The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 128 New Mexico State.
Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2014:
The Aggies suffered a big blow in the offseason when junior wide receiver Austin Franklin elected to leave school early for the NFL Draft. Franklin supplied the team with a big-play threat on offense — after his return from a four-game academic suspension, the Aggies averaged 27.4 points over the final five games (compared to just 16 during the previous seven).
NMSU does, however return a veteran receiving corps, with six seniors and a junior on the two-deep.
At quarterback, junior college transfer Tyler Rogers took the majority of the snaps during spring practices, and the team will bring in five freshmen to compete for the starting job spot this fall. Redshirt freshman Barry Coffman will also be in the mix.
Ditto for running back, where Xavier Hall returns after a good second half to the 2013 season. Hall had 95 yards against Boston College and 74 against Florida Atlantic in consecutive games in November. Redshirt freshman Marquette Washington and a handful of incoming freshmen will compete for carries.
The offensive line appears to be relatively stable. Senior center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke is entering his fourth year as a starter, while Andy Cunningham is a junior who’s started at guard and tackle. The two guards — Isaiah Folasa-Lutui and Abram Holland — are also returning. The team does need to solidify the all-important left tackle position, however, as steady four-year starter Davonte Wallace graduated.
Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2014:
This is a brand-new unit with a brand-new coordinator. With nearly 50 years experience coaching in college and the NFL, Larry Coyer joined the Aggie program this offseason.
This was an abysmal group last year, one that ranked dead last in the NCAA in rush defense (299.5 ypg) and total defense (549.5 ypg) and No. 120 in scoring defense (44.6 ppg). Only two starters return from that group.
It starts in the secondary, where a drastically different look will take shape in 2014. Two converted quarterbacks — Travaughn Colwell and King Davis III — were getting looks in the defensive backfield during spring practices. Again, look for incoming freshmen to get a shot here.
The same goes for the front seven, where just a handful of experienced players return. Somehow, Coyer will have to find a way for his defense to generate a pass rush. The Aggies recorded only 11 sacks last year; only one team had fewer. New Mexico State is hopeful that defensive end Clint Barnard and middle linebacker Rodney Butler can make a positive impact.
Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2014:
This was another area of struggle last year, specifically the team’s kick coverage units. NMSU gave up touchdowns both in kick and punt coverage, and surrendered a blocked extra point, two blocked field goals and two blocked punts last year. In terms of kicking, the Aggies must replace standout punter Cayle Chapman-Brown. Placekicker Maxwell Johnson returns after a solid performance in 2013 (10-of-12 on field goals).
The Aggies are a team in transition, if for no other reason than their youth and inexperience. The program signed 23 freshmen, a number of whom will be counted on this year.
The team does have a much more manageable schedule this season, moving to the Sun Belt Conference after competing as an FBS Independent. After winning only two games in Doug Martin’s first season as head coach, there will be pressure on the Aggies to be competitive with the lower half of the new-look Sun Belt. It will be a troubling sign if New Mexico State struggles with FBS newcomers like Georgia State and Georgia Southern.