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You can read the entire New Mexico Lobos preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#100 New Mexico
MWC Mountain PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bob Davie, 4-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob DeBesse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Mills
The goal for the New Mexico offense in 2013 is clear: Develop a passing attack that can complement one of the most productive running games in the country.
Quarterback Cole Gautsche, an ideal fit as a runner for Bob Davie’s Pistol attack, will be given the chance to develop his passing skills, which were clearly lacking when he started four games late last season as a freshman in place of the injured B.R. Holbrook. Gautsche completed 11-of-23 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns in those four games, throwing to a receiving corps that has mostly departed. Should Gautsche struggle, junior college transfer Clayton Mitchem will be given a shot to take over the offense. Mitchem is a dual threat who threw for 2,435 yards and ran for 728 at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in 2012.
If the passing game can advance enough for defenses to respect it, a strong running game will become that much stronger. New Mexico was fifth nationally with 301.3 rushing yards per game and second in the nation in time of possession. Workhorse Kasey Carrier set a school record with 1,469 yards on 255 carries despite playing with some nagging injuries. At 5'9", 185 pounds, Carrier has trouble withstanding the constant pounding. Look for DeMarcus Rodgers, who had 103 yards in the season opener before missing the last 10 games with a knee injury, and Jhurell Pressley to lighten Carrier’s load.
Like the offense, New Mexico’s defense also made strides in Davie’s first season, but the gains were not as great, and more questions remain as 2013 approaches. Eight starters have departed, leaving some young — but in some cases experienced — players to continue the progress.
The glaring weakness last season was defending the pass. New Mexico ranked 103rd in the nation, allowing 269.2 passing yards per game. All four starters from the back line are gone, giving this group a fresh start. Cranston Jones started the final three games at corner as a true freshman, but his size (5'9", 167) is an issue. Junior college transfer David Guthrie will be called upon early at safety, and SaQwan Edwards and David Anaya have moved from offense to bolster the beleaguered secondary.
The front seven is in better shape, with the Lobos’ best two linebackers returning in Dallas Bollema and Rashad Rainey. Toby Ball and Javarie Johnson will likely fill the other two spots, and both have the full confidence of the coaching staff. Defensive end Jacori Greer led the Lobos in sacks with five, and hopes are high for senior defensive tackle Fatu Ulale, who is coming off a redshirt season.
Kicker Justus Adams and punter Ben Skaer both return. Adams had a solid season as a junior, connecting on 9-of-13 field goals, but he has limited range, attempting just two from beyond 40 yards (making one). Skaer helped New Mexico lead the Mountain West in net punting at over 39 yards per kick. Return man Chase Clayton gives the Lobos a weapon, finishing as the No. 5 kick returner in the nation with an average of 30.4 yards per return.
There was nowhere to go but up when Davie came in last season to a program that had won only one game in each of the previous three seasons and was routinely blown out. Not only did the Lobos win four in Davie’s debut season, but they also lost five others by seven points or less. Can the improvement continue? The staff has certainly proven to be an upgrade, so one year under its belt should help. But there are still significant personnel issues. The defense, once Davie’s calling card, and the passing game must improve for the Lobos to break through and reach .500.