With all this conference realignment going on, it's been difficult to keep up with what teams belong in your conference, let alone their players. But fear not, because Underdog Dynasty is here to guide you through the process of accepting new league foes.
The Aggies have been one of the worst programs in the country over the last decade or so, with their last winning record in 2002 under Tony Samuel. Since that time, NMSU has won just 31 games, and is on their fourth coach, Doug Martin. Last season, the Aggies won just two games, but showed improvement over the latter half of the season, particularly on offense. The talent level needs some drastic improvement, even to compete at the the Sun Belt level, but Martin looks to have the team on the way back up. We have said that before though.
For more information, read Bill Connelly's in-depth team preview, but for now, here are five players you really need to know going into the season.
Tyler Rogers, Quarterback
Quarterback hasn't necessarily been one of the Aggies problems over the last few years, with Andrew McDonald having an okay one-and-done last season. This year, they have a ton of young guys at the position, but Rogers is the anticipated starter. The sophomore started last season at Arizona Western (community) College, throwing for 1832 yards and 14 TDs (7 interceptions), despite missing the guts of three games. He also added 364 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, leading the Matadors to a bowl game. Rogers has looked like he could be a quality passer, showing accuracy and ball smarts in camp. Can he be the man to lead the Aggies back to their first bowl game since 1960?
Brendan Betancourt, Running Back
NMSU has had a couple of decent running backs recently too, and have some nice options on the roster who will all see action this season. Betancourt may be the best of the bunch, and he's arguably the fastest. Last season, the then-junior took over the starting job midseason, and started to make an impact straight away. He ran for 95 yards against UCLA's tough defense, 139 yards against New Mexico and 103 against Rice, before a foot injury ruled him out for the last four games. He finished with 415 yards and 2 TDs on 93 carries, and caught 13 passes for 106 yards and another score. He missed all of spring recuperating, but he's looked good so far in the fall. Betancourt's still working his way up the depth chart, but he should be an impact performer sooner rather than later.
Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, Center
With some potentially decent players at the skill positions, the Aggies need to get them some protection so can they do their thing. That all starts up front, and New Mexico State has a rare NFL prospect at center in Ume-Ezeoke, a 30-game starter and Rimington Award candidate over the last couple of seasons. He's a stud at the center position who has been credited with over 100 knockdowns the last two seasons, and didn't allow a sack in 2012. He'll be the leader on an offensive line that returns four starters in 2014.
Kalei Auelua, Defensive End
The New Mexico State defense was terrible last season, especially against the run, but there may be some hope on the horizon, beginning with former Washington transfer Auelua. The three-star recruit saw action in 10 games last season, making 18 tackles. Three of those were for loss, good for joint-third on the team. At 6'2 and 235 pounds, Auelua lacks ideal size for a defensive end, although that will be less of an issue in the Sun Belt. However, the sophomore's lightning quick, capable of bursting into the backfield to blow up running plays, and make life miserable for quarterbacks on passing plays. Auelua still needs to work on his consistency, but he's a nice piece to build around on a defense that loses it's top two playmakers.
Kawe Johnson, Strong Safety
As a sophomore last season, Johnson saw plenty of action last season, backing up Davis Cazares, one of the team's few playmakers, and starting at free safety too. Playing in 11 games, Johnson made 35 tackles, breaking up 2 passes and intercepting a couple more. Now he gets to handle the top job himself, and looks to be more than capable of holding down the fort. At just 5 foot 10 (maybe) and 175 pounds, Johnson may be built more like a cornerback, but he can make some tough tackles, and showed in camp that his nose for the ball was more than just luck. The big concern is whether the front seven can hold up against the run, giving Johnson a chance to play centerfield. If he's forced to cheat up towards the line in run support, his smaller frame may struggle to hold up to the pounding.