San Diego State Aztecs (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West) vs. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA)
Kickoff time: 8 PM ET (December 24, 2022)
Location: Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex - Honolulu, HI
TV: ESPN: Mike Monaco, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich
Online Stream: https://www.espn.com/watch/
According to DraftKings, San Diego State is a seven-point favorite with the over/under set at 47.5 points.*
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
The San Diego State Aztecs aren’t quite what they were when they won back-to-back Mountain West titles in 2016 and 2015, but Brady Hoke once again leads a team that’s sound in defense and special teams.
Their Defense allows 20.2 points per game, which is fourth best in the Mountain West. That unit will be led by defensive lineman Jonah Tavai and linebacker Michael Shawcroft. Tavai was named a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus after picking up nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in their 7-5 campaign. Shawcroft also had an impressive 12 tackles for loss throughout the season, and has announced that he will retire from football after the bowl game. Shawcroft was a second-team All-Mountain West selection this season.
As a unit, the defense is allowing 3.8 yards per carry this season, which ranks in the top third of FBS. They also had the best red zone defense in the Mountain West, allowing opponents to come away with points 67.6% of the time inside the 20.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Aztecs haven’t had the same fortune. Jalen Mayden is a safety who Hoke converted to quarterback, a position he has played sporadically throughout his career. Mayden is an imposing physical presence at 6’3” and 220 pounds. He played QB in seven games this season completing 122 passes on 194 attempts with ten touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran the ball 57 times for 205 yards and three touchdowns.
On special teams, Jack Browning is a unique talent, handling the duties of both a punter and a placekicker. Browning hit on 17 of 21 field goal attempts and had 28 punts land inside the 20-yard line and 19 punts that went over 50 yards.
While the Aztecs ended their regular season with a loss to Air Force on senior day, the Blue Raiders enter Saturday as winners of their last three contests.
The Middle Tennessee offense scores 29.2 points per game, which is currently sixth in Conference USA. MTSU quarterback Chase Cunningham will likely need to stretch the field in order to give his team the best chance at a victory. Through 11 games, Cunningham has thrown for 2920 yards on 420 attempts with a 67.4% completion percentage. He’s also thrown 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
Defensively, MTSU also has a tough squad. Cornerback Decorian Patterson has played well all year, totaling six interceptions in 2022. That’s just one short of the NCAA leader: Buffalo’s Marcus Fuqua. As a team, they have 25 turnovers, which ranked sixth nationally at the beginning of bowl season. Also of note on the defensive side of the ball, defensive lineman Jordan Ferguson has nine sacks on the year and 22 in his career. He needs just one more to set the program record for career sacks.
Because MTSU has something of an edge offensively, it seems reasonable to think they can get this done. That being said, MTSU’s offensive line will need to have a strong game against some very imposing figures along the SDSU defensive front seven. MTSU wins 28-24.