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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 118: New Mexico State

How much patience can a program have? When it’s New Mexico State, one can only hope the standards are low enough where one, two, three seasons of clumsiness are not grounds for a dismissal – especially when the coach is DeWayne Walker, who has a high enough profile where he’d be hired elsewhere within days of being served his walking papers. Not that the Aggies are a sleeping giant, but when I think of patience I think of Virginia Tech, which survived a 24-40-2 start under Frank Beamer from 1987-92 but since 1993 has won at least 10 games 12 times. That’s not in the cards for Walker and N.M.S.U., if only for the reason that he’d be hired elsewhere after one 10-win season, if not merely a .500 season.

Conference
WAC

Location
Las Cruces, N.M.

Nickname
Aggies

Returning starters
11 (5 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 115

2010 record
(2-10, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 111

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    Ohio
  • Sept. 10
    at Minnesota
  • Sept. 17
    UTEP
  • Sept. 24
    at San Jose St.
  • Oct. 1
    at New Mexico
  • Oct. 15
    Idaho
  • Oct. 23
    at Hawaii
  • Oct. 29
    Nevada
  • Nov. 5
    at Georgia
  • Nov. 12
    Fresno St.
  • Nov. 19
    at B.Y.U.
  • Nov. 26
    at Louisiana Tech
  • Dec. 3
    Utah St.

Last year’s prediction

It will take time for DeWayne Walker to get New Mexico State into the top third of the WAC, and no one is expecting any miracles. The offense as a whole, even with three returning on a pretty good line, will struggle to score points this season; even with a good secondary, the defense is not good enough to keep the Aggies in most games. So it doesn’t look good for New Mexico State in Walker’s second season. Still, there are things to like. But the Aggies simply don’t have the horses to compete in the WAC, and surely not to play with the B.C.S. conference opponents on the schedule. The coach is there, however. I really believe that.

2010 recap

In a nutshell Say one thing for Walker: he owns the Rio Grande Rivalry. His Aggies are now 2-0 against Mike Locksley’s Lobos, 3-20 against the rest of the world, a rivalry record that keeps some fans happy but an overall mark that screams for increased competitiveness for the sake of job security. Last fall, the two teams N.M.S.U. defeated on the year combined for two wins; U.N.M. finished 1-11, San Jose State 1-12, and the Spartans’ lone win came against an F.C.S. opponent. Against the teams that weren’t terrible, the Aggies were, well, terrible. There was only a five-point loss to Utah State, but each of the remaining nine losses came by at least 21 points — four came by at least 32 points. So there’s room for improvement.

High point The 16-14 win over New Mexico. It was not impressive, not in the least, just more impressive than a 29-27 victory over San Jose State. Let’s be honest: neither were wins to write home about.

Low point No one expects N.M.S.U. to beat Boise State, but a 59-0 home loss to the Broncos on Oct. 2 could very well been a 100-0 home loss had Boise State decided to play the game the same way as other national title contenders. For that — for calling off the dogs — Walker should be eternally grateful. There were three very, very good teams in the WAC last fall: Boise State, Nevada and Hawaii. The trio combined to outscore the Aggies by 170-30.

Tidbit How rare was Davon House’s fourth-round selection in last weekend’s N.F.L. draft? It had been eight years since New Mexico State had any player drafted; Siddeeq Shabazz went in the seventh round to Oakland in 2003. How long had it been since the Aggies had a pick go as high as the fourth round? Try 1988, when defensive end Joseph Campbell was taken in the fourth by the San Diego Chargers. In all, the program has had only five players go as high as 131st overall — where House was taken — since 1976: Duriel Harris went 80th overall in ’76; Walt Williams went 42nd in 1977; Cliff Olander went 128th in ’77; Fredd Young went 76th in 1984; and then Campbell in ’88.

