2011 Record: (4-9, 2-5 in WAC)
Head Coach: DeWayne Walker (9-29 at NMSU, 4-19 in WAC)
Last Bowl Game: 1960 Sun Bowl: beat Utah State 20-13
Paying the Bills: 11/3 at Auburn
Revenge: 9/8 at Ohio, 9/15 at UTEP, 10/20 at Utah St, 10/27 vs La Tech, 11/10 vs SJSU, 11/24 vs BYU
Stat to Cheer: averaged 8.8 points per game more in 2011 than the previous season
Stat to Fear: gave up 48.5 points per game down the stretch in the month of November
Phil Steele's Returning Starters (Offense: 5; Defense: 3; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Bryan Bonilla (71 tackles), DT Walton Taumoepeau (3 sacks, 4.5 TFL)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Austin Franklin (34 rec, 3 TD), WR Kemonte' Bateman (28 rec, 4 TD)
Inside Scoop with bleedCRIMSON.net:
CFBZ: DeWayne Walker went 4-9 in his third year at NMSU. Does he have the team headed in the right direction?
bleedCRIMSON.net: Despite what on the outside might appear as a disappointing record of 4-9 in 2011, Walker has the team headed upward. The Aggies notched victories over in-state rival New Mexico (admittedly a horrendous team but a win over a rival is a win over a rival), a win over Minnesota at Minnesota and the program's first ever win over Fresno State. The Aggies were also competitive in nearly every game which has not necessarily been the case in recent Aggie football history. The biggest obstacle for them to overcome this season is the loss of a majority of the starting group from both sides of the ball including standout wide receiver Taveon Rogers, standout running back Kenny Turner, defensive back Jonte Green (drafted in the 6th round by the Detroit Lions) as well as the departures of offensive coordinator Doug Martin and the departure of defensive coordinator Dale Lindsey. The Aggies have brought in a Martin protege to try to keep the offense going and new defensive coordinator David Elson has injected life into the Aggie defense.
CFBZ: Who do you see as the starter at QB this season?
bleedCRIMSON.net: The Aggies actually played four different quarterbacks last year, the starter Andrew Manley went down in the third game of the season with an ACL injury, senior backup Matt Christian stepped in and had a phenomenal season but he too battled injury problems every week, true freshman Travaughn Colwell played as his replacement and when Colwell was stricken with foot problems, quarterback-turned-tight-end Trevor Wells took a few snaps. Clearly after last season the Aggies realized they can never have too many quarterbacks on the roster so they enter 2012 with Manley, Colwell, junior college transfers Andrew McDonald and Nick Carey as well as true freshman King Davis III. As he was last season, Manley has been announced as the Aggies' starter after spring practice. He's your classic drop-back quarterback. Colwell and McDonald will battle for the backup position in the fall. Colwell is an athlete. He's a raw talent who showed some flashes of being a potential Colin Kaepernick-type quarterback. McDonald is a passing quarterback who is also capable of pulling the ball down and running with it, potentially fitting in the same mold as Matt Christian last season.
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for NMSU this season?
bleedCRIMSON.net: The biggest opportunity for the Aggies this season is quite frankly not having to deal with Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State or Hawai'i on the conference schedule. While Boise State did not appear on the schedule last season after their jump to the Mountain West, the other three did but they won't this season as they all play their first seasons in the Mountain West. Replaced on the docket are games against UT-San Antonio and Texas State, a pair of first-year FBS schools. Those are two games that the Aggies feel like they should win. They'll also have winnable league games against Idaho and San Jose State while the two toughest league games will be against Utah State and defending champ Louisiana Tech. With the massive defections from the WAC, it'll be a quick six-game conference schedule. The Aggies have a real shot at finishing at .500 or better and in the top half of the league for the first time since their Sun Belt days.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
bleedCRIMSON.net: With the four "toss up" conference games plus games against rivals New Mexico and Texas El-Paso as well as a home game against FCS Sacramento State, this is a situation where the Aggies can realistically hope for a .500 or better record. Anything less than being bowl eligible will feel like a major disappointment and with the uncertainty surrounding the WAC's status as an FBS football conference beginning in 2013, there's a realistic possibility that this could be the Aggies' last, best shot at reaching a bowl game.
The loss of starters definitely scares me a bit for the Aggies. The Aggies lose their top five tacklers and seven of their top eight on defense and on offense they lose 1,000 yard rusher Kenny Turner and their top two receivers (in terms of yardage). There is always a debate around "returning" starters and quite frankly it comes down to who is replacing them. My gut tells me that this is a lot to lose for a team that has hovered around the bottom run of the FBS for as long as I can remember.
The good news for NMSU is their schedule. NMSU can't take anything for granted but their schedule shapes up nicely with two schools making the transition at the FBS and an opener against Sacramento State. This year will go a long way in telling if NMSU is headed in the right direction.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
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