New Mexico State enters the 2012 season wondering what the future may hold for their football program. With the WAC practically in shambles and the Aggies being one of the two football members left without a conference home for the 2013 season, some may suggest that New Mexico State cut their losses in football and abandon the program or drop down a level when this season is done.
New Mexico State is a program looking for their third season of .500 or better since 1992. Since moving from the Sun Belt Conference to the WAC in 2005 the Aggies have gone 20-67, with six of those wins coming against opponents from the FCS ranks. To say there is room for improvement is a bit of an understatement for New Mexico State. New Mexico State’s room for improvement is equivalent to the shoe size of Shaquille O’Neal’s basketball sneakers.
Fortunately there are signs of some life within the Aggies program, coming off a four win season last fall that included a road win in Big Ten territory (Minnesota) and was highlighted by a road win at rival New Mexico. The four wins doubled the win total from the previous season, and now head coach DeWayne Walker enters his fourth year on the sidelines looking to take the next step toward becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2002, and reach a bowl game for the first time in program history since the 1960 season.
Taking that next step will not be easy with just eight starters on the team set to return in the fall. New Mexico State loses two of their top offensive players in running back Kenny Turner and receivers Taveon Rogers and Todd Lee, as well as starting quarterback Matt Christian and offensive coordinator Doug Martin. Those are some big spots to fill on offense. The Aggies will put the offense in the hands of quarterbacks Andrew Manley or Travaughn Colwell, letting each make their case for the full time job this summer and perhaps early in the season. Each showed some positive abilities in back-up duty last season. Young receiver Austin Franklin could emerge as the top receiver this year as he is expected to see more time on the field following some losses. A veteran offensive line despite some key losses will protect the passing game. The Aggies also allowed 34.0 sacks last season (ranked 101st in the nation in protection) and ranked 89th in rushing.
The defense was average last fall, showing moderate skills in pass defense but the Aggies must replace four starters in the secondary. Corner back Darien Johnson will be the star of the new secondary but he will need help in the open field, as well as up front to bring pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. The Aggies ranked 102nd in sacks, with 16.0 sacks last season. This season the Aggies will look to young players and junior college transfers to patch the line and plug some holes in the trenches.
2012 New Mexico State Schedule (via FBSchedules.com)
- August 30 – SACRAMENTO STATE
- September 8 – @ Ohio
- September 15 – @ UTEP
- September 22 – NEW MEXICO
- September 29 – UTSA*
- October 6 – @ Idaho*
- October 13 – Open Date
- October 20 – @ Utah State*
- October 27 – LOUISIANA TECH*
- November 3 – @ Auburn
- November 10 – SAN JOSE STATE*
- November 17 – Open Date
- November 24 – BYU
- December 1 – @ Texas State*
* Denotes WAC game
In a season in which New Mexico will surely have to show something in order to preserve their football program’s future, the schedule is set up nicely. While no games should be considered automatic wins for the Aggies, New Mexico State will open the season against FCS Sacramento State and play two games against WAC opponents in their first season playing FBS football (UTSA and Texas State). If the Aggies can scratch out three more wins they would become bowl eligible, and that should be within reach looking at everything right now.
Home games against Idaho and San Jose State should give the Aggies a slight edge, while games at Ohio, at Auburn and home against BYU could be marked down as likely losses. That leaves a few toss-ups in conference play.
With the potential future of the program in serious doubt, there is added pressure on Walker and the Aggies to win at all costs this season. Becoming bowl eligible should be the bar for this program, but with only eight starters back from last season there will be plenty of new faces looking to continue building.
Of course, even if New Mexico State manages to win their required six games to become bowl eligible, it remains to be seen if they will be invited to a bowl game. Unless New Mexico State wins the WAC (probably not likely), the Aggies may be one of the schools that benefits from other conferences not being able to fill their bowl slots. Look for a bowl game close to home to show any interest if needed, including the New Mexico Bowl.
Six wins looks to be achievable for this year’s team, but they cannot afford to slip up against their FCS and new FBS opponents.
Kevin is a national college football writer for ovalpike.com and the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Submit your mailbag questions via Tumblr. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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