Tidbit (shirts edition) You’ve heard of a redshirt: that’s when a player sits out a season, whether for physical, medical, personal reasons or otherwise, and retains a year of eligibility. You’ve probably caught wind of the grayshirt, when a player signs in one recruiting class but doesn’t enroll until the following semester — signs in February of 2010, enrolls in January of 2011 — and thereby counts for the following year’s recruiting totals. Make sense? Here’s a new word for the lexicon, previously unknown to me: blueshirt, which according to New Mexico State means a prospect “that signed a National Letter of Intent in 2010 but played during the 2010 season and their signing counts against the 2011 signing class.” That makes absolutely no sense to me, unfortunately. So a recruit was signed in 2010, played in 2010 yet counts towards the 2011 signing class?

Former players in the N.F.L.

3 C Nick Cole (Philadelphia), CB Davon House (Green Bay), OG Tony Wragge (San Francisco).

Arbitrary top five list

Scientists vital to atomic bomb project
1. Albert Einstein.
2. Leo Szilard.
3. Enrico Fermi.
4. Niels Bohr.
5. Robert Oppenheimer.

Coaching

DeWayne Walker (Regents College ’92), 5-20 after two seasons at New Mexico State. No, the record isn’t pretty. Yet such growing pains were surely to be expected in Walker’s first season and should be excused even into this coming season, though perhaps not too much longer. Walker came to Las Cruces from U.C.L.A., where he served as defensive coordinator from 2006-8. Though the Bruins won only 17 games over that three-year span, Walker’s defenses were typically among the best in the Pac-10, particularly against the run. Perhaps his crowning moment as the U.C.L.A. defensive coordinator came in the 2006 regular-season finale, when the Bruins defeated then-No. 2 ranked U.S.C., 13-9, in the season’s biggest upset. That 2006 season, his first, saw U.C.L.A. allow nearly half as many touchdowns as the season before (27 from 48), a monumental improvement. Walker has extensive experience on the college level as both a coordinator and position coach, serving in the latter capacity at U.S.C. (2001-2), California (1996-97), Oklahoma State (1995), B.Y.U. (1994) and Utah State (1993). Early returns in Las Cruces have been positive, though not in the win column. Walker’s teams play hard, his tenure seems have direction and there is no general apathy from the fan base, as there was during the last days of Hal Mumme, but Walker needs to put together a more competitive product on the field.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Three years, three offensive coordinators. Walker’s first offensive mastermind was Timm Rosenbach back in 2009; he was followed by Mike Dunbar last fall; who has since been replaced by former Kent State coach Doug Martin. One note on Dunbar: he resigned, wasn’t fired, but waited until March to do so. Why? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the offense struggled, but it likely had much more to do with the $80,000 paycheck — that’s small for this level of football, though not chump change. I’m not sure what N.M.S.U. will pay Martin, but he’s an upgrade.

Players to watch

I shook my head at the time. Andrew Manley was a very nice recruit for a school like New Mexico State: the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year in Hawaii and a talented quarterback at a real position of need for the Aggies, it was somewhat surprising to see Manley end up in Las Cruces, not with the Warriors. That’s not why I was shaking my head; I was shaking my head upon seeing Manley thrust too quickly into action last fall, when he tossed six interceptions against a single touchdown while completing only slightly more than 50 percent of his attempts.

It was a good move in hindsight. Manley made four starts under center last fall, sharing time with senior Matt Christian, and while he struggled, his experience will be far more useful than any redshirt season. As we enter the summer, it’s pretty clear that Manley’s physical gifts have given him a distinctive edge over Christian in the quarterback competition. He’s young and will continue to make mistakes, but Walker and the Aggies should be excited about what Manley brings to the table.

There’s reason to believe the running game — and yes, we’ll believe it when we see it — will finally take a step forward in 2011. Not a mammoth step forward, mind you, but maybe, just maybe, the Aggies can average 130 yards per game on the ground. And maybe, just maybe, net 10 rushing scores. Why the reason for such unbridled optimism? Because of the experience returning along the offensive line, of course. The Aggies bring back bookend tackles Davonte Wallace, a sophomore, and Aundre McGaskey, a senior. Another senior, Mike Grady, returns for another year at center. Junior Maveau Heimuli is back at guard, though he might move to the left side. And after missing most of last season due to injury, senior Sioeli Fakalata — get your mind out of the gutter — returns at right guard. This is good. Depth? Perhaps not so much.

