New Mexico Bowl Free Picks: BYU vs. UTEP 12/18/10

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Finally, the college football bowl schedule gets underway on Saturday afternoon, starting with the duel in the desert in the New Mexico Bowl, as the BYU Cougars take on the UTEP Miners! These two teams really didn't play anything like each other all season long, as the two really essentially played polar opposite seasons. The Miners only won once in their final month of the season, while BYU was only defeated once, by a stout Utah Utes club during that stretch. The oddsmakers have placed a hefty set of New Mexico Bowl odds in this one, but will the Cougs have the goods to cover?

New Mexico Bowl Matchup: BYU Cougars vs. UTEP Miners
Date: Saturday, December 18th, 2:00 ET
Location: University Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
New Mexico Bowl Line: BYU -11.5
Over/Under 50.5

Cougars Notes: BYU is in great shape in this one, especially if QB Jake Heaps plays as well as he did down the stretch this year. He had four straight 200+ yard passing games, something that was never a guarantee at the outset of the year, and he wasn't picked off. Heaps also threw nine of his 11 TDs for the entire season in this stretch at the end of the year when the Cougars were playing at their best. The offensive numbers for this team were still nothing to rant and rave about and were nothing like what they were during the QB Max Hall era that just ended last year. The team averaged just 355.0 yards per game this year, approximately what Hall averaged just in the passing game in recent years. Scoring 24.0 points per game used to be what was expected in the first half. However, the defense has really stepped up its game this year and has been the difference to getting this squad to a bowl. Especially in the offense happy Mountain West, holding teams to just 341.0 yards and 21.4 points per game was very, very impressive for BYU, and is even more notable when you consider the fact that the out of conference schedule wasn't easy at all. The man to keep an eye on in the backfield is RB JJ Di Luigi. Di Luigi was one of the better backs in the MWC this year, and he really picked up the slack for a dismissed RB Harvey Unga, who was expected to once again carry the load, especially for an offense that had lost its departed quarterback and was banking on a true freshman. Di Luigi was the team's leading rusher at 819 yards and seven TDs, and he was also the leading receiver with 42 receptions for 422 yards and a TD. There was only one play in the passing game this entire season that went for more than 50 yards, and that went to WR Luke Ashworth, who led the team with six receiving TDs. However, he was one of three wide outs that had at least 300 yards on the year, but none of the three had even 400 yards.

Miners Notes: When the problems got going for the Miners around the middle of October, the first issue was the offense. This unit was held to just six points by the UAB Blazers in a disgraceful outing, and the team didn't put up more than 28 points again for the rest of the season. UTEP scored at least 28 in four of its first six games. Now, the defense has to be scratching its head as well, as this unit allowed 89 points in its final two games of the year, both of which came on the road. One thing is for certain though, and that's that QB Trevor Vittatoe really needs to play at his best in his final collegiate game. Vittatoe only completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 2,511 yards and 19 TDs against ten picks this year, and for a man that was figured to throw for at least 3,000 yards and be amongst the best signal callers in the conference this year, this has been a brutal disappointment. The ground game has been spread out amongst a number of different backs this year, but none of them have really been able to bust out and make themselves one of the best in Conference USA. RB Joseph Banyard took over and rumbled for 612 yards and eight TDs, but he has had too many inconsistent performances this year, especially down the stretch. Keep a close eye on WR Kris Adams, who has 917 yards and 11 TDs on just 44 receptions. His 20.8 yards per reception was amongst the best in the entire country. UTEP is allowing a shade under 400 yards per game this year, but this unit can't expect to give up those types of yards and still win this game.

The Final Word: The Cougars are just the superior team in this game. UTEP is a team that is headed nowhere quickly, and if not for the fact that Conference USA had so many bowl tie-ins, it would be sitting at home and watching this and the other 34 bowl games play themselves out. BYU is a legitimate team that would have probably won nine games this year with the Miners' schedule. The difference in class will certainly show, as the bowl season gets kicked off with a big time blowout.

New Mexico Bowl Free Pick: BYU -11.5
New Mexico Bowl Prediction: BYU 38 – UTEP 17

Lou Palumbo is the founder and part owner of the Sports Handicapping Community. He's been writing and posting free picks and sports handicapping strategies on the Cappersinfo forums and website for 15 years now. He enjoys handicapping just as much as he did from the very first day he built the original Cappersinfo website.

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