The rebuild is over.
Brick by brick, head coach Doug Martin has worked tirelessly to rip out the rotting foundation of New Mexico State football to build something that will last. Former head coaches DeWayne Walker and Hal Mumme had NMSU barely breathing off the sustenance of junior college players and various other types of college football castaways, leading to a program that would fight like hell for two or three wins each season but could never convert on-field victories into long term momentum due to the program’s extreme turnover.
Given the assurance of job security, Doug Martin has minimized the number of junior college signees taken under his leadership in order to pursue high upside and overlooked high school athletes. Martin and his staff have focused on regional talent, often hitting a jackpot on Texas athletes that fell through the cracks.
One of those jackpots is, of course, junior running back and national sensation Larry Rose III.
A product of Fairfield, Texas, Rose graduated from Fairfield High with just one other scholarship offer from FCS Abilene Christian despite huge praise from Texas sports writers.
Rose built off a solid freshman season (1,102 yards, nine TDs, 5.9 YPC) by exploding onto the college football scene with a monstrous sophomore season. The 5’11”, 184 pound back broke NMSU’s single season rushing record by week 10. His 1,651 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, and stunning 6.9 yards per carry led to him being named a Third Team All-American by the Associated Press and Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, Rose will start his season on the sideline recovering from a sports hernia surgery. The injury should only keep him out for a single game but it will place a focus on running backs Royce Caldwell and Izaiah Lottie to carry the torch in the opener against rival UTEP.
While Rose is certainly in line for another incredible season, the Aggies will need new weapons on offense now that the entire country is alert to Rose’s abilities.
The Aggies’ ability to defeat defenses through the air is in serious jeopardy following the fallout of the past week. The first hit came when graduate transfer Tyler Matthews voluntarily left the program. Matthews, a former four-star recruit, never saw serious playing time throughout his collegiate career after being stuck behind all conference quarterbacks during stints at TCU and Southern Miss.
Matthews’ departure became even more painful after news of starting quarterback Tyler Rogers arrest broke just hours after Matthews decided to leave the program. While Rogers was only charged with misdemeanor battery, the domestic setting of the alleged crime is especially worrisome.
Per Las Cruces Sun-News beat reporter Jason Groves, the victim "downplayed the incident and said that it wasn't really anything and that the altercation did not get physical and didn't consider Mr. Rogers grabbing her arm as being a physical altercation."
If Rogers is unable to play it will leave junior college transfer Conner Cramer and redshirt sophomore Nick Jeanty as the leading candidates under center.
While uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position, the Aggies have a pretty good idea of what their offensive line will look like.
Even though the Aggies must replace three starters up front, Martin does return four offensive linemen with enough experience to combine for fifty career starts. Much of NMSU’s success in gaining first downs will be decided by how those returning offensive linemen mesh into a single cohesive unit. It sure doesn’t hurt that those four guys (Abram Holland, Anthony McMeans, Thomas McGwire, and Dezmand Candielaria) average out to 308 pounds a pop.
Turning to the other side of the ball, New Mexico State may not have much star power returning to the field on defense but they are adding some name recognition in the coaches’ box.
Defensive maestro and former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani has reunited with Doug Martin in Las Cruces after the two worked together at BC in 2012. Their combined efforts to turn the Eagles into a more consistent ACC competitor sputtered out but Coach Spaz proved his worth as a defensive coach as he pumped out consistently great defensive units throughout the entirety of his tenure in Boston.
Spaziani won’t have many NFL prospects to employ in his defense but he wasn’t afforded that luxury at Boston College either. What Coach Spaz will enjoy is inheriting an extremely veteran group that is already familiarized with the ropes of college football. With the exceptions of cornerbacks Lewis Hill and Winston Rose and defensive end Stephen Meredith, NMSU returns practically every defensive player of note this season, giving Spaziani a great base to build off.
The Aggies also have some intriguing freshman talent to provide depth and hope for a more explosive defense in the future. The guy to watch here is true freshman Darius Anderson. The big man has impressive lateral quickness for 310 pounds and could be in line for immediate playing time, especially if Spaziani elects to use a nose tackle in some odd-man fronts.
NMSU might not have all of the rough edges smoothed out but the Aggies are in the best shape they’ve been in recent memory. With a national caliber star at running back, a savvy veteran coaching staff, and a strong bunch of returning talent the Aggies might just be a dark horse candidate in the Sun Belt this season if the passing game shapes up.
Pre-season MVP: Larry Rose III
Game of the year: vs. New Mexico
Breakout Candidate: Gamarquis Girdy
Record Prediction: 5-7
September 3rd - at UTEP Miners
September 10th - vs New Mexico Lobos
September 17th - at Kentucky
September 24th - at Troy
October 1st - vs ULL Ragin’ Cajuns
October 15th - at Idaho Vandals
October 22nd - vs Georgia Southern Eagles
October 29th - at Texas A&M Aggies
November 12th - at Arkansas State Red Wolves
November 19th - vs Texas State Bobcats
November 26th - vs Appalachian State Mountaineers
December 3rd - at South Alabama Jaguars