Seth Smith is gone, so the Aggies’ running game will rely on Kenny Turner and Robert Clay, who led the team in rushing yards and yards per carry, respectively. Turner is also a valuable asset in the receiving game; he led all returning players with 25 receptions last fall. Clay was one of the stars of the spring game, leading N.M.S.U. with 52 yards rushing, while junior Victor Johnson added another 36 yards. Going three deep here would be nice.

It’s rare that the Aggies produce a draft pick, as noted above, so losing cornerback Davon House is the main storyline surrounding this defense. How good was House? He went toe-to-toe with the WAC’s best, more than holding his own, and leaves a huge hole in the N.M.S.U. secondary. Who steps up? No one. No returning player can replace House, and the New Mexico State pass defense will suffer mightily because of it.

At least Jonte Green is back, though with all due respect to Green, a former JUCO transfer entering his third year in the starting lineup, he’s no House. But he’s now the leader at cornerback, and will need to make the sort of plays commensurate with his new role. So he takes over on the other side? It could be senior Donyae Coleman, though that would involve moving him out of his starting free safety spot. If Walker wants to keep Coleman at safety, he could move sophomore Darien Johnson — House’s backup in 2010 — up into the starting lineup. That’s a good option: Coleman would strengthen the back end of the defense at free safety, Johnson and Green will play cornerback and sophomores Justin Smith and George Callender can battle it out to replace Alphonso Powell at strong safety.

What of the interior of the defensive line? Replacing John Finau on the nose will be a massive task. It doesn’t help matters that his backup, off-and-on starter Kawika Shook, was also a senior. The good news: Shook was replaced at tackle midway through last season by sophomore Augafa Vaaulu, who steadies the inside of the defensive line. There remains a hole at nose tackle, with junior Tommy Stuart as the heftiest and most game-tested option. There are really no worries at end, where the Aggies bring back starters Pierre Fils and Donte Savage. Fils was more productive in 2009 than he was a year ago, but as a three-year starter, he’s invaluable. Keep an eye on senior David Niumatalolo, who will have a role on passing downs. He tied Fils for the spring game lead with three sacks.

Two starters return at linebacker: Boyblue Aoelua — one of the great names in college football — and B.J. Adolpho finished two-three on the team in tackles, slightly ahead of departed strong side linebacker Frank Padilla. His vacant spot remains a key position for N.M.S.U., which wants to stand taller against the run. Walker went to the JUCO ranks to sign Alexander LaVoy, and while he won’t be with the team until the summer, he’s an intriguing option.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receivers and tight ends Gone are Marcus Allen and Kyle Nelson, the Aggies’ two leading receivers a year ago. Back are a handful of juniors and senior accustomed to secondary roles, such as Taveon Rogers and Todd Lee, both of whom must step up to help speed up Manley’s development. It would be a shame, after all, if Manley proves capable of playing quarterback in the WAC yet has no one capable of making plays in the passing game. He may have a guy in Rogers, who led the Aggies in yards per catch last fall (15.4 yards). There was a relationship there during the recent spring game: Rogers led all Aggies with 100 receiving yards, with the highlight a 29-yard scoring grab from Manley. Replacing Nelson at tight end will prove more difficult; 40-catch tight ends are hard to come by anywhere, and even if David Quiroga — a converted linebacker — can be a red zone threat, it’s hard to see any one tight end duplicating Nelson’s production. The bottom line for New Mexico State’s pass-catchers: it’s essential that they someone — or two, or three — players step up in order to give Manley something to work with.

