2021 Mountain West Championship Game Preview: How to watch San Diego State vs. Utah State

The San Diego State vs. Utah State Mountain West Championship Game is a battle between defensive and offensive juggernauts.

The Mountain West Championship Game pits the 19th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs against the Utah State Aggies. The Aztecs are trying to win their first conference title since being back-to-back champions in 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, this is the Aggies’ second shot at the top spot in the Mountain West, as they fell to Fresno State in their only other appearance in 2013. Here are the college football betting odds, how to watch the game, and our prediction for the San Diego State vs. Utah State Mountain West Championship Game.

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How to watch San Diego State vs. Utah State

  • Start time: Saturday, December 4, 3 PM ET
  • Location: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA
  • Channel: FOX
  • Live streams:
    • fuboTV
    • Hulu + Live TV
    • YouTube TV

San Diego State vs. Utah State | 2021 Mountain West Championship Game pick and prediction

  • Spread: San Diego State -6
  • Total: 50
  • Moneyline: San Diego State -225, Utah State +185

At 11-1, San Diego State currently owns their best record since 1969, when Don Coryell led his team to an 11-0 finish. In his first year as head coach, Blake Anderson took Utah State from 1-5 in a COVID-shortened 2020 campaign to 9-3 and an MWC title game appearance.

These programs have only faced off 15 times in their history, with SDSU holding a commanding 13-2 record. However, this is a new-look USU squad, with a new head coach and quarterback at the helm. Furthermore, the Aggies are a school-record 6-0 on the road this year and aren’t scared of traveling to the Aztecs’ home away from home. San Diego State currently plays 116 miles from campus at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson City, home to the LA Galaxy professional soccer team.

Nevertheless, Utah State is 5-63 all-time against ranked teams. I expect Brady Hoke and Co. to stave off the hungry Aggies, earning the program’s 22nd conference title in the process.

MWC Championship Game Pick and Prediction: San Diego State 24, Utah State 17

Top 2022 draft prospects playing

While both sides are focused on winning this game, there are plenty of 2022 NFL Draft prospects hoping to impress pro scouts on Saturday. Remember the names!

San Diego State

  • Greg Bell, RB
  • Daniel Bellinger, TE
  • Zachary Thomas, OT
  • William Dunkle, G
  • Alama Uluave, C
  • Cameron Thomas, EDGE
  • Jonah Tavai, DI
  • Keshawn Banks, EDGE
  • Trenton Thompson, DB
  • Tayler Hawkins, DB
  • Matt Araiza, P

Utah State

  • Logan Bonner, QB
  • Deven Thompkins, WR
  • Derek Wright, WR
  • Brandon Browning, WR
  • Nick Heninger, EDGE
  • Justin Rice, LB
  • Shaq Bond, S

San Diego State offense vs. Utah State defense

SDSU’s offense will not blow the top off defenses, but they don’t have to. The passing attack generates 6.3 yards per play (second-fewest in the conference) and 154.3 yards per game (third-fewest). However, the ground game has no issue carrying the team to victories. Their 4.4 yards per rush and 178.7 yards per game are third-best in the Mountain West.

That does not bode well for a Utah State defense near the bottom in all rushing statistics. They don’t fare much better against the pass, allowing 7.6 yards per play and a 62.3% completion rate — third-worst figures in the MWC.

Still, Jordan Brookshire (who will likely start under center with Lucas Johnson dealing with an injury) should not strike fear into any defense. He does have pieces around him, though. Jesse Matthews went from walk-on to reliable receiver, and Daniel Bellinger is a big target (6’6″, 255 pounds) at tight end.

SDSU rushing attack vs. Utah State front seven

We touched on the rushing attack a bit, but what makes them click? RT Zachary Thomas and RG William Dunkle are some of the best in the business, earning first-team Mountain West recognition in 2021. They pave effortless lanes for their backs to run through, routinely beating the man across from them.

Greg Bell is the main beneficiary, rushing for 949 yards and 8 touchdowns on the year. However, he may have an issue securing the ball, fumbling 6 times on the year (3 lost).

