The 2019 New Mexico Bowl will bring two teams that have never played each other to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Central Michigan (8-5) and San Diego State (9-3) were Group of Five conference title contenders with the Chippewas winning the MAC West before falling 26-21 in the conference championship game, while the Aztecs finished second in the Mountain West's West division.
Here's everything you need to know about the New Mexico Bowl.
The New Mexico Bowl is on Saturday, December 21 at 2 p.m. ET. Click or tap here to access live stats.
The New Mexico Bowl will be broadcast on ESPN and the ESPN app.
Preview & Prediction
San Diego State enters bowl season with the country's No. 17 defense, according to the SP+ rankings, which makes it the best offensive or defensive unit in the game for either team. (The Aztecs rank even better in special teams at No. 11.)
They've allowed just 12.8 points per game, which ranks fourth nationally, and just 0.3 points behind Georgia and Ohio State. In terms of total defense, San Diego State is fifth nationally (288.7 total yards allowed per game).
That's where the challenge lies for Central Michigan, which has a big-time pedigree at head coach and quarterback. Coach Jim McElwain led Florida to back-to-back SEC Championship game just a few years ago, and quarterback Quinten Dormady played at Tennessee for three seasons.
Prior to the MAC Championship game, Central Michigan had scored at least 38 points in six of its previous seven games but the Aztecs' defense should provide a much tougher test – at least on paper. The Chippewas have been fairly balanced between running the ball and passing (499 rushing attempts this season, compared to 443 pass attempts) and they're on the verge of having two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season just one year after their leading rusher ran for just 402 yards in 2018.
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Running backs Jonathan Ward (174 carries for 1,082 yards, 15 TD) and Kobe Lewis (177 carries for 977 yards, 11 TD) have had similar workloads this season with Ward being slightly more productive on a per-carry basis.
Central Michigan ranked first in the MAC in explosive plays (197 plays from scrimmage that resulted in a gain of 10 yards or more, which ranks 26th nationally) but San Diego State has allowed less than 70 percent of that total (135 such plays), so something will have to give.
The Aztecs are one of six teams in the country that haven't allowed a play from scrimmage that resulted in a gain of at least 60 yards. San Diego State won its season opener over Weber State 6-0 and it held its opponent to 10 points or fewer on four other occasions, so don't expect a lot of points in this one.
Keep an eye on cornerback Luq Barcoo, who has eight interceptions this season for the Aztecs and defensive lineman Myles Cheatum, who is the team's sack leader with five. These two could be key difference-makers for San Diego State's defense.
There's a reason that seven of San Diego State's nine wins came by 10 points or fewer and that reason is because the Aztecs really struggle to run the ball. They're averaging just 3.27 yards per carry (125th in the FBS) so even if their defense is locking up the opponent, they struggle to stay ahead of schedule and move the chains, an important factor for teams that are trying to run the clock and preserve a lead.
The team's leading rusher, Juwan Washington, has 150 carries for 500 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Ryan Agnew doesn't always have the accuracy (63.5 completion percentage) or downfield passing ability (6.4 yards/attempt) to make up for a sub-par run game.
Luckily for a team that often plays low-scoring games in which there's only a one or two-possession separation between the two teams, San Diego State's kicker, Matt Araiza, is perfect on PATs and 20-of-24 on field-goal attempts.
|The Pick||San Diego State 28,
Central Michigan 24