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1. The Chasm Period is over
When your program is in free fall, you have no idea how or when it's going to end. You think you've hit a low point, and then you keep falling. You don't know it's over until the rebound has begun.
New Mexico's was a three-year fall. Rocky Long created a level of strange consistency during his 11-year tenure in Albuquerque, winning between six and eight games for six straight seasons (2001-06). Even when the results went up (9-4 in 2007) and down (4-8 in 2008), the product was basically the same. In his last four seasons, New Mexico ranked 72nd, 67th, 63rd, and 64th in S&P+.
Long unexpectedly resigned after 2008, explaining that he had done what he could within the restraints of a tricky job.
In Long's absence, New Mexico found new depths. Ace recruiter Mike Locksley was brought in as a sort of anti-Long, but he wasn't ready to take on a job with this difficulty level. He signed some strong recruits, but the product collapsed. From 2009-11, New Mexico won three games. Three!
In six years of writing New Mexico previews, I've touched on these points before. You are probably familiar with them. But I thought it was important to lay that out so I could also say this: The chasm is over.
After years in the broadcasting booth, former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie must have had one hell of a coaching itch. Not only did he return to the profession, he took on a really hard job. New Mexico ranked 119th out of 120 in each of the two years before he arrived, and it took him four years to dig New Mexico out.
In 2015, New Mexico basically had the same team it did when the Lobos went 4-8 in 2014. In fact, from an S&P+ perspective, they fell a bit, from 91st to 10st. But with an easier schedule and a couple more breaks, New Mexico returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Now that New Mexico is back to sea level, we'll have a whole new set of questions. Can Davie move the program further forward, or is he just a reclamation artist, setting the table for the next guy?
For now, that Davie has brought respectability back is a massive accomplishment. With a minimal recruiting base and only so much fan support, this is always going to be a hard job, but it was nearly impossible when he moved to town.
If Davie is capable of pushing New Mexico to actual heights, we'll begin to know in 2016. The Lobos return a good portion of last year's offensive cast and almost all of a defense that has grown slowly enough to drive Davie, a former ace defensive coordinator, crazy.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 4-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 99 | Final S&P+ Rk: 101|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|5-Sep||Miss. Valley State||N/A||66-0||W||97%||100%||+48.0|
|18-Sep||at Arizona State||50||10-34||L||4%||0%||+2.5||+4.0|
|3-Oct||New Mexico State||118||38-29||W||23%||48%||-0.1||-3.5|
|24-Oct||at San Jose State||89||21-31||L||32%||42%||-3.8||-2.5|
|14-Nov||at Boise State||37||31-24||W||72%||86%||+32.5||+37.0|
|Points Per Game||29.9||58||28.4||82|
2. The next step: consistency
Davie has done the hard part -- building the foundation, creating depth, figuring out how to recruit solid athletes to Albuquerque -- and now here comes the hard part: winning. No matter what kind of wreckage the last guy left you, you're going to have to get back to .500 and beyond at some point.
New Mexico returns an exciting young quarterback, a loaded backfield, four players with starting experience on the offensive line, three of its top five tacklers on the defensive line, five of seven at linebacker, and five of seven at defensive back. This will be the deepest, most interesting New Mexico team to take the field since 2007, and the schedule features six teams that ranked 111th or worse in the F/+ rankings last year, not to mention big home win opportunities against teams like Utah State, Colorado State, and Air Force.
The schedule indeed eased up, and since the team didn't improve much, that was key. Despite only a few names on the schedule changing, plenty of 2015 opponents got worse -- Arizona State, Wyoming, Utah State, Boise State, Colorado State -- and it gave the Lobos opportunities for wins.
Because of inconsistency, UNM didn't take full advantage. The Lobos looked dreadful in losses to Tulsa and Nevada and let games slip away against San Jose State and Arizona. But they countered the bad with good, beating all three of the MWC Mountain's top teams. (Going by win expectancy, they were lucky to beat Utah State, but they were very much the better team against Boise State and Air Force.)
