LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – New Mexico State is now just 11 days from kicking off the Quick Lane Bowl vs. Bowling Green on Dec. 26 in Detroit, Mich.

The Falcons are currently 3.5-point favorites, but the way the Aggies played down the stretch of the season – winning five of their final six games – it’s possible that a very competitive game will take place the day after Christmas.

A big reason for NMSU’s late-season surge under first-year head coach Jerry Kill was their defensive unit that returned nine starters from 2021. The Aggies have been able to hang their hats on the defense for much of the year.

Under new defensive coordinator Nate Dreiling, NMSU ranks in the top 35 nationally of FBS teams in multiple categories, including total defense (31st) and pass efficiency defense (28th). If they were in the MAC – the conference Bowling Green plays in – NMSU would rank second in the conference in those categories.

Those stats could play a big role in Detroit, too. This season, the Falcons have moved the ball better through the air with veteran quarterback Matt McDonald, who has thrown for 2,639 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

McDonald has thrown at least 10 completions to eight different wide receivers, so it’s hard to key on just one pass catcher in the Falcons’ offense, but Odieu Hiliare has shown a big-play ability for Bowling Green this year.

The Aggies say McDonald reminds them of a player they’ve already seen this year: Missouri quarterback Brady Cook, who went 19-27 for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-14 win over NMSU on Nov. 19.

“(McDonald) is not as good, but as far as decision-making they’re pretty similar. They’re older guys and will be able to check the ball down and take what we give them. We’ll have to be sound on defense and stick to our keys,” said NMSU defensive back Andre Seldon.

Bowling Green scored 30 or more points five times this year, going 4-1 in those games, but they were just 2-5 when held under 30 points.

Against Group of Five teams in 2022, the most points NMSU gave up was 26 points, back in September in a win over Hawaii. In their last five games vs. Group of Five teams, the Aggies did not give up more than 14 points.

The Falcons could be the best Group of Five team they face this year other than Liberty; McDonald will certainly provide a challenge to the defense as well. However, the Aggies are hoping to continue riding the hot streak they’ve got going later this month.

“I think the big thing with them is that they show so many different looks and alignments and run a lot of trick plays,” Kill said. “They just keep you off-balance defensively, so they’ll be a big test mentally.”

NMSU will look to stay undefeated all-time in bowl games (they’re currently 3-0-1) on Dec. 26 at 12:30 p.m. MT in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. The game will air on ESPN and is the only bowl game that day.