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New Mexico State Will Make A Bowl In 2016

After a bowl drought of over 50 years, I see this season as the year New Mexico State surprises everyone and gets to six wins.

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I know, you probably think this is a joke article, but I really believe that this is the year for New Mexico State to go bowling. I predicted on January 28 that the Aggies will go bowling this fall.

For most of the nation, the thought of the New Mexico State Aggies making a bowl seems somewhat ludicrous. The Aggies are a team that has ended the season with a losing record in every season since 2002. That season saw them finish 7-5 but miss out on a bowl berth. The Aggies have not tasted a bowl since a 20-13 win over Utah State in the 1960 Sun Bowl.

New Mexico State finished the 2015 season with a 3-9 record and one of the worst defenses in the nation. They are 7-29 under head coach Doug Martin. Why would anyone in their right mind think that the 2016 season is the year to break a 56-year bowl drought?

I have five reasons that I think will turn the tide for the Aggies and send them to a bowl this fall.

The Addition Of Tyler Matthews

The Aggies got their biggest commitment of the 2016 off-season when former TCU and Southern Miss quarterback Tyler Matthews pledged his services to the program. Matthews is still enrolled at Southern Miss and must graduate in May before officially joining the Aggies as a a graduate transfer.

Matthews is a former four-star quarterback that has been stuck behind Trevone Boykin (TCU) and Nick Mullens (Southern Miss) during his career. He is only eligible in 2016 and has a chance to be the player that can get the Aggies over the hump offensively. NMSU was not bad on the offensive side of the ball (433.3 yards per game), but only scored 28.6 points per game. The hope is that Matthews will get them in the end zone more than in 2015.

A Quality Defensive Coordinator

It is not often that a team like New Mexico State has a coach with the credentials of Frank Spaziani fall into their lap. Spaziani is the architect of many of the shutdown defenses that Boston College trotted out  from 1999-2012. He struggled as a head coach from 2009-2012, but only gave up over 25 points in one season with Boston College.

Just look back at the 2015 season for the Aggies and imagine if they gave up only 25 points per game. That improvement alone would have resulted in a winning record and a bowl berth. I am not saying that NMSU will give up only 25 points per game, but Spaziani will immediately make the defense better.

There is some talent on the Aggies defense that includes All-Sun Belt honorable mention Stody Bradley and All-Sun Belt newcomer team member Terrill Hanks.

Star Running Back Larry Rose III

One of the biggest secrets in college football stands in the New Mexico State offensive backfield. Rose, as a sophomore, finished the 2015 season ranked eighth nationally in total rushing yards per game. The Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year also finished tied for 20th nationally with 14 rushing touchdowns on the season. Rose was seventh nationally in rushing yards per game (137.6), doing so with only 20 carries per game.

NMSU Rushing

Rose should excel even more in 2016 if Matthews or Rogers or whoever wins the job can keep defenses from stacking the box. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Rose could push 1,800 or more yards this fall. He heads into his junior year with 2,749 career rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.

Fourth Place In The Sun Belt Is Wide Open

You have the top three of Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State. The Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana were the fourth until last season. They struggled on both sides of the ball and have to prove that they can recover from a poor year. South Alabama under performed in 2015 and missed out on a bowl. Troy, ULM, Texas State, and Idaho were not close to competing for one of the Sun Belt bowl berths last fall. Georgia State is the only team to surprise in a good way, pulling out six wins and a trip to the Cure Bowl.

With tie-ins to the New Orleans Bowl, GoDaddy Bowl, Camellia Bowl, and Cure Bowl, a top four finish in the Sun Belt would get them a bowl berth. Even a top five finish with six wins or more will likely be enough with multiple 5-7 teams accepting bowl berths due to the lack of bowl eligible teams last fall.

A Reasonable Schedule

It is not the easiest schedule to navigate, but the Aggies have at least six games they can win this fall on the schedule. They face UTEP, New Mexico, Kentucky, and Texas A&M in non-conference games. New Mexico made a bowl in 2015, but struggled to stop Rose in the most recent meeting. UTEP was lucky to beat New Mexico State last season. Kentucky and Texas A&M are long shots, but it's not like Kentucky set the world on fire last fall.

In Sun Belt play, games versus Texas State, Louisiana, South Alabama, Idaho, and Troy are huge games for the Aggies. If they can sneak out an upset versus Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, or Arkansas State, it would be even better. In the end, New Mexico State has a very realistic chance at six wins with this schedule.