NCAA : Friday Football

NCAA : Friday Football

Fresno State (7-4) at New Mexico State (4-8)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Aggie Memorial Stadium (30,343) -- Las Cruces, New Mexico. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: FSU 5-1, NMSU 4-2. Away Record: FSU 2-3, NMSU 0-6. Neutral Record: FSU 0-0, NMSU 0-0. Conference Record: FSU 5-2, NMSU 1-6. Series Record: Fresno State leads, 13-0.

GAME NOTES:
Undefeated in 13 previous meetings against New Mexico State, the Fresno State Bulldogs try to maintain perfection in Las Cruces Friday night, as the squads collide in the regular-season finale for both Western Athletic Conference programs. The Bulldogs, who finished a disappointing 4-8 a year ago and failed to make it to the postseason, are back on track for coach Pat Hill in 2007. The squad is 5-2 in WAC play, losing only to undefeated Hawaii and nationally-ranked Boise State, and has won two of the last three games. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs entertained Kansas State at home and easily knocked off the Wildcats in a 45-29 decision to make their case for a postseason bowl bid that much stronger. As for the Aggies, they've had to endure countless injuries to key players this season, resulting in unfavorable results to say the least. The team opened the campaign with two wins in three tries, but then the roof began to cave in on Hal Mumme and his troops. NMSU has fallen in four straight and six of the last seven games, the most recent of those setbacks being a 35-17 loss to Utah State on November 17th at home, a game that snapped USU's 16-game losing streak. Dating back to 1972 when the Bulldogs posted a 49-17 victory here in Las Cruces, FSN has never lost to the Aggies, adding a 23-18 triumph at home last year to the list.

Coming out of obscurity, Tom Brandstater put together one of his strongest games for the Bulldogs last Saturday as he threw for a career-high 313 yards and logged a pair of TD passes in the win over Kansas State at home. Brandstater, who has been rather pedestrian in his efforts this season, missed on just six of his 29 pass attempts in the victory, didn't throw an interception and escaped being sacked. Marlon Moore proved to be the QB's favorite target, reeling in nine balls for 134 yards and both scores. Will Harding stepped up and carried the ball 22 times for 115 yards and a score as he carried the load to allow Ryan Mathews to rest a sprained ankle. Listed as probable for this week's game, Mathews leads the team with his 767 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and with tight end Bear Pascoe looking more and more like a spectator for this contest with an ankle injury of his own, Brandstater will need players like Mathews to take some of the heat. The signal-caller has managed to convert 61.8 percent of his pass attempts for 196.7 ypg and 14 touchdowns so far this season.

In the first quarter the defense for the Bulldogs looked rather frazzled, allowing scoring runs of 67 and 45 yards to Kansas State, but eventually the unit settled in and played a solid game. In fact, the run defense allowed a total of just 126 yards on 17 attempts, which is quite impressive considering the Wildcats covered 112 of those yards on just two plays. KSU was held to 382 yards of total offense on 59 plays, 21 fewer snaps than Fresno State. Registering a rare interception for the Bulldogs was Moses Harris, while Damion Owens was credited with a team-best eight tackles. Because of the secondary's inability to pick off passes, Fresno State is currently ranked eighth in the conference and 107th in the nation in turnover margin with a minus-.82 per game. However, not all is lost for the Bulldogs on this side of the ball because the group is second in the WAC in both sacks and tackles for loss with 2.9 sacks per contest and 7.6 TFLs per outing, the latter ranking them 14th in the nation this week.

In line for another huge season, quarterback Chase Holbrook has been slowed by a number of issues, not the least of which has been his own health. He's missed time under center due to bruised ribs, and yet he's still completed 71.3 percent of his pass attempts for 322.1 ypg and 25 touchdowns. However, having to bring his team back from deficits so often has forced Holbrook to make rash decisions and attempt to squeeze passes in where they don't fit, resulting in 18 interceptions. All of those picks have dropped the Aggies to last in the conference and 113th in the nation in turnover margin with a minus-1.25 turnovers per contest. Losing wideout Chris Williams to a broken collarbone has meant that Holbrook has had to abandon his comfort zone and seek out alternate options, the most popular of those being A.J. Harris who has a team-best 73 catches for 525 yards but has just two touchdowns to his credit. Taking a back seat week after week is the running game for the Aggies, one that is averaging a mere 91.2 ypg to rank seventh in the conference and 109th in the nation.

