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Martin: Aggies are better than 2017 bowl team

Josh Adkins, front, had a big game last year as New Mexico State quarterback in the Aggies’ 49-41 win over Liberty. (Andres Leighton/New Mexico State photo)

Doug Martin feels good about the state of his New Mexico State University football program at the moment.

Check back with him in October.

The Aggies’ seventh-year head coach has amassed some of the key pieces his team was missing in a disappointing 2018 season. After snapping the nation’s longest bowl drought with an Arizona Bowl victory in 2017, NMSU sputtered to a 3-9 record last season.

Martin believes some of last year’s issues have since been resolved, but he’s aware of the daunting hurdles ahead. New Mexico State opens 2019 with back-to-back road trips to Washington State and Alabama, then plays three straight Mountain West foes (San Diego State, New Mexico and Fresno State).

“I’m excited because this is probably the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Martin said. “The only concerning thing is the schedule. We have to survive the first six weeks, try to win a couple and come out of it healthy. If we do that, there are winnable games in the second half of our schedule. We’ll see.”

Martin said NMSU’s coaches and players went into their summer program with renewed enthusiasm. Unlike last season, New Mexico State will open preseason camp with an established starting quarterback in place and, perhaps more important, with numbers.

“I think this team is better than our 2017 group,” Martin said, “and depth is a big part of that. We had enough players to have a competitive spring game for the first time in several years, and we’re not terribly thin anywhere. That’s big for us.”

Martin also firmly believes that quarterback play makes or breaks a midmajor team’s success. He’s confident redshirt sophomore Josh Adkins will elevate NMSU in 2019.

Adkins took over as the Aggies’ primary signal caller midway through their fourth game last season. He passed for 2,563 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Overall, Martin came away impressed.

“Josh was the only freshman in the top 25 nationally in passing offense,” Martin said, “and if you only counted his starts, he’d have made the top 10.”

Martin concedes Adkins must show more consistency than he did last year, however, and points to a recent Aggies opponent as a model.

Utah State quarterback Jordan Love passed for 1,637 yards, eight TDs and six interceptions as a freshman in 2017, ending the season with a bowl loss to NMSU. Last year Love passed for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions, leading USU to a one-sided New Mexico Bowl win over North Texas.

“(Love) took a huge jump from his first year to his second,” Martin said, “and we need Josh to take that kind of jump. The upside for Josh, though, is he’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around. You obviously love that quality in a quarterback.”

NMSU has its top two running backs returning in rising seniors Jason Huntley and Christian Gibson, and improved depth along an offensive line anchored by seniors Sage Doxtater and Volcano Vista alumnus Brian Trujillo.

The Aggies did suffer key losses at several positions, notably wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back. Martin says there are capable replacements on his roster.

Most apparent may be the changes at linebacker, where NMSU lost two of its top four tacklers in Terrill Hanks and Leon McQuaker. But Javahn Fergurson, who led the nation with 132 total tackles last season, returns. Martin also has high expectations for a group that includes sophomore Trevor Brohard, a Los Lunas High grad who played in two games last season after recovering from ACL surgery.

“Trevor’s all the way back now,” Martin said. “We definitely think he can help us.”

The Aggies will need to show improvement on both sides of the ball if they are to make a run at bowl eligibility in their second year playing as FBS independents. NMSU ranked in the bottom tier nationally in total offense and defense and points scored and allowed.

Confidence abounds – for now.

“Yeah, it’s June,” Martin said. “Talk to me when we’ve played six games.”