Game time: 9:30 p.m. ET, Aug. 28, 2021
Venue: Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, NM
Where to watch: TBD
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: UTEP -9.5, New Mexico State +9.5
BetMGM: UTEP -9.5, New Mexico State +9.5
FanDuel: UTEP -8.5, New Mexico State +8.5
2020 season record
New Mexico State: 1-1 (PPD due to COVID)
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UTEP - New Mexico State preview and analysis
Nov. 23, 2019: New Mexico State won 44-35
If we’re being honest, the New Mexico State Aggies have not played a legitimate college football game in almost two years.
After going 2-10 in 2019, the Aggies’ 2020 season was postponed due to COVID-19. They didn’t play a football game until this past spring; March 7, 2021, against Dixie State. They count on the official ledger, but it’s not a game you look to to gauge how your team looks.
The labor of the unknown is what lies ahead for coach Doug Martin and the Aggies, but they’ll welcome a familiar face to Aggie Memorial Stadium on Saturday in the UTEP Miners, renewing the I-10 rivalry.
It hasn’t been a fun ride for New Mexico State since going the Independent route. The Aggies won five games in their first two seasons away from the Sun Belt Conference with only one bowl appearance since 1960.
Given the time off between competitive games, it would almost take a Herculean effort for New Mexico State to keep this game competitive. Don’t downplay the effects of a rivalry game, though. The Aggies will be up for this game.
As will UTEP, of course, playing its rivals for the first time since November 2019. The Miners return almost every significant piece on both sides of the ball from last year, including quarterback Gavin Hardison and running back Deion Hankins.
The Miners won three of their first four games in the first part of the season in 2020, but then lost the final four. Three of those games were decided by 10 points or less.
"It's a unique preparation only having two games to go off of from last spring, not having a full season to evaluate," UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. "But it's not like we haven't kept an eye on all their changes and the progress they are making because it's a rivalry game.”
UTEP didn’t score a lot of points last season (23.0 per game), but they return a group that has a reliable veteran offensive front that will create plenty of holes for Hankins and protection for Hardison. New Mexico State’s offense wasn’t any better in 2019, scoring 21.7 per contest, but the Aggies are hoping either JUCO transfer Jonah Johnson or freshman Weston Eget can drive some production there. Johnson threw three interceptions in the two spring season games, while Eget in limited action threw one touchdown with no turnovers. Expect NMSU to rely heavily on their running game, just as much as UTEP will hope their ground attack will excel.
Much is the case with these struggling programs, defense is not the calling card. The NMSU defense allowed 36 points per game in the spring games, including 43 to Tarleton State on Feb. 21. Texas-El Paso gave up 31 points per game last season, but the Miners’ defense was respectable if you take out the 59 they gave up to Texas and the 52 to UTSA.
This will be a grueling college football season for the Aggies. Any team that postponed its season last year should not feel ashamed for how they perform in 2021. Unfortunately for New Mexico State’s defense, it’s going to be tough hill to climb in Week 0. And unless there’s a clear grasp on the quarterback situation, UTEP should have enough depth at its disposal to make this August game a one-sided win. UTEP wins 38-17.
Nine of the last 15 meetings have gone over.
New Mexico State is 7-5 straight up against UTEP in the past 12 meetings at NMSU.
New Mexico State is 108-144 (-50.4) against the spread in their last 252 games.
Players to watch
UTEP: Expect a big game from leading tailback Deion Hankins. If UTEP is going to take that next step, it’s going to be on the legs of Hankins, last year’s leading rusher. Hankins averaged nearly five yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns in eight games in 2020.
New Mexico State: The Aggies will also lean on their running game while the quarterbacks figure things out. Juwaun Price had 165 yards and a touchdown in the victory against Dixie State in March. NMSU combined for 329 yards on the ground, including 53 and two touchdowns from their quarterback Johnson.
Statistical leaders from 2020
Passing: Gavin Hardison -- 1,419 yards, 5 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Deion Hankins -- 592 yards, 9 TD
Receiving: Jacob Cowing -- 691 yards, 3 TD
Defense: Praise Amaewhule -- 5.5 sacks
New Mexico State:
Passing: Jonah Johnson -- 358 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Juwuan Price -- 222 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Terrell Warner -- 105 yards
Defense: Trevor Brohard -- 16 tackles
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