2014 CFN Preview - New Mexico State Aggies
New Mexico State RB Adam Shapiro
New Mexico State RB Adam Shapiro
Posted Jun 18, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - It's been years since NMSU was a winner. At least now it has a home. (Getty Images)

New Mexico State Aggies

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak
- 2014 NMSU Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Doug Martin
2nd year: 2-10
8th year ovarall: 31-63
Returning Lettermen
Off: 20, Def. 14, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best NMSU Players
1. OG Isaiah Folasa-Lutui, Jr.
2. QB Tyler Rogers, Jr.
3. LB Rodney Butler, Soph.
4. OT Andy Cunningham, Jr.
5. WR Adam Shapiro, Sr.
6. CB Lewis Hill, Jr.
7. FS Travaughn Colwell, Sr.
8. DT Kalei Aeulua, Soph.
9. DE Clint Bernard, Sr.
10. WR Joshua Bowen, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Cal Poly
Sep. 6 at Georgia State
Sep. 13 at UTEP
Sep. 20 New Mexico
Sep. 27 at LSU
Oct. 4 Georgia Southern
Oct. 11 at Troy
Oct. 18 at Idaho
Nov. 1 Texas State
Nov. 8 Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 22 ULM
Nov. 29 at Arkansas State

In 2002, New Mexico State got through the rough September and won six of its last eight games to go 7-5. That was the last time the program came up with a winning season, and that was one of just two winning campaigns since 1992 and just three since 1978.

This just isn't a culture of winning in Las Cruces, and you'll have to forgive the program if it's having a hard time trying to figure out how to make it all work. But at least it has a home now, after being left out in the cold by the Mountain West after the end of football life in the WAC. Now there's a direction, and now there's a future for head coach Doug Martin to build off of.

It's been a rough time for New Mexico State football, and last year wasn't much of a step forward going 2-10 with the lone wins coming over Abilene Christian and Idaho. The last win over an FBS team that finished a season with a winning record was 2008, and before that, the last victory over a solid team was 2004.

So how does Martin change that? How can a coaching staff create a winner where there wasn't one before?

The team has to find an identity, and the coaching needs to be top-shelf. That's what happened at Utah State, a perennial punching bag like New Mexico State, and then, out of nowhere, then-head coach Gary Andersen put together a killer defense, a great offensive line, and a team that was good enough to challenge for conference titles and be a bit of a national player. Can Martin be the guy who can do that?

NMSU has to come up with one thing it can do right, and it has to do something that scares other teams, especially in the Sun Belt. It tried a few years ago with Hal Mumme and the passing attack, and that didn't work. Martin and the Aggies are trying to come up with more of a balanced Pistol offense, and it's trying to put together a more aggressive defense. But personnel is a problem.

Top receiver Austin Franklin left early for the NFL, and the quarterback situation is a bit of an issue with some of the top options moving to the defensive side. The top running backs are done, too, meaning it might take a little bit to find the right groove.

Defense is a bigger problem, finishing dead last in the nation, but only returning four starters and with just two of them likely to make a starting impact. There's lots and lots of work to do, but there's nowhere to go but up.

That goes for the entire program. But at least it's stable in a conference, and the coaching staff really is solid. New Mexico State is overdue for a little good luck.

What to watch for on offense: Can the offensive line come around enough to be a factor? A complete and total disaster for years, it started to improve a bit last season, but it still allowed way too many plays in the backfield giving up 75 tackles for loss. New O line coach Steve Marshall has more experience to play around with than any of the other position coaches, welcoming back four starters and only needing to figure out the left tackle situation. Can the experience turn into more production? Considering the concerns and changes at the skill spots, if the front five can be a strength, all of a sudden, the production could start to come.

What to watch for on defense: Can the front seven come up with a stop against the run? With so much turnover up front and with a new group of starting linebackers coming into place, it might take a while before the right combination is found. On the plus side, it's not like last year's group did anything whatsoever to help the cause. The Aggies finished dead last in the nation in run defense, allowing close to 3,600 yards and 45 touchdowns, getting ripped apart for 6.86 yards per carry. Abilene Christian only ran for 146 yards and a score, and that happened to be one of NMSU's two wins. The other came against Idaho, who ran for 209 yards and no scores. Everyone else ran for at least two touchdowns or more and the run D allowed 209 yards or more against every FBS team and allowed over 300 yards five times with Rice running for 409 yards and five scores and New Mexico ran for 541 yards and seven touchdowns. The front seven has to come up with a stop at some point.

The team will be far better if… there's a pass rush. With just 11 sacks on the year and a mere 47 tackles for loss, the New Mexico State defense didn't do much of anything to come up with plays to slow down the run. Almost always when teams don't get behind the line, there's a trickle-down effect, and it hit the rest of the D hard. No pass rush, no takeaways, no big third down stops, no help for the secondary, no problems for opposing offenses. This has been a big issue for the Aggie defense over the years, generating just nine sacks in 2010, and that's part of the reason the program has been such a disaster.

The Schedule: The Sun Belt world is relatively kind, giving the Aggies Louisiana-Lafayette and ULM at home, but there's a road game at Arkansas State to finish up the year. On the plus side, that comes after a three-game home stretch in November. There are plenty of manageable games with just three dates against teams that went bowling, and going to LSU at least is a big payday, but early on there are just two home games in a seven game stretch. There are winnable road games against Georgia State and Idaho, but the Aggies have to come up with some big victories at home, too.

Best offensive player: Junior OG Isaiah Folasa-Lutui. The need is for quarterback Tyler Rogers to be the best offensive player, and there's a hope for more from the receivers to step up and replace Austin Franklin, but the line is the team's potential big strength on experience alone. Folasa-Lutui is the team's best run blocker and toughest interior presence. He might not be a great athlete, but he's not all that bad in pass protection. Is he the anchor of the line and can he be the catalyst to a great season? That's pushing it, but he has All-Sun Belt potential.

Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Rodney Butler. After a rough season – to put it mildly – and with all of the changes and new personnel thrown into the mix, the Aggies need leaders and they need playmakers. Butler is as close as they have to both coming into the season. While he's not huge, he's a good tackler and he's aggressive when attacking the ball. He'll be one of the main men to build around as the starter in the middle - he should lead the team in tackles.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Tyler Rogers. The Aggies have to get a big season out of their quarterback. That hasn't been a huge problem for them over the last few years, and help on defense is more necessary, but it's time to keep up in shootouts, and that's where Rogers comes in. The JUCO transfer has quickness and a decent arm, but he just has to keep the chains moving and be ready to roll right out of the box. If he's not great, some interesting changes will have to be made, potentially moving King Davis III back from safety to quarterback.

The season will be a success if ... the Aggies win four games. It's not exactly setting the bar high, but if they can beat Cal Poly, Georgia State and Idaho, they're going to be close. It's going to take a few upsets, but being two wins better than last season would be great. With such a young, inexperienced team, four victories would be nice, and anything more might be miraculous.

Key game: Nov. 1 vs. Texas State. There are other winnable games on the schedule, and several key moments and chances to make a statement, but beating Texas State would be a really big deal. Coming off a road game at Idaho – the Aggies beat the Vandals last season – there's a week off to prepare for the home game against the Bobcats. It's the type of game New Mexico State has to start winning.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third Quarter Scoring: Opponents 105 – New Mexico State 41
- Sacks: Opponents 24 for 159 yards – New Mexico State 11 for 64 yards
- Rushing Offense: Opponents 3,594 yards – New Mexico State 1,701 yards

- 2014 NMSU Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players