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New Mexico Lobos vs. Texas A&M Aggies Preview and Prediction

NIck Starkel

NIck Starkel

The non-conference matchup between the Mountain West’s New Mexico Lobos (3-6) and the SEC’s Texas A&M Aggies (5-4) in College Station on Saturday comes at a key time for both programs. The Lobos enter the game on a four-game skid and needing to win out to earn a third consecutive bowl berth. The Aggies have not played up to their potential this season and welcome New Mexico with hopes of ending a two-game losing streak of their own.

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The Lobos stumbled out of the box to start the schedule, losing their first two, but regrouped by the end of September to beat Tulsa (16-13) and Air Force (56-38) behind a strong running game. When October hit, the proverbial wheels fell off the momentum bus as the Lobos dropped games to Fresno State, Colorado State, Wyoming and Utah State. The offense is tough behind dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jordan, but untimely mistakes and turnovers continue to stall drives, giving the ball over to the opposition and wearing out the Lobos' defense late in games.

Just when Aggie fans thought head coach Kevin Sumlin had the team playing hard and heading in the right direction, two bad conference losses to Mississippi State (35-14) and Auburn (42-27) have appeared to set the team back. In Week 10, Texas A&M was outplayed in every aspect of the game by the visiting Tigers, surrendering 496 yards of total offense while mustering just 343 yards of production.

New Mexico at Texas A&M

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Texas A&M -18.5

Three Things to Watch

1. The play of QB Nick Starkel

The Kellen Mond experiment behind center for A&M appears to be over for now. Opening-game starter Nick Starkel has regained the reins of the offense after an ankle injury against UCLA in Week 1 had sidelined him. Starkel, a redshirt freshman, replaced the true freshman in the second quarter of the Aggies’ loss to Auburn. Starkel provides a better passing threat for the Aggies than Mond, but he lacks Mond’s ability to change games with his blazing speed on busted plays. Starkel completed 11-of-22 passes for 184 yards with two scores against the Tigers. Expect A&M to repeatedly test the Lobos' secondary, a unit that is allowing 220 yards per contest.

2. A&M’s run defense

Despite the losing record, the Lobos feature one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, producing an average of 238 yards per game. The ground game is a three-headed monster bolstered by running backs Tyrone Owens (91 carries for 488 yards and 3 TDs) and Richard McQuarley (79, 444, 6) with quarterback Lamar Jordan (56, 316, 0) getting into the act as well. The Lobos are not flashy in their attack but relentlessly chip away snap after snap.

Texas A&M started the year out tough against the run but over its last four games against SEC competition has allowed an average of 233 rushing yards per game. Can the Aggies refocus to slow the Lobos' potent attack?

3. Winning the turnover battle

The Lobos have turned the ball over 11 times in their last two outings, including a 70-yard scoop and score by Utah State. Out of 129 FBS teams, New Mexico is No. 127 with 25 giveaways — 15 fumbles lost and 10 interceptions thrown. Against Wyoming, the Lobos threw five picks.

On the flip side, the Aggies have just 11 turnovers total on the season — four lost fumbles and seven interceptions. The defense has created 16 takeaways, eight fumbles and picks apiece. A&M’s offense will put too much pressure on the Lobos' defense as it is for the UNM offense to give away scoring opportunities.

Final Analysis

Kevin Sumlin needs a big victory margin against New Mexico to remind the fan base of his offensive genius and simmer his proverbial hot seat. With closing SEC games against Ole Miss and LSU, Sumlin needs to finish strong to save his job.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas A&M

New Mexico is fighting for a bowl berth, needing to win out with remaining games against UNLV and San Diego State after this trip to College Station. In actuality, this could be the Lobos' bowl game. The defense is scrappy but has not lined up against an offense like A&M’s this season.

Prediction: Texas A&M 45, New Mexico 21

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.