New Mexico State is entering its final season as a member of the Sun Belt as the Aggies will become an FBS Independent in 2018. New Mexico State probably won’t make much of a splash in the standings on their way out, although head coach Doug Martin does have 16 starters returning. The offense could surprise, especially if the offensive line can protect the quarterback and open holes for one of the nation’s most productive running backs. The outlook for the defense isn’t as rosy, as the Aggies were gashed repeatedly both on the ground and through the air last season. Martin has brought in several junior college transfers in hopes of shoring up the defense, but the Aggies' last season in the Sun Belt will probably produce familiar results.
Previewing New Mexico State Football’s Offense for 2017
Doug Martin has proven throughout his four years at New Mexico State that the Aggies can move the football and put points on the scoreboard in the Sun Belt Conference.
The program received some good news when quarterback Tyler Rogers was granted a medical waiver for a fifth year due to an injury sustained in 2015, giving the Aggies seven returning starters on the offensive side of the ball in 2017. Rogers was solid last fall, cutting back on interceptions (12) that plagued him in 2014 (23) while proving to be a legitimate dual threat. He finished third in the Sun Belt in total offense, rushing for a career-best 333 yards to go along with his 2,603 passing yards.
Despite Rogers’ improvement, the Aggies’ success will still rest on the legs of senior running back Larry Rose III. Rose earned third-team All-America honors from the AP in 2015 but was limited to nine games in 2016 due to sports hernia surgery in the offseason. He showed flashes late in the year as he returned to full speed, finishing with 865 yards on 5.4 yards per carry.
More positive signs for the Aggies’ offense: Six players with starting experience return on the offensive line, and the team’s top five pass catchers will be back.
Previewing New Mexico State Football’s Defense for 2017
Frank Spaziani, a former head coach at Boston College, was hired prior to the 2016 season to fix a New Mexico State defense that ranked 125th in the nation the previous season. The Aggies improved their yards allowed by 25.6 per game but still ranked 121st nationally. Clearly, there is still work to be done.
New Mexico State returns nine starters, but there figure to be some new faces in the secondary. The Aggies signed four junior college defensive backs in an attempt to cut down on the 32 plays of 30 or more yards they allowed last year.
New Mexico State must find a replacement for Rodney Butler, a middle linebacker who led the country with 13.8 tackles per game. After missing the 2016 season with a lower leg injury, junior Javahn Fergurson will join junior college transfer Lui Fa’amasino and senior Dalton Herington in trying to fill the void. Strong-side junior linebacker Terrill Hanks was a playmaker for the Aggies, finishing third on the team in 2016 with 103 tackles.
Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2017
Special teams were poor across the board in 2016 — the Aggies allowed four punt returns for touchdowns and one kickoff return touchdown. Junior placekicker Parker Davidson has missed 11 extra points in his first two years, prompting the Aggies to sign junior college transfer Dylan Brown. Freshman punter Payton Theisler was a bright spot, although the Aggies ranked 124th nationally in net punting.
This will be New Mexico State’s final season in the Sun Belt Conference. The Aggies will be an Independent in 2018 and beyond.
They face a difficult schedule with rivalry games against New Mexico and UTEP along with dates with all six of the Sun Belt’s 2016 bowl teams.
New Mexico State has proven that it’s capable of moving the football against most teams on the schedule (the Aggies scored 42 points at Kentucky last year without Rose). Rogers and the offense will need to improve in the red zone in 2017, where they committed seven turnovers and scored a touchdown on a Sun Belt-low 50 percent of their trips.
But the real problem is defense. Unless Spaziani can get this unit to take a significant step forward, it’s difficult to see the Aggies making much of a move in their final season in the league.
National Ranking: 125
Sun Belt Prediction: 11
(Larry Rose III photo by Joe Vogan)