2021 New Mexico Bowl: UTEP battles Fresno State

The beautiful clay pot is on the line when UTEP and Fresno State kick off the 2021 New Mexico Bowl. The Miners from C-USA had a breakout season. Fresno State has an argument to be made that they were the best team in the state of California. What should fans expect starting at 2:15 pm EST on December 18?

Mined Out Of FBS Shaft Bottom

UTEP had won a combined five games in the last four seasons. The Miners have not been to a bowl game since 2014. UTEP hasn’t won a bowl game in 54 years, having only appeared in a bowl game six times since that win in the 1967 season. However, for all of the lack of success by this program, UTEP burst on the scene in 2021. Dana Dimel’s team should be plenty fired up for this bowl game.

The Miners fired out of the gate this season, stating the year 5-1. Unfortunately, this team got derailed significantly, limping to a 7-5 record on the season. The strength of this Miners team is definitely their defense. They rank 31st in total defense and allow 24.8 points per game. However, if UTEP is going to pull the upset, the offense has got to play their best game. UTEP only has cleared 30 points in a game twice this year, but they do like to control the ball. They rank 12th nationally in time of possession, averaging 32 minutes a game. UTEP has to limit the opportunities Fresno State has on offense. UTEP does not have the power offensively to get in a shootout with the Bulldogs.

Bulldogs Barked All Season

Fresno State’s program history this decade is to run either really hot or cold. In the last two seasons, they combined for seven wins before winning nine this year. Four of the last ten seasons, the Bulldogs won 9+ games. In the other six, they never won more than six games. This season saw the Bulldogs come just short of playing for a Mountain West title. Although, they played Oregon to a one-score game, beat San Diego State and UCLA this year. This is a very talented team.

The Bulldogs are led by their explosive offense. They are averaging 33.6 points (27th best nationally) and 463.6 yards per game (14th best nationally). Fresno State has done most of its damage through the air this season. 34 of the team’s 50 touchdowns coming through the air. Almost all of those were thrown by quarterback Jake Haener.

Haener caused a bit of stir at the end of this season. Former head coach Kalen DeBoer left the team after only two seasons to take the head coaching job at Washington. Haener put his name in the transfer portal in a move that many assumed meant he would be off to Washington as well. But in less than a week, he withdrew his name and is back with the team. His status for this game is unknown, but it is hard to imagine he wouldn’t see the field at all for this one.

Players To Watch

WR Jacob Cowing, UTEP: An upset formula has to include the Miners finding someone to make explosive plays. Cowing is the player who could be the difference. This season, he averaged over 20 yards per grab with 1,343 yards and seven touchdowns on 67 catches.

DE Praise Amaewhule, UTEP: One of the standouts on defense needs to play his best game to limit this Fresno State passing attack. He’s a twitch edge rusher with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Amaewhule also can disrupt the passion offense of the Bulldogs by batting down passes. On the season, he broke up seven passes.

RB Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State: This team very well could roll out a brand new starter at quarterback for this game. Rivers can steady the attack by being the focal point for this game. The 5-9, 195-pound running back rushed for 788 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 34 passes and two touchdowns. Not to mention, Rivers will be found as a returner on special teams.

WR Jalen Cropper, Fresno State: Cropper is the best receiver on the field in this matchup. He started the season by scoring at least one touchdown for seven consecutive games. The dynamic receiver totaled 76 catches for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2021.

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2021 New Mexico Bowl Prediction

UTEP will get a chance to hold a little bit of the national stage for the first time all year. It kicks off towards the end of the Boca Raton Bowl and will be the only game only for about one hour. Is the 2021 New Mexico Bowl going to be the year the losing streak ends? Unfortunately, it will not. UTEP has a good defense, but it hasn’t seen an offensive attack this strong all season. Even without its head coach, and possibly its starting quarterback, this Fresno State team should control this game from start to finish.

Fresno State 41, UTEP 21