Saturday, 10:00, CBS
What they do well
Offensively, Utah State avoids turnovers, but most of the team's magic has been worked on defense. Allowing just 1.18 points per possession, a starting field position 74 yards away from the end zone, 124 seconds per opponent possession, 13.1% of drives resulting in TDs, and just 3.71 points per red zone trip are all factors that have led USU to the MWC championship game despite the loss of their best offensive player early in the year.
What Fresno State does well is score. They put together long (6.39 plays, 40.7 yards), productive (3.01 points per drive, 40.4% TD rate) drives. FSU doesn't turn the ball over, with just 8.5% of drives ending in that fashion, and they finish off drives well, with high red zone scoring and TD rates.
What they don't do well
Utah State doesn't have any severe weaknesses on offense, but the offense has been rife with mediocrity since the injury to Chuckie Keeton. If Keeton were in this game, we'd be in for a much more interesting affair. Unfortunately, the USU offense probably isn't capable of keeping up if this turns into a shootout.
Fresno State's issues are on defense, where mediocrity abounds. Specifically, FSU doesn't force turnovers, and they give up too many points in the red zone.
USU rush O (-.06) vs. FSU rush D (-.05)
USU pass O (.03) vs. FSU pass D (.03)
FSU rush O (.09) vs. USU rush D (.19)
FSU pass O (.12) vs. USU pass D (.10)
EPA+ favors Fresno State in two matchups, USU in one, and is dead even in another. However, USU's one advantage, their rushing defense, is the biggest in the game. All told, EPA+ recognizes USU's defense as the best unit on the field, and it considers the Bulldogs' offense slightly overrated thanks to a pretty easy schedule.
While our EPA+ metric suggests USU might be primed for the upset, I still get the feeling that they'll miss Chuckie Keeton too much in a game against future NFL draft pick Derek Carr. As good as the USU D has been, some good quarterbacks have gotten the best of them; Derek Carr should do the same, and Fresno State should win comfortably.
That said, I've gone against EPA+ before and regretted it, so this one bears keeping an eye on. I'm picking the Bulldogs, but nervously so.
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