The ups and downs were in some way exhilarating, but there was plenty of frustration to go with the excitement. And in 2016, the goal will be maintaining a steadier form. The schedule again features plenty of potential wins -- nine opponents are projected 87th or worse in S&P+, and only one is projected higher than 70th -- and a more mature team could top seven wins.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.0%||97||Succ. Rt. +||90.7||108|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.6||43||Def. FP+||31.1||96|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.4||63||Redzone S&P+||98.8||77|
|Q1 Rk||73||1st Down Rk||106|
|Q2 Rk||98||2nd Down Rk||68|
|Q3 Rk||80||3rd Down Rk||109|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Lamar Jordan||5'10, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7993||61||118||1045||5||8||51.7%||6||4.8%||7.8|
|Austin Apodaca||6'2, 207||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148||57||109||723||1||6||52.3%||4||3.5%||6.0|
|JaJuan Lawson||6'0, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8177|
|Kameron Miller||6'2, 185||Fr.||NR||0.7806|
|Tevaka Tuioti||6'0, 177||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819|
3. Lamar Jordan as a young Collin Klein
In 2010, Bill Snyder attempted an awkward quarterback balance at Kansas State. He didn't think sophomore Collin Klein was ready for a full load at quarterback, so he used Klein sparingly and in obvious-run situations and let senior Carson Coffman take on a lot of the obvious passing. That put a lot of pressure on Coffman, who threw 24 percent of his passes on third-and-4 or more (Klein, meanwhile, threw just 18 total passes), but it helped get KSU to a bowl game.
Klein didn't emerge as an option until midway through the 2010 season, so the parallels between him and New Mexico's Lamar Jordan in 2015 aren't perfect. But offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse attempted a similar balance with two Lobo QBs. Jordan was a strong choice to run the option portion of the UNM offense; he rushed for 888 yards (not including sacks) and provided an explosive complement to running backs Teriyon Gipson and Jhurell Pressley.
He wasn't much of a passer, though; in a lot of ways, he was like a more old-school KSU option guy: Michael Bishop. On first downs, when play action was a distinct threat, Jordan averaged more than 20 yards per completion, but he completed only 16 of 32 passes with three interceptions. And in a lot of passing or comeback situations, UNM inserted Washington State transfer Austin Apodaca into the game.
This was an awkward arrangement, and Apodaca didn't fare incredibly well. Throwing a good percentage of his passes on passing downs, he was often staring into the face of a strong pass rush, and on third-and-7 or more, he completed just 12 of 23 passes with three picks. No matter who was in the game, when UNM slid into a passing down, the drive ended soon after.
We'll see what changes with this arrangement in 2016. The best-case scenario would be that, as with Klein in 2011, Jordan's passing develops to a point where he isn't a passing downs liability. But that's not guaranteed.
|Teriyon Gipson||TB||5'8, 182||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8067||150||855||6||5.7||6.0||38.0%||2||1|
|Lamar Jordan||QB||5'10, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7993||141||888||9||6.3||8.0||42.6%||3||1|
|Richard McQuarley||RB||5'11, 218||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7683||52||230||7||4.4||7.7||23.1%||0||0|
|Austin Apodaca||QB||6'2, 207||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148||29||84||1||2.9||2.0||34.5%||3||1|
|Tyrone Owens||RB||5'9, 185||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893||23||121||3||5.3||13.7||21.7%||1||0|
|Daryl Chestnut||RB||5'8, 188||Jr.||3 stars||0.7800||16||129||2||8.1||18.4||31.3%||1||0|
|Romell Jordan||RB||5'8, 182||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8183||16||61||0||3.8||2.1||43.8%||1||0|
|Dameon Gamblin||WR||5'10, 174||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7600||9||51||0||5.7||3.7||55.6%||2||2|
|Diquon Woodhouse||RB||5'9, 195||So.||2 stars||NR||7||12||1||1.7||2.7||14.3%||1||0|
|Daevon Vigilant||RB||5'7, 184||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8383|
4. One-half of a two-headed monster is gone
Whether Jordan's ready for the full-time job or not, New Mexico should still be pretty strong on standard downs. Jhurell Pressley is gone, which deprives the Lobos of an explosive weapon, but senior Teriyon Gipson is back, and the return of juniors Richard McQuarley and Daryl Chestnut and sophomore Tyron Owens gives UNM quite a few potential Pressley imitators; like Pressley, all three were inefficient but explosive.
Only 34 percent of Pressley's carries gained five or more yards, but the ones that did gained a lot more than five. Because of passing downs issues, New Mexico could probably benefit from trading a big gain or two for a few more five-yarders, and we'll see if that happens.