DL Nick Heninger, LB Justin Rice, and DB Shaq Bond offer Utah State an excellent triple threat across all three levels of the defense, but there isn’t much beyond them.

Utah State offense vs. San Diego State defense

While the Aztecs love to grind out games and kill the clock, the Aggies can air it out and put points up in a hurry. Led by Logan Bonner (who followed Anderson from Arkansas State), Utah State has generated 32.2 points and 456 yards per contest in 2021.

WR Deven Thompkins was a Biletnikoff Award Semifinalist and currently leads the nation with 1,543 receiving yards on just 87 receptions. His 9 TDs are only sixth in the conference, but that is due to fellow Aggies WRs Derek Wright (10) and Brandon Bowling (7) combining for 17. The ground game is a bit of an afterthought, but Calvin Tyler Jr. (153-723-5) and Elelyon Noa (125-546-4) have produced modest stat lines.

Utah State’s offense has been impressive, but they have not faced a defense quite like San Diego State’s. The Aztecs lead the conference in nearly every major statistic, but their dominance transcends the Mountain West. Their 17.3 points and 314.3 yards allowed per game are ninth and 11th in the country, respectively.

Cameron Thomas, Jonah Tavai, and Keyshawn Banks live in backfields, with Thomas tying Colorado State’s Scott Patchan for the conference lead in sacks (10.5). The secondary plays off the success of their front seven, but more on them shortly.

Logan Bonner vs. San Diego State secondary

Bonner may not have earned an all-conference nod behind Nevada’s Carson Strong and Fresno State’s Jake Haener, but he has been impressive this year. He’s completed 60.3% of his passes for 3,242 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. While his completion percentage isn’t the prettiest, Bonner is looking downfield more often than not, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. That ranks in the top 20 among qualifying quarterbacks in the nation.

Yet, Bonner and his receivers are running into a buzzsaw. San Diego State owns the most INTs in the conference (15) compared to just 19 TDs allowed. They are also stingy on third down, conceding the lowest conversion rate in the MWC (31.4%). However, Utah State owns the best third-down conversion rate on offense (44.6%).

DB Trenton Thompson has been stellar in his slot role, allowing less than 50% of his targets to be completed. Dallas Branch hasn’t forfeited a TD all year, and Tayler Hawkins is a ball hawk on the opposite side (2 INTs, 10 passes defended). While Bonner and Thompkins will get theirs, so will the Aztecs’ stout secondary.

Special teams matter … Matt Araiza matters

Before we delve into the man, the myth, the legend, Matt Araiza, let’s first discuss the kick returners in the Mountain West Championship Game. SDSU’s Jordan Byrd and USU’s Savon Scarver earned all-conference honors for a reason. They each have a kick-return touchdown to their name (the only ones in the MWC). Byrd, in particular, averages nearly 30 yards per kick return and 7.2 per punt return.

Okay, with that out of the way, it is time to talk about our lord and savior. Araiza has received more attention than any college kicker/punter in recent memory — and for good reason. He is San Diego State’s kickoff specialist, placekicker, and punter, the trifecta of the kicking game!

Only 9 of his 64 kickoffs have been returned, as he consistently boots it to the back of the end zone (53 touchbacks). Araiza is only 15-of-24 on field goals, but he owns a long of 53 this year. Additionally, he’s nailed all 39 of his extra-point attempts. But this is what you are here for — Araiza’s punting.

The Mountain West’s Special Teams Player of the Year already owns NCAA records for the most 50 and 60-yard punts in a single season. Moreover, Araiza possesses the most punts inside the 20 (40), and his 51.1 yards per attempt is the second-best mark in the FBS. All that not to mention he launched 2 punts over 80 yards this year — he truly has a cannon for a right leg. Araiza is must-watch television — not a comment you expect for a punter, though I think “special-teams weapon” fits his skill set much better.

James Fragoza is a Writer and News Editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter @JamesFragoza.

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