It used to be that NMSU was okay with allowing a boatload of points because the offense was right there to respond, but that isn't the case nowadays. Averaging only 24.1 ppg this season, Holbrook and the offense simply cannot bail out the defense all of the time. The pass defense for New Mexico State has been especially weak, giving up 266.7 ypg to rank second-to-last in the WAC and 104th in the country this week. As far as the pass efficiency defense is concerned, a number that takes into account everything conceivable from a passing perspective, the Aggies have a ranking of 149.49 which places them eighth in the conference and 115th in the nation at the moment. Part of the problem is that the big boys up front are not getting enough penetration and are averaging a mere 4.6 TFLs per game (115th nationally). With his 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage, Dante Floyd (115 tackles) has twice as many TFLs as anyone else on the roster and is also first with four sacks. Floyd is also sixth in the conference with just over nine and a half tackles per game.

Certainly both of these teams would like to finish the regular season on a high note, but with so many injuries on both sides it won't be easy. As much as the Bulldogs would like to keep their perfect mark against NMSU alive, Holbrook is going to come out gunning and with nothing left to lose he'll be tough to stop.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Mexico State 35, Fresno State 24

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Fresno State (7-4, 6-4 ATS) at New Mexico State (4-8, 3-6-1 ATS)

Having secured bowl-eligibility with an impressive win over Kansas State, Fresno State now will try to improve its postseason standing when it closes out its Western Athletic Conference campaign at New Mexico State.

The Bulldogs spotted Kansas State an early 14-3 lead on Saturday, then outscored the Wildcats 42-15 over the final 48 minutes en route to a 45-29 win as a one-point home underdog. Fresno State overcame three lost fumbles and finished with 545 total yards (232 rushing) while holding K-State to 379 yards.

New Mexico State has lost four in a row (1-3 ATS), most recently falling 35-17 to Utah State as a seven-point home chalk on Nov. 17. The Aggies had a 455-355 edge in total offense, but they tossed two interceptions and gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown in losing their second straight home game.

The Bulldogs are 13-0 all-time against New Mexico State, going 4-2 ATS in the last six meetings. Last year in California, Fresno State prevailed 23-18, but the Aggies covered as a 14-point underdog.

Fresno State comes into this game on a 6-2 SU run and a 5-2 ATS roll, and the Bulldogs are 4-1 ATS on the road this year, including three consecutive covers in their last three trips. However, on the flip side, Pat Hill’s squad is still on ATS slides of 7-18 overall, 5-12 in WAC contests, 3-11 as a favorite (1-4 as a road chalk) and 0-4 in Friday games.

The Aggies are a miserable 10-20-1 ATS since head coach Hal Mumme came to Las Cruces prior to the 2005 season, including 7-18-1 ATS as an underdog (2-5 ATS as a pup this year). New Mexico State is also just 7-16-1 ATS in its last 24 conference games.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NONE

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Fresno State Bulldogs vs. New Mexico State Aggies

- The fans at Aggie Memorial Stadium will be treated to a game between the Fresno State Bulldogs and the New Mexico State Aggies when they take their seats on Friday.

Oddsmakers currently have the Bulldogs listed as 13½-point favorites versus the Aggies, while the game's total is sitting at 67.

The Bulldogs ran up the score in a 45-29 win over the Kansas State Wildcats last time out, as a pik'em. The combined score made it OVER the posted total of 66.

Tom Brandstater completed 23-of-29 passes for 314 yards with two touchdowns, and ran for another TD in the victory.

New Mexico State allowed 21 fourth-quarter points in Week 12's 35-14 loss to Utah State, falling as 6.5-point home favorites. The 49 points scored were UNDER the posted total of 62.

Chase Holbrook went 42-for-58 for 367 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while Weston Neiman had ten receptions for 106 yards and a score for the Aggies.

Current streak:
New Mexico State has lost 4 straight games.

Team records:
Fresno State: 7-4 SU, 6-4 ATS
New Mexico State: 4-8 SU, 3-6-1 ATS

Fresno State most recently:
When playing in November are 6-4
When playing on grass are 7-3
After outgaining opponent are 1-9
When playing within the conference are 7-3

New Mexico State most recently:
When playing in November are 1-9
When playing on grass are 5-5
After outgaining opponent are 4-6
When playing within the conference are 3-7

A few trends to consider:
Fresno State is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games on the road
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Fresno State's last 5 games on the road
Fresno State is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games
Fresno State is 5-2 ATS in its last 7 games
New Mexico State is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games at home
New Mexico State is 1-6 SU in its last 7 games

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What bettors need to know: Fresno State at New Mexico State
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Fresno State Bulldogs at New Mexico State Aggies

Friday’s game from Aggie Memorial Stadium will be televised on ESPN2. Kickoff is 6 p.m. local, 8 p.m. ET.