The line should be about the same as last year -- three starters are gone, but in a way, three return (Garrett Adcock started only once last year after starting 19 games the two previous years). Plus, Davie signed three JUCO transfers up front to plump up the depth of options a bit. And if or when Jordan continues to develop his option timing, the run game should again be a strength.
So that leaves the passing game.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Dameon Gamblin||WR-H||5'10, 174||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7600||48||35||418||72.9%||22.3%||8.7||47.9%||52.1%||1.50|
|Delane Hart-Johnson||WR-Y||6'4, 210||Jr.||NR||0.8000||26||11||327||42.3%||12.1%||12.6||30.8%||26.9%||4.35|
|Teriyon Gipson||RB||5'8, 182||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8067||26||17||185||65.4%||12.1%||7.1||26.9%||26.9%||2.24|
|Chris Davis, Jr.||WR-H||5'6, 171||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7667||8||6||65||75.0%||3.7%||8.1||62.5%||75.0%||0.69|
|Romell Jordan||RB||5'8, 182||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8183||5||4||33||80.0%||2.3%||6.6||40.0%||60.0%||0.99|
|Ridge Jones||WR||5'10, 171||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893||5||4||31||80.0%||2.3%||6.2||100.0%||60.0%||0.92|
|Daryl Chestnut||RB||5'8, 188||Jr.||3 stars||0.7800||4||2||32||50.0%||1.9%||8.0||75.0%||25.0%||3.52|
|Matt Quarells||WR-X||6'1, 192||So.||2 stars||0.8268||4||2||23||50.0%||1.9%||5.8||75.0%||50.0%||1.04|
|Patrick Reed||WR||6'2, 186||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859||3||1||1||33.3%||1.4%||0.3||33.3%||0.0%||0.00|
|Cole Gautsche||TE||6'4, 260||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8162|
|Q' Drennan||WR||6'1, 183||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
|Dyson Chmura||TE||6'3, 230||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826|
|Anu Somoye||WR||6'2, 185||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7706|
|Emmanuel Harris||WR||5'9, 196||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8041|
|Jay Griffin IV||WR||5'10, 158||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148|
5. Go long
When Bishop and Kansas State were terrorizing opposing defenses in 1998, the passing game basically featured three targets: speedy deep threats Darnell McDonald and Aaron Lockett (combined: 119 catches, 2,010 yards) and tight end Justin Swift (23 catches, 342 yards).
In Delane Hart-Johnson, UNM has a lovely play-action deep threat. He caught barely 40 percent of his passes, but the ones he caught were devastating; he averaged nearly 30 yards per catch. As the year went on, however, he became completely all-or-nothing. After catching eight passes for 68 yards in the first six games, he caught only three passes in the last seven. They went for 86, 81, and 92 yards.
Inconsistent or not, Hart-Johnson was the Lockett in the equation. Dameon Gamblin, meanwhile, was the McDonald, not nearly as explosive but potentially more reliable. He averaged under 12 yards per catch but actually caught 73 percent of his passes. His emergence was helpful, but he might need one more complement.
Is there another possession man in the mix? Converted quarterback Cole Gautsche, who redshirted and bulked up a bit in 2015, could be an intriguing weapon. So, too, could redshirt freshman Dyson Chmura, son of former Pro Bowl tight end Mark. If another efficiency option emerges (and Jordan and/or Apodaca get a little bit better), then New Mexico might have the pieces it needs for when it does decide to throw the ball.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Reno Henderson||LT||6'4, 275||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7683||13||26|
|Garrett Adcock||LT||6'2, 291||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7963||1||20|
|Aaron Jenkins||RG||6'1, 312||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081||13||13|
|Chris Lewis||LG||6'3, 301||Sr.||NR||0.8083||1||1|
|Tevita Fonua||C||6'2, 308||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533||1||1|
|Jack Lamm||OL||6'3, 278||Sr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Jack Ziltz||OL||6'2, 275||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7519||0||0|
|Beau Hott||OL||6'2, 287||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8051|
|Charlie Grammel||OL||6'2, 308||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826|
|Avery Jordan||OL||6'4, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115|
|Raymond Baylor III||OL||6'1, 299||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7900|
|Blaise Fountain||OL||6'0, 280||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7785|
|Kameron Smith||OL||6'7, 317||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7967|
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.1%||70||Succ. Rt. +||92.7||94|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.9||46||Off. FP+||28.1||98|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.1||43||Redzone S&P+||102.2||64|
|Q1 Rk||110||1st Down Rk||108|
|Q2 Rk||115||2nd Down Rk||108|
|Q3 Rk||89||3rd Down Rk||97|
6. Still looking for defensive footing
Davie cut his teeth coaching for two famed defensive coordinators -- Jackie Sherrill at Pitt and R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M. When Slocum took the head coaching job at A&M, Davie moved up to the coordinator slot and thrived, eventually taking on the same role at Notre Dame.
