First up: we've got Aggies!
Bedecked in maroon-ish (alright, crimson) and white, hailing from a desolate locale known primarily for missile testing, populated mainly by scorpions and the lovable mutants in The Hills Have Eyes franchise, prone to in-state mockery. Yep, sounds like Aggies. Though their university president favors Western bolo ties over bow ties. I like the way you rock that so unapologetically, Carruthers.
Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Football Outsiders fame does yeoman's work in breaking down Mutant Atomic Aggy. Similarly, USA Today also penned a good article previewing the Aggie's chances. Both previews are well worth your time.
Connelly calls New Mexico State "the worst job in FBS football" and, ever the contrarian, I immediately drew a blank in trying to debate that claim, finally offering a half-hearted mental reply of "Err, maybe, Idaho? Or one of the MAC schools, but which one I can't remember? Wait, Louisiana-Monroe was good last year, right?"
OK, you win.
I'm not sure what would compel anyone to break down last year's 1-11 mess in Las Cruces aside from duty and an overwhelming democratic impulse to treat all programs fairly and with sympathy, but I'm going to shamelessly piggyback off of their fine work because researching New Mexico State football online is like trying to find Henry Hill in the white pages.
New Mexico State is really bad. I don't mean in the respectably bad Wyoming "Hey, those five players are good and the rest of them play hard" sort of way, either.
Last year's adjusted points per game scoring rank? 112th. Adjusted points per game scoring defense rank? 119th.
Season record? 1-11. Worst loss? A 66-28 finale loss at Texas State, where they laid down completely. Second worst loss? UT San-Antonio, in Las Cruces, 35-14, where they laid down semi-partially. Best win? Their only win! A thrashing of Sacramento State in their season opener, 49-19. You know that post-game locker room was abuzz with bowl talk. Guys talking about lack of respect. Those were heady times.
Immobile NMSU junior QB Andrew Manley transferred after a respectable 2012 in which he miraculously managed a 18-11 TD:INT ratio and threw for 2764 yards. Martin, sensibly, wants to go to a mobile QB with more spread option and rolling pocket concepts to take the pressure off of poor OL talent and to find creators at QB who can singlehandedly manufacture offense. The downside is that they'll be placing an untested commodity under center in Austin in front of 100,000 Longhorn fans and hundreds more watching on the Longhorn Network.
The brightest light returning on offense is WR Austin Franklin (74 catches, 1245 yards, 16.8 yards per catch, 9 TDs) whose production and excellence stood out like a cut diamond in a colossal elephant turd of a season. Similarly, senior RB Germi Morrison (767 yards rushing, 4.8 per carry) appears competent.
The Offensive Line largely returns, but it's not clear whether that's actually good news. They allowed 42 sacks last year. Depth is a glaring problem everywhere.
NMSU will attack Texas in the only sensible way it can - with quick throws, rolling pockets, various forms of option to exploit defensive indiscipline, and an attempt at clock and ball management. Though Diaz's assignments against the option gave me pause last year, even pre-Hicks injury against severely outmanned offenses, it's hard to imagine NMSU experiencing sustained success on offense.
Surprisingly senior laden, New Mexico State returns plenty of experience, if not excellence. They're going to a 3-4 defense - another smart long term move meant to address their deficits, find pressure and penetration with scheme rather than talent, and to recruit talented contrarian personnel who don't fit into more common schemes. The high school and JUCO ranks are filled with smart, one-step-too-slow LBs (perfect 3-4 ILBs), weight room allergic beanpoles (future rush LBs) and stubby, big-assed DL that marquee programs pass over for standing three inches too short.
All of them need patience and time, though. Something NMSU doesn't have in 2013.
In the meanwhile, they fill the breach with a large influx of potential talent, mostly on the front 7, in major college transfers from Michigan State, New Mexico, UCLA, Washington and Arizona. Though they will raise talent levels - several of these guys were high school three and four stars - the problem with transfers is that they're usually transferring because they weren't good enough to play at a major FBS school, or because they were kicked out or weeded out for a variety of offenses, usually having to do with immaturity or lack of effort. Generally, these aren't the guys you want running the locker room on a psychologically fragile team.
That written, if the transfer bet pays off, NMSU has a chance to improve a moribund defense.
The secondary is another story. NMSU just doesn't run very well and a lack of pass rushing allowed opposing QBs to throw for 28 TDs while the Aggies intercepted only 4. That 28:4 ratio won't get it done and it fueled a 150.7 opponent passer efficiency rating, at 8.0 yards per attempt, with 61% completions. Opponents went deep often: NMSU allowed 31 pass completions of 25+ yards.
That is not good.
Bill Connelly offers that they can't get worse. So. There's that.
Again, it's a stretch here to turn the NMSU special teams unit into a positive, especially considering it must replace its main bright spot, kick returner Akeelie Mustafa. NMSU derived less of an advantage from special teams than any FBS team, with the worst place-kicking and punt returning in the country. But hey, you can't get worse than the worst. Decent punter Cayle Chapman-Brown returns, and any conceivable improvement from this unit would be welcomed.
Let's move on after that ringing endorsement.
New Mexico State needs wide, overarching improvements across the board and the time to implement them. They should be the worst team on this year's schedule. A successful 2013 for them would feature a 3-9 or 4-8 record, which would mean wins over teams like UTEP, Idaho, Florida Atlantic, and Abilene Christian. This will be less a game than a modified scrimmage meant to ease the Longhorns into the season before legitimate non-conference opponents in BYU and Ole Miss. The goal here is to gain confidence, build comfort, show a killer instinct, and get valuable reps for our 2nd and 3rd team.