Raindrops keep fallin’ on their heads

It’s rare enough for the worldwide leader to set foot in Las Cruces. It might be even odder for the Aggies to play a home game in the rain. But both will likely occur Friday night. The forecast for Las Cruces gives a 60 percent chance of light showers through the latter stretches of the game. A wind from the south measuring 10-12 mph also sets the scene for a mildly messy game.

The rain also fell in Fresno State’s last visit to Las Cruces. NMStatesports.com reports the 2005 contest was the first Aggies home game played in rain since 1993. The Bulldogs won 37-7 as 28-point favorites two seasons ago, contributing to New Mexico State’s 0-12 record that year.

What, me motivated?

Fresno State has already clinched a bowl berth. Last week’s convincing win over Kansas State was the Bulldogs’ seventh of the season, leaving them in prime position for a New Mexico Bowl berth (possibly a Hawaii Bowl appearance if Hawaii cracks the BCS equation).

Fresno State head coach Pat Hill, however, tried to suggest on Monday that his team will keep its motivation through Friday night.

“I really do care about getting our eighth win. I want to go from 4-8 to 8-4," Hill told reporters at his weekly WAC conference. "I read all the time that when another team does that it's a miraculous turnaround. To me, that's what we're supposed to do."

Potential Fresno State backers are forgiven for their timidity. As bad as the Bulldogs’ straight-up record was a year ago, their 1-11 against-the-spread mark was the nation’s worst.

New Mexico State is out of the bowl scene but can record its first win in school history against the Bulldogs. The Aggies have lost all of their 13 games against Fresno State.

Using the run to set up the backdoor?

Fresno State is more comfortable running the ball than passing. The Bulldogs ran the ball in more than two-thirds of their offensive plays during their five WAC wins and will look to do the same Friday.

That will especially be the case if NFL prospect Bear Pascoe can’t play due to his lingering ankle concerns. Pascoe is quarterback Tom Brandstater’s top target when healthy. If Pascoe is sidelined, backup tight end Jesus Tapia and his excellent run-blocking skills come to the forefront.

Keep an eye on the second-half line if the favored Bulldogs build a decent lead as expected. Fresno State has run twice as many run plays as pass plays three times this season and was outscored down the stretch in each of them.

The Bulldogs ran the ball in 68.6 percent of their plays at Nevada and were outscored 21-7 in the fourth quarter. Fresno State’s numbers were nearly identical at Idaho (68.1 percent runs, outscored 17-6 in the last 17 minutes) and against Utah State (72.3 percent running plays, outscored 20-7 in the second half).

Cut to the Chase

A backdoor cover is more likely when the losing underdog team has a quality quarterback. New Mexico State’s Chase Holbrook fits the bill. He’s connected on at least 69.7 percent of his passes in nine of his 10 healthy games this season.

Holbrook’s other passing numbers are slightly down from his first season in Las Cruces. Injuries to his receivers are partially to blame. Speedster Chris Williams is still sidelined with a broken collarbone and Derek Dubois missed the Aggies’ last contest with a knee sprain. A.J. Harris leads New Mexico State in catches, but he’s a possession receiver.

Without his deep threats, Holbrook’s yards-per-attempt average in WAC play has dropped from 8.2 in 2006 to 7 this season.

New Mexico State has been a double-digit underdog three times this season and Holbrook couldn’t lead the Aggies to a backdoor cover in any of those games (though in his defense, Holbrook missed the majority of the game at Boise State).

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Friday's College Football TV Capsule

Opening Line: Fresno St. by 13.

Series Record: Fresno St. leads 13-0.

Last Meeting: 2006, Fresno St. 37-7

Last Meeting: 2006, Fresno St. 37-7

Fresno State is second in the WAC in rushing offense (199.4 yards per game) and third in passing defense (122.94). ... Bulldogs CB A.J. Jefferson leads the nation in kickoff return average (35.8 yards per return) and is the only Bulldog to have kickoff returns for touchdowns in consecutive games. ... New Mexico State is sixth in the nation in passing offense (332.7 yards per game). ... Aggies QB Chase Holbrook is eighth in the nation in total offense (321.9 yards per game).

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