2012, before coaching Wisconsin and Oregon State.

How Utah State plays without Wells (and several of the team’s assistants that he brought with him to Texas Tech) coaching the team will be one of the biggest storylines in this game. Offensive coordinator David Yost will replace Wells as Utah State’s head coach in the New Mexico Bowl.

The Aggies could finish with an 11-2 record this season with a win in the New Mexico Bowl, which would put this year’s Utah State team in the conversation for the best in program history along with 2012 Utah State (11-2, won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) and 1961 Utah State (9-1-1, finished at No. 10 in the AP Top 25 Poll).

The two schools actually have somewhat of a similar statistical profile with high-scoring offenses and talented quarterbacks — Jordan Love (Utah State) and Mason Fine (North Texas) — who lead strong passing attacks that are balanced by defenses that are respectable on third down and at limiting touchdowns when opponents reach the red zone. Both teams rank outside the top 80 in pass defense, which means this could turn into a shootout.

Here’s a look at what each team does well, as well as key players to watch in the game.

Utah State

Offense

Points per game: 47.2 ppg (3rd)

Passing yards per game: 288 (18th)

Third down conversion percentage: 45% (21st)

Fourth down conversion percentage: 67% (13th)

Defense

Points allowed per game: 23.0 (38th)

Turnover margin: +11 (8th)

Opponent third down conversion percentage: 34.5% (29th)

Opponent fourth down conversion percentage: 42.8% (25th)

Opponent touchdown percentage in the red zone: 52.5% (25th)

Players to watch:

QB Jordan Love — 3,208 passing yards, 65.8%, 28 TD, 5 INT

RB Darwin Thompson — 132 carries, 951 rushing yards, 7.2 YPC, 14 TD

LB David Woodward — 124 total tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FF

North Texas

Offense

Points per game: 36.4 ppg (21st)

Passing yards per game: 316 (11th)

Defense

Points allowed per game: 21.8 (29th)

Rushing yards allowed per game: 113 (15th)

Turnover margin: +8 (17th)

Opponent third down conversion percentage: 32.2% (17th)

Opponent red zone conversion percentage: 77.5% (23rd)

Opponent touchdown percentage in the red zone: 50% (17th)

Players to watch:

QB Mason Fine — 3,734 passing yards, 64.6%, 27 TD, 5 INT

RB DeAndre Torrey — 161 carries, 942 rushing yards, 14 TD

WR Rico Bussey Jr. — 68 receptions, 1,017 receiving yards, 12 TD

LB E.J. Ejiya — 113 total tackles, 23.5 TFL, 9 sacks