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Wyoming at New Mexico St.
Editor’s Note: Brian Edwards has started hot in college football the last three years. He has raced out to 14-8 starts (63.6%) in back-to-back seasons and went 5-1 to start 2015. Bettors can get signed up for Saturday’s pay-if-it-wins-only selection or go all in with Brian’s season package!

Hawaii at Colorado State

Coming off its first trip to the postseason since 1960, New Mexico State is making the transition from the Sun Belt Conference to joining Notre Dame and four other school as Independents at the FBS level. Armed with a new contract, Doug Martin enters his sixth season at the helm with high hopes of recording a second straight winning season.

NMS (let’s go with that from here on…) went 7-6 both straight up and against the spread last year, posting just its fifth winning season in the last 50 years. The Aggies won five of their past seven games, including a 26-20 overtime victory over Utah State as four-point underdogs in the Arizona Bowl.

Martin’s team returns six starters on offense, nine on defense and lost only 13 lettermen. There were some key losses, however. QB Tyler Rogers, the school’s second all-time leader in career passing yards (10,364), has departed along with RB Larry Rose III, the program’s second all-time leading rusher with 4,567 career yards.

Wide receiver Jaleel Scott became the first Aggie to be selected in the NFL Draft since 2013 when he was plucked by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round. Scott was a first-team All-Sun-Belt performer last season when he hauled in 76 receptions for 1,079 yards and nine touchdowns.

Without this trio, there are clearly big holes to fill on offense. With that said, there are five players back who had 20 catches or more in 2017. One of those wideouts is junior O.J. Clark, who had 47 catches for 500 yards and three TDs. Anthony Muse brought down 40 grabs for 455 yards and two TDs, while senior Johnathan Boone had 31 receptions for 399 yards and one TD.

Rogers completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 4,016 yards with a 27/18 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2017. Martin announced Rogers’ replacement on Tuesday when he chose juco transfer QB Matt Romero to get the starting nod in Saturday night’s opener vs. Wyoming at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

As of Friday afternoon, the Cowboys were listed as 3.5-point road favorites with a total of 44.5 or 45. The Aggies were +150 to win outright (risk $100 to win $150).

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Romero was in for spring drills at NMS after starting for two seasons at Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, California. He threw for 5,489 yards and 49 TDs. According to a report from the Las Cruces Sun News, NMS was Romero’s only FBS scholarship offer. He beat out senior Nick Jeanty for the job. Jeanty, who has appeared in 17 games and started five for the Aggies, connected on 48-of-72 throws in ’17 for 389 yards with a ¼ TD-INT ratio.

Junior RB Jason Huntley will take over the bulk of the load for Rose. Huntley has started five games in the past two years when Rose was injured. He ran for 420 yards and one TD last year, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Huntley is excellent at catching the ball out of the backfield, producing 39 catches for 363 yards and two TDs in ’17.

NMS’s defense gave up 29.7 points per game last year. Fourteen of the top 16 tacklers from this unit are back. However, two of the Aggies best defenders could be sidelined vs. Wyoming. Junior DE Cedric Wilcots, a first-team All-SBC selection in ’17, is suspended for at least one game due to academic reasons. Wilcots produced 29 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, six QB hurries and three passes broken up last season.

Senior safety Ron LaForce is listed as ‘questionable’ with a foot injury. LaForce was the SBC’s Newcomer of the Year after enjoying a banner season with NMS after arriving via the juco route. He recorded 104 tackles, five PBU, three interceptions and one TFL.

Senior LB Terrill Hanks is ‘probable’ despite dealing with a wrist issue. Hanks had 111 tackles, eight TFL’s, seven sacks, six PBU, four QB hurries and two interceptions in ’17. The Aggies have another elite pass rusher in junior DE Malik Demby, who had 47 tackles, 6.5 sacks, six QB hurries, 4.5 TFL’s and one PBU last year.

NMS is 4-2 ATS in its six games as a home underdog in the past two seasons. During Martin’s tenure, the Aggies are 9-10-2 versus the number in 21 games as home ‘dogs.

Wyoming went 8-5 both SU and ATS last year, beating Central Michigan by a 37-14 count as a three-point ‘chalk’ on the blue carpet in Boise at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Cowboys won five games by double-digit margins, and two of their defeats came against Power Five foes at Iowa and vs. Oregon. They lost two other games to 11-win Boise State and 10-win Fresno State.

Craig Bohl’s squad dropped a pair of one-possession games, and it took the cash in a 24-14 loss at BSU as a 14-point underdog. The Cowboys were -640 in overall totals yards vs. their opponents, but they made up for that deficit with an incredible +24 turnover margin.

Wyoming brings back nine starters on offense, eight on defense and loses only nine lettermen. One of those losses was a big one, though. That would be No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen, the QB who went to the Buffalo Bills in the first round and was the highest pick in school history.

We should also point out that Allen didn’t play in Wyoming’s last two regular-season games in ’17, resulting in L’s vs. Fresno State (13-7) and at San Jose State (20-17). Allen threw for 1,812 yards with a 16/6 TD-INT ratio.

