Central Michigan vs. San Diego State: New Mexico Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico | When: Dec. 21 (2 p.m.) | TVESPN | LineSan Diego State -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Central Michigan: The Chips, in the first year under ex-Florida head coach Jim McElwain, fell to 2-3 after losses to Miami and Western Michigan in back-to-back weeks before getting things rolling. CMU was 6-1 in the final seven games of the season. The only regular-season loss was a trip to Buffalo on Oct. 26. The three straight wins at the end of the season — including a 45-44 victory at Ball State — were vital for the Chippewas as they clinched the MAC West title. CMU, however, lost 26-21 to Miami (Ohio) in the MAC title game as it became the only team to play both Miamis in 2019.

San Diego State: This Aztecs team is a throwback to 1980s NFL football. SDSU runs it over 40 times a game and averages less than 3.5 yards a carry while averaging 19 points a game and holding opponents to under 13 points per game. SDSU started the season 7-1 and snuck into the AP top 25 to start November. But a 17-13 loss at Nevada dropped the Aztecs out of the Top 25. A 14-11 loss at Hawaii ended the Aztecs’ hope of winning the Mountain West’s West division and the season ended with a 13-3 win over BYU.

San Diego State cornerback Luq Barcoo has forced receivers to play defense a lot in 2019. He has eight interceptions. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

If you like to watch two teams that run the football a lot, this game is for you (one of them is just a lot better at it than the other). And the New Mexico Bowl is a nice game to watch while you’re getting warmed up to sit on the couch and watch five more bowl games the rest of the day along with three NFL games. It’s a big football Saturday. Don’t miss a second of it.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Central Michigan RB Jonathan Ward: Ward has three fewer carries than Kobe Lewis and has 105 more yards. Ward averages over six yards a carry and has scored 15 rushing touchdowns. He’s also a threat in the passing game with 33 catches for 322 yards and a score. It’s not a coincidence that he had just 10 carries for 26 yards in CMU’s MAC title game loss. 

San Diego State CB Luq Barcoo: The senior corner has been one of the most productive corners in college football in 2019. Barcoo has eight interceptions and 16 passes defensed through 12 games, while also contributing 51 tackles and five tackles for loss. He’s broken up a pass in nine of San Diego State’s games this season and only Florida Atlantic’s Meiko Dotson has more interceptions.

Central Michigan's Jonathan Ward has scored 16 touchdowns in 2019. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

San Diego State OG Daishawn Dixon: The three-year starter at left guard is one of the few draftable possibilities in this game. He’s a 6-foot-5, 320-pound mauler in the ground game, but his pass protection could use work. Dixon will play in the East-West Shrine Game and is a candidate to be drafted later in Day 3 range, depending on his testing, but he could fall to the priority free-agent ranks.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Central Michigan: CMU is making its fifth bowl game appearance in six years. And it’s still looking for its first bowl win since 2012. Yes, CMU has lost its last four bowl games. The crazy Bahamas Bowl was 2014. The Quick Lane Bowl in 2015. The Miami Beach Bowl in 2016. And then the Potato Bowl at the end of 2017. Maybe this is the year. And if it is, it would cap off an excellent turnaround under McElwain, who inherited a team that went 1-11 in 2018.

San Diego State: It’s the 10th straight bowl game for the Aztecs yet it is somehow San Diego State’s first trip to the New Mexico Bowl despite the game’s longstanding tie-in with the Mountain West. A win would give the Aztecs victories in the New Mexico Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Potato Bowl and the now-defunct Poinsettia Bowl as an MWC member.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Central Michigan +3.5

Sam Cooper: San Diego State -3.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: San Diego State -3.5

Pete Thamel: San Diego State -3.5

Dan Wetzel: San Diego State -3.5

Sean Sullivan: San Diego State -3.5

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