Davie's name became synonymous with swarming, attacking defenses. He was so renowned at Notre Dame that he took the head coaching job when Lou Holtz retired.
Granted, the Notre Dame gig didn't work out incredibly well, but Davie's defense-happy reputation remained intact. Imagine, then, how frustrating these last few years have been for him.
His New Mexico defenses have been mostly awful. The Lobos have allowed at least 35 points 24 times in four years despite running an offense designed to control the ball and work the clock. In 2015, they "improved" by ranking only 107th in Def. S&P+ (they were 119th in 2014).
New Mexico seems to want to attack, and in basically running a 3-3-5, Davie and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove are attempting to get as much speed on the field as possible. But strangely, despite an alignment that would seem to favor pass defense at the expense of run defense, UNM did a decent job of attacking in the front seven but gave up too much through the air.
With basically the top seven linemen and four of the top five linebackers returning, UNM should be able to do an even better job of attacking near the line of scrimmage. But it's unclear if anything will improve in the back.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Nik D'Avanzo||DE||6'3, 281||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7894||13||43.5||6.1%||8.5||0.5||0||2||0||0|
|Cody Baker||DE||6'3, 246||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||13||22.5||3.2%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|William Udeh||NT||6'0, 294||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8289||13||13.0||1.8%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Garrett Hughes||DE||6'1, 267||Jr.||3 stars||0.8241||12||11.0||1.5%||5.5||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Taylor Timmons||NT||6'0, 291||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8200||12||9.0||1.3%||5.0||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Kene Okonkwo||DE||6'3, 270||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7544||6||3.5||0.5%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ewing Simmons||DE||6'2, 265||Sr.||2 stars||0.7900|
|Johnny Williams||NT||6'2, 280||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Teton Saltes||DE||6'4, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8516|
|Nahje Flowers||DE||6'3, 259||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.7889|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dakota Cox||MLB||6'0, 231||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8001||13||73.5||10.4%||11.0||5.0||1||1||0||0|
|Kimmie Carson||WLB||6'0, 213||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8000||13||60.0||8.5%||8.0||3.5||0||0||1||0|
|Maurice Daniels||RUSH||6'4, 219||Sr.||NR||NR||13||34.5||4.9%||12.5||5.5||0||4||1||0|
|Donnie White||RUSH||6'1, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8141||13||29.5||4.2%||4.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenya Donaldson||LB||6'1, 218||Sr.||NR||NR||9||3.0||0.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Hart||LB||6'2, 220||So.||NR||0.7883||9||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Geoff Smelser||LB||6'1, 235||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Austin Ocasio||LB||6'1, 226||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533|
|Rhashaun Epting||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8281|
7. Depth of attackers
New Mexico tried to attack from a lot of different angles; eight members of the front six logged at least 4.5 tackles for loss, and seven of them return this fall. Davie and his staff have recruited pretty well here -- six returnees were three-star signees per the 247Sports Composite, and two more three-star freshmen join the roster soon -- and they have a pretty good set of play-makers to show for it.
