My football career, while I am proud of my accomplishments, is not one that will ever be made into a movie. To be frank, I am an expert loser. While many of my colleagues boast about their championships either in college or high school, I do not have those same accolades. My high school team was solid but ended with a barely over .500 team and a loss in the second round of the playoffs. My junior college team, a perennial loser, won five games in two years. And that brought me to New Mexico State University, the biggest loser of them all.
When I was received my first recruiting call from NMSU, my first question was, “What level are you guys? Like Division II? Division III?” I am not kidding. The guy on the other end of the phone was kind of surprised and embarrassed that I asked the question. The truth was I had never heard of NMSU and was shocked to hear that they were not only Division I, but in the same conference as Boise State and Hawaii. This is most likely due to the terrible football that had been produced up to that point.
New Mexico State University has not been to a bowl game since 1960. Seriously, 1960. Like 57 years ago, 1960. There are so many bowl games that 5-7 teams are routinely picked just so that a bowl game can be played. And NMSU has not participated in one for close to 60 years.
During my time at NMSU we won five games in two years and went through two head coaches and three offensive coordinators. Dysfunction at its finest. While we believed we could be the ones to break through the bowl drought, we were sadly mistaken. Call it terrible coaching, call it terrible play by players, call it a curse. Call it whatever you want, but my losing prowess culminated in watching my final game of my senior year in a walking boot with a broken foot. Another loss.
While many have written similar articles bashing NMSU, only recently have I started to see some positive articles coming to light. This team could really be the one. This is not my heart talking, this is my eyes and my head talking. I have watched all three games this year and even attended the game against Arizona State here in Tempe. The product that I see on the field is unlike anything I have seen in the nine years I have been following this team.
This team plays with a confidence and a swagger that NMSU has not had in a very long time. I watched this team take a Pac-12 team to the wire on the road and take a Sun Belt favorite (who has beaten NMSU 145-37 in the last three years) uncomfortably close to a loss as well. Sandwiched in between was probably the most telling game of the year.
NMSU was throttling the University of New Mexico which is especially fun for me to say so I will say it again. NMSU was throttling UNM, but in classic NMSU fashion, allowed UNM to climb back in the game getting within 2 points. Now, usually NMSU would fold and end up being a punch line on SportsCenter for blowing such a big lead. But, NMSU put their foot down and stopped a furious UNM rally to win the game. Like the cliché goes, “Wins are like prom dates. Doesn’t matter how they look, just that you got one”.
This week NMSU has the University of Texas El Paso. The last time NMSU beat UTEP, I was playing tight end for NMSU and wearing a #11 jersey in 2008. Seriously, starting tight end. One of my crowning achievements. But I digress. I really had to look that up because I thought for sure NMSU had gotten UTEP at least once since I graduated. They have not. And so this game becomes integral in the season for the Aggies.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, not only are the Aggies a favorite, they are a HUGE favorite. As of writing this blog they are 19 point favorites to beat the Miners. That scares me. While UTEP has been historically bad, it’s a rivalry game and anything can happen.
So this game is huge for three reasons. One, the Aggies have not beaten UNM and UTEP in the same season since 2002. Ironically, this year is the same year that NMSU had 7 wins, but still did not get a bowl invite. This is a long time to get beaten by one, or both, of your rivals in the same season. Two, the Aggies are the favorite and need to win games in which they are favored since they come few and far between. And three, this game is crucial in reaching the 6 win plateau.
Optimistically speaking, if the Aggies do pull out a win against UTEP it will bring their record to 2-2. Traditionally, 6 wins are needed to even be bowl eligible. NMSU has home games against Arkansas State, Idaho, and South Alabama. They have away games at Arkansas, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Texas State, and Louisiana Lafayette. So we are looking for 4 wins in what is remaining. While this NMSU team is turning the corner, Arkansas and Appalachian State still look like pretty definite losses to me.
So out of the six remaining games, NMSU must win four of those games. All three home games are very winnable games and if this team wants to make a bowl game those must be wins. So it comes down to one win of the three remaining away games on the schedule. This is very doable for this team. I would not be shocked if this team wins 7 or even 8 games this year. Conversely, I would not be surprised if they lost the same amount.
Offensively, the Aggies are stacked. Tyler Rogers is #6 in the nation in passing yards, Larry Rose would have legit Heisman trophy buzz if he was at a bigger school, and Jaleel Scott is a freak of nature who has the size and skill to play on Sundays. Defensively this team is scrappy, causes turnovers, and applies constant pressure to the opposing quarterback.
This team has senior leadership, a potent offense, and an underrated defense. To go along with all of this, I believe Doug Martin is developing something that has not been seen in Las Cruces in half a century. With no disrespect to his predecessors, he is the leader that this team had been missing for so long. This team is becoming respectable and could very well be playing in Tucson on December 30th with a large NMSU fan base reveling in finally breaking through the ceiling.