Nick Smith completed 40-of-74 passes (54.1%) for 471 yards with a 2/2 TD-INT ratio last season. Despite gaining valuable experience with two starts, Smith was beaten out for the starting QB job by redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal, who will throw to a group of wideouts that returns its top seven pass catchers.

Even with Allen, the Wyoming offense averaged merely 23.5 PPG in ’17. Junior WR Austin Conway will be Vander Waal’s favorite target. Conway had 62 receptions for 553 yards and three TDs, while C.J. Johnson had 30 catches for 531 yards and seven TDs. However, Johnson tore his ACL in the Dec. 22 win over CMU and remains ‘out’ indefinitely.

The offensive line will be without two players at NMS. OT Alonzo Velazquez is ‘out’ with a knee injury after starting 10 games as a true freshman. Junior OG Gavin Rush, who started 22 games the past two years, is out for the season with a biceps injury.

Wyoming’s defense was nasty in ‘17, surrendering only 17.5 PPG after giving up 34.1 PPG the previous campaign. Give credit to defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, who was hired away from the Jacksonville Jaguars by Bohl. Hazelton had been with the Jags for three years as their assistant LB coach.

The top six tacklers return, including star senior DE Carl Granderson, who was a first-team All-Mountain West selection. Granderson, who is listed as the No. 8 DE available for the 2019 NFL Draft in Phil Steele’s preseason magazine, produced 77 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL’s, four QB hurries, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one 58-yard fumble return for a TD.

Junior LB Logan Wilson was a second-team All-MWC pick last season when he recorded 119 tackles, seven TFL’s, two forced fumbles, one sack, one interception, one PBU and one 18-yard fumble return for a TD. Senior safety Andrew Wingard is a three-time All-MWC selection, garnering first-team honors in back-to-back campaigns after being a second-team choice as a freshman in ’15.

Wingard has 367 career tackles, including 114 stops last year. He also had seven TFL’s, five interceptions, three PBU, two forced fumbles and one sack. Wingard is a third-team preseason All-American in Steele’s mag and the No. 8 strong safety available for the 2019 NFL Draft.

Two defensive players are ‘out’ at NMS, however, and another is listed as ‘questionable.’ Starting junior LB Cassh Maluia will be serving a one-game suspension following a solid sophomore season. Maluia produced 74 tackles, three PBU, 2.5 TFL’s, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one sack.

Reserve DL Javaree Jackson is ‘out’ for the entire season with a back injury. Jackson had 24 tackles and 1.5 TFL’s last year. Reserve DE Josiah Hall is a question mark due to a blood clot. Hall registered 24 tackles, two TFL’s, one QB hurry and 0.5 sacks.

Wyoming is an abysmal 1-4 both SU and ATS in five games as a road favorite during the first four years of Bohl’s tenure.

Kickoff is scheduled for 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. It is the first time in more than a decade that NMS has played on ESPN or ESPN2.

Coming from Laramie and its mild summer weather up in the mountains, the Cowboys must deal with the New Mexico heat in this spot. According to weather.com, the forecast in Las Cruces calls for temperatures to dip into the 70s as the night progresses. With the 8:00 p.m. kick local time, heat will be factor in the first half and temperature will be in the 80s for at least the first quarter.

There’s a 40-percent chance of rain with mostly cloudy skies. Winds are expected to be at 5-10 miles per hour.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- NMS has won three consecutive games against MWC competition, topping in-state rival New Mexico in back-to-back years. As previously noted, the Aggies also knocked off Utah State last season.

-- The ‘under’ cashed in each of Wyoming’s last six regular-season games of ’17 before the ‘over’ hit in its postseason triumph over CMU.

-- The ‘under’ was a winner in NMS’s last three games of ’17.

-- After hosting the Cowboys late Saturday night, NMS faces a terrible spot on a short week when it must turn around and play at Minnesota on Thursday.

-- Sportsbook.ag has Wyoming’s season win total at 6.5 shaded to the ‘over’ at a -165 price (+135 for the ‘under’). The offshore shop has the Aggies’ win total at six (‘under’ -145).

-- Blake Barnett, the former 5-star recruit who started his career at Alabama before transferring to Arizona State, has been named the starting QB by Charlie Strong at USF.

-- Besides a pair of Thursday guest radio appearances on Sharp & Benning in the Morning on 1620 The Zone in Omaha and The Out of Bounds Show with Qualk & Kelly on The Roar in Clemson, I’ve yet to (at least on the keyboard) weigh in on that utterly despicable debacle of a press conference in Columbus on Wednesday night. Don’t worry, folks, I’ve got opinions galore and they’re forthcoming in a column at some point in the next day or two. As just a quick little teaser, I’ll point out that I think this story is far from over. Also, I don’t believe Urban Meyer will be at Ohio State much longer for a slew of reasons. Get your popcorn ready!

-- Finally, if interested, you can check out my column on VI from nearly eight years ago when I called out Meyer for the d-bag that he’s always been. At the time, I had no idea that Jim Tressel was about to get caught up in a tattoo scandal that would have Meyer back on the sidelines even sooner than I expected.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

  
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