Game(s) to watch

Once again, games against San Jose State and the Lobos look to provide the best chance at victory. Not that the Aggies, with a little improvement, can’t sneak past Ohio, Idaho or Utah State, however.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell It’s vital that the Aggies get road wins over the Lobos and Spartans, as losses to that pair would virtually guarantee another double-digit loss season. In fact, an 0-2 mark against those two would raise the specter of a 12-loss season, thanks to the 13-game schedule, and set Walker up with a must-win 2012 campaign. So what needs to happen in order for New Mexico State to break through its recent slide? Manley must be the answer at quarterback: he looks like a nice prospect, but he’ll still be learning on the fly come September. The offensive line, as experienced as it has been in Las Cruces in years, must help produce a consistent running game. The defensive line needs to replace Finau and the secondary replace House, but I’m not confident that the defense can do either. I’m not altogether confident that this season will see the Aggies fare much better in the win column, in fact, though I don’t think that should necessarily place Walker’s job in jeopardy. Yes, it should put him on a warmer seat heading into 2012, but it’s not as if he had — or still has — a full deck to work with. Let’s give him another year.

Dream season Finally, N.M.S.U. shows some life: 6-7, 5-3 in the WAC.

Nightmare season The Aggies cut another win off their total, dropping from three in 2009 and two a year ago to a single victory this fall.

In case you were wondering

Where do New Mexico State fans congregate? Not a tremendous amount of options, but check out Crimson Illustrated and Aggie Alert for N.M.S.U. chatter and recruiting coverage. Additional coverage of N.M.S.U. football can be found at the Web site of the Las Cruces Sun-News. Fans should also check out BleedCrimson.net, which some readers believe to be the best all-around site for N.M.S.U. sports news.

Word Count

Through three teams 7,588.

Up Next

Who is No. 117? If you combined the leading rushing totals from the 2009 and 2010 versions of tomorrow’s team, you’d be roughly halfway towards the total by the program’s rushing leader in 2008.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Kenneth says:

    I’ll take a stab at who’s number 117. The Lobos of New Mexico. Rodney Ferguson put up over 1100 yards in the 2008 season and they were 1-11 last season. 117 sounds about right.

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    Many years ago I met a former NMSU coach at an early Alamo Bowl. He explained that the program was cursed as a result of the administration’s decision to force Coach Warren Woodson to retire ,against his will, at age 65 in the Sixties. Woodson was 63 -36 in Las Cruces.

  3. wildcat6 says:

    Rodney Ferguson put up 1,105 yards in 2008. The leading rushers in 2009 and 2010 had 427 and 334 yards, respectively. I’d say 761 is more than “roughly halfway” to 1,105, and on that basis #117 is not the Lobos.

  4. GTWrek says:

    It’s a subjective term. It’s very rough but I can see the lobos meeting the criteria. I think Kenneth got it.

  5. Dr. Norris Camacho says:

    ULL?

  6. M Meyer says:

    I’m going with Buffalo. They just couldn’t replace the production of Super Bowl Champion running back James Starks.

  7. GonzoAggie says:

    BurntOrange:

    The Warren Wodson curse is part of the lore.

    It is known parochially as ‘the curse of the Woody’.

    The Woodson teams may not have been world beaters, but he did put together a perfect season with a bowl victory and national ranking. But we lament that was fifty years ago.

    Every year before football season I read this article:
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/features/si50/states/new_mexico/flashback/

    just as a reality check.

    My favorite quote about Woodson:

    “I don’t know how a man can sound that mean without cussin’.”

  8. Noefli says:

    Ball State?

  9. schedule nit says:

    I suffer from an altogether different “curse of the Woody”!

  10. schedule nit says:

    Also I’ll guess San Jose State.

    Oh, and you have Neils Bohr way too low!

  11. ChileDuck says:

    FWIW and after extensive googling, the term “blueshirt” is used at only one other school, and that is at Cal. Since they hate all that is red… they use blueshirt to mean redshirt.

    Blueshirt as NMSU is using it seems to contradict NCAA rules.

  12. Burnt Orange says:

    Thanks for the link and info GonzoAggie. I admire your perseverance and good luck to your team.

  13. [...] FBS football from worst to first, with the Gophers’ September 10th opponent New Mexico State ranking in at #118. The PSR prediction for the Aggies’ 2011 season is continued progress despite an awful W-L [...]

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