Still, there were leaks. UNM allowed 199 gains of 10-plus yards (102nd in FBS) and 50 passes of 20-plus (105th), and against a pretty weak schedule, that's egregious. Sacrificing a few big plays in the name of aggressiveness can pay off handsomely, but the balance isn't quite there yet. And while a lot of that has to do with the secondary, a lot of plays also MADE it to the secondary, which was at least partially the fault of the guys up front.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Daniel Henry||FS||6'1, 196||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7833||13||59.0||8.3%||3||1||0||4||2||0|
|Lee Crosby||LOCK||5'11, 201||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593||12||44.5||6.3%||6.5||2||2||3||1||0|
|Ryan Santos||SS||5'10, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7800||13||41.0||5.8%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Nias Martin||CB||5'10, 175||Sr.||NR||NR||13||33.5||4.7%||2||0||0||6||0||1|
|Jake Rothschiller||LOCK||5'7, 190||Jr.||NR||NR||13||21.5||3.0%||3||0||0||1||0||0|
|Isaiah Brown||CB||5'11, 187||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8322||7||12.5||1.8%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Ricky Bennett||S||6'0, 213||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7444||10||11.0||1.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenneth Maxwell||SS||6'0, 193||Sr.||NR||NR||9||6.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|John Russo||S||5'11, 192||Sr.||NR||NR||13||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bijon Parker||CB||6'0, 188||So.||NR||NR||5||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marquez Mackey||CB||5'9, 172||Jr.||NR||0.7600|
|Blair Manly||CB||6'1, 182||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8064|
|Stanley Barnwell Jr.||DB||6'1, 185||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726|
|Patrick Peek||CB||5'11, 193||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8113|
|Corey Hightower||CB||5'11, 171||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8059|
8. Now the secondary has to produce
The good news: On third-and-4 or more, opponents completed just 50 percent of their passes and threw eight interceptions among 105 passes in the face of a pretty good pass rush.
The bad news: Opponents' 53 completions on third-and-4 or more gained 823 yards, 15.5 per completion. New Mexico went for big plays on big downs and basically succeeded every time. The problem was that half the big plays belonged to the opponent.
Senior safeties Daniel Henry, Lee Crosby, and Ryan Santos all return, which is good, but the cornerback position could be problematic. Two of last year's top three tacklers at the position are gone, and the third, Nias Martin, might be in a little bit of trouble.
Senior Isaiah Brown is a solid option when healthy, but he's rarely healthy, and that means youngsters like redshirt freshman Blair Manly and true freshmen Patrick Peek and Corey Hightower could play roles sooner than later. All three were 247 three-stars, but experience tends to matter quite a bit in the secondary, and the cornerback position might not have much of it.
|Jason Sanders||5'11, 186||Jr.||72||63.9||50||1||69.4%|
|Jason Sanders||5'11, 186||Jr.||22-22||3-5||60.0%||0-2||0.0%|
|Daryl Chestnut||KR||5'8, 188||Jr.||6||18.2||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||88|
|Field Goal Efficiency||124|
|Punt Return Success Rate||108|
|Kick Return Success Rate||24|
|Punt Success Rate||40|
|Kickoff Success Rate||5|
9. If Sanders can control his cannon...
Like much of the team itself, New Mexico's special teams unit was all-or-nothing in 2015. Carlos Wiggins was a fantastic kick returner and an inefficient punt returner. Jason Sanders boasted booming kickoffs but was scattershot on field goals.
Wiggins and punter Zack Rogers are gone, which is scary, but if Sanders can harness his big leg a little bit more accurately, UNM could at least produce mediocre special teams numbers.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|10-Sep||at New Mexico State||117||1.5||54%|
|1-Oct||San Jose State||92||0.0||50%|
|15-Oct||at Air Force||80||-7.7||33%|
|12-Nov||at Utah State||73||-12.6||23%|
|19-Nov||at Colorado State||96||-5.5||38%|
|Projected wins: 5.7|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-36.8% (123)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||106 / 104|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||4 / 2.7|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+0.6|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||78% (76%, 80%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||5.1 (1.9)|
10. A fast start is mandatory
The combination of returning experience and an improving product (plus middle-of-the-pack recruiting in the MWC) gives New Mexico a projection of No. 102 in S&P+, about where the Lobos ranked last year. It's not hard to see them exceeding that if experience at quarterback and on defense lead to steadier play, but it's a projection that will give them a shot at a second straight bowl game.
But unless they plan on pulling off the "lose to bad teams, then beat some good ones" act again -- and that's hard enough to do once -- it's likely UNM will need a strong start to reach six wins. The first four games feature two (at NMSU, SJSU at home) that are, by the numbers, complete tossups. Two more (at Hawaii, Nevada) show up later, but one figures UNM will need to be at least 2-2, preferably 3-1, when Boise State comes to town on October 8.