The New Mexico State Aggies and Liberty Flames are newcomers to Conference USA, as the two indepdendents decided to attach themselves in the wake of all the shuffling around in college football. And in their first shot out of the box, both of them are in the C-USA championship game. BetOnline customers can see this game on CBS Sports Network at 7 PM ET at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, VA.
There is so much talk about berths in the College Football Playoff and the New Year's Six bowl games. But Liberty is the undefeated team you haven't heard about. The `12-0 Flames have cracked the national rankings, situated 20th by the Associated Press, 22nd in the Coaches poll and 24th in the college playoff rankings.
It can be said that New Mexico State has taken the hard way into this game. The Aggies have lost three times, but have roared down the stretch, winning eight straight. And between these two teams, they have recorded the signature win, beating Auburn (which just came within a hair of beating Alabama) by a 31-10 score. In that one, they whipped Hugh Freeze, who served as Liberty's head coach last season.
Liberty hired Jamey Chadwell, snatching him away from Coastal Carolina, where he had guided that program into the national rankings. NMSU is coached by Jerry Kill, rthe former head man at Minnesota, who's had a history of health problems.
This is also a shootout between dual-threat quarterbacks - Diego Pavia of New Mexico State and Kaidon Salter of Liberty.
And it is a rematch; Liberty beat NMSU 33-17 on September 9. But a lot has happened for the Aggies since then. And frankly, Kill's team started slowly last season, losing their first four games, then winning six of their last seven in the process of garnering a bowl bid.
In the college football betting odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the Flames are the favorites:
Liberty Flames -10.5 (-106)
New Mexico State Aggies +10.5 (-114)
Over 57.5 points -105
Under 57.5 points -115
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In the first meeting, NMSU gave up 250 rushing yards (the most they allowed all season) and yielded eleven yards per passing attempt. Since that game, they have surrendered only 6.9 per pass.
Liberty has been mostly a dominant force, posting single-digit wins over only Middle Tennessee and Sam Houston State. Quarterback Salter completed just 59%, but he's averaged 10.1 yards per attempt. He gets its down the field, as evidenced by the presence of FOUR wide receivers for the Flames who have averaged at least 20 yards per catch, led by CJ Daniels (831 yards). Salter also sports a 29-5 TD-INT ratio, and with 101 yards in this game he will reach 1000 rushing yards.
There is no doubt that Liberty relies on the run. They have outrushed opponents by 189 yards per game. And they've got a great running back in Quinlon Cooley (1251 yards, 13 touchdowns).
NMSU counters that with Star Thomas (5.9 ypc) and Monte Watkins (10.4), who can rip off chunk plays. But veteran QB DiegoPavia is the leading rusher with 806 yards.
We sense that Liberty is the team that can execute the more explosive plays. And they have a slightly better stop unit as well. But you can't deny the steadiness of Jerry Kill's squad, and they have a win over the kind of legitimate opponent that Liberty can't claim. So taking the points is ther smarter thing to do here.
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