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Conference USA Championship Game Preview: New Mexico State vs. Liberty

We make a pick for the Conference USA championship game.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at Liberty Brian Bishop-USA TODAY Sports

The New Mexico State Aggies and Liberty Flames will meet for the Conference USA championship at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s the first time that both teams have been in the conference championship game. Liberty won the earlier meeting between the schools in September, 33-17.

Liberty is an 11-point favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook.

New Mexico State Aggies (9-3, 7-1 CUSA)

FPI 91. SP+ 61 overall, 82 offense, 39 defense

Second-year head coach Jerry Kill has led the Aggies to their best record and longest win streak (seven) since 1960. The Aggies will also head to bowl games in two consecutive seasons for the first time since 1959-1960. New Mexico State looks for its first conference championship since winning the Missouri Valley Conference in 1978.

Quarterback Diego Pavia is the key to everything the Aggies do on offense. Through 12 games the junior has thrown for 2,458 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also leads New Mexico State with 738 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He’s joined by running backs Star Thomas (95 carries, 582 yards, four touchdowns) and Monte Watkins (49 carries, 531 yards, two touchdowns).

In the passing game, Jonathan Brady leads the Aggies with 31 catches for 497 yards, but Trent Hudson has a team-high seven touchdown catches. On the defensive end, lineman Sterling Webb and linebacker Buddha Peleti have 4.5 sacks pieces, but the Aggies have only forced nine turnovers all season.

Liberty Flames (12-0, 8-0 CUSA)

FPI 48. SP+ 20 overall, 11 offense, 43 defense

Liberty dominated play in its first year in Conference USA under first-year coach Jamey Chadwell. The Flames won their first seven conference games by an average of nearly 18 points and will be headed to a bowl game for a fifth-straight season. Which bowl game remains to be determined. Liberty is sitting at 25th in the College Football Playoff rankings and could be in line for a New Year’s Six bowl if things shake out in its favor.

Quarterback Kaidon Salter, a transfer from Tennessee, has thrown for 2,409 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions through 11 games. His top target is C.J. Daniels, who has hauled in 39 passes for 819 yards and eight touchdowns. Salter also does a lot in the running game where he’s second on the Flames with 823 yards and a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns.

Liberty’s lead rusher is Quinton Cooley, who has 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The Flames defense had grabbed 19 interceptions with safety Brylan Green leading the way with five picks. Linebacker Tyren Dupree leads the team with 102 tackles.

Odds at DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: Liberty -11.5
Total: 57
Moneyline: Liberty -485, NMSU +370


48 degrees, cloudy, 5 MPH winds SW

Don’t forget before you bet

  • Liberty is 8-4 against the spread this season, and NMSU is 10-2-1 ATS
  • Diego Pavia threw two interceptions in the two teams’ September meeting

Best bets for Conference USA Championship Game

Liberty -11.5

Diego Pavia has met his match in Kaidon Salter and this Liberty team. The Flames have absolutely dominated C-USA this season and are one of just five undefeated teams remaining in the nation heading into conference championship weekend. They will look to make a statement against the Aggies and take home their first C-USA title. After the two teams’ earlier meeting ended with a 16-point differential, Liberty can pull off a two-score win here.