Thursday, August 30, 2007
Aggies: Is This Start of Something Good?
By Randy Harrison
Journal Staff Writer
Perhaps the stars are aligning for New Mexico State to achieve its bowl goal.
Tonight the Aggies open the 2007 football season at home, and with optimism, against Southeastern Louisiana.
Ordinarily, we would write this as a Division I-A vs. I-AA matchup. But that was too easy an identification to appease the bureaucratic side of the NCAA.
Now, the bigger schools are FBS Football Bowl Subdivision, whatever that means.
The Aggies only know that after 47 years without, anything with "bowl" in the title sounds pretty good. It's one driving factor for Aggie quarterback Chase Holbrook.
"There are lots of Aggie fans who weren't alive when they were in their last bowl (1960 Sun Bowl)," Holbrook said, "and they don't even know what a bowl game looks like."
That said, the Aggies can count tonight's game toward bowl eligibility. They don't want the Lions to do what Portland State did to New Mexico last year embarrass them out of the gate in their own yard.
"It's the first game of the season. That's enough motivation right there," said receiver Derek Dubois. "Everybody's ready to rock and roll."
NMSU third-year coach Hal Mumme was hired away from Southeastern Louisiana in December 2004 to raise the level of Aggie football, and to do so with flair.
Now, despite a 4-20 start to his tenure, the expectations to contend for a bowl and threaten the Western Atletic Conference elite are there.
"That starts with me and the team captains," said Mumme. "They realize they can achieve, and I think that's a good sign."
Holbrook epitomizes reasons for excitement around here as much as anyone. He is on several postseason awards watch lists, including the Heisman Trophy.
With him is a receiving corps that Mumme compares favorably to the best he once had at Kentucky. The offensive line is experienced and deep. The running game, which bogged down last year, and the place-kicking are unproven.
More questions surround the defense. Coordinator Woody Widenhofer has had a tougher rebuilding chore than did Mumme on offense. He didn't have in waiting the defensive equivalent of a Holbrook, who came along from Southeastern to direct the Air Raid attack.
"Right now on defense we've got 11 guys who can run the way we need them to," Mumme said. "Two years ago we probably couldn't run out of sight in a day, even if you'd held a million dollar check in front of them."
Depth, however, is the question.
"We've got people who are willing to sacrifice time and effort and especially dedication," said middle linebacker Dante Floyd. "We know what our common goals are, and we've set them high."
Southeastern Louisiana was picked to tie for last in the eight-team Southland Conference. The Lions changed head coaches since last year's meeting, promoting Mike Lucas from defensive coordinator in December for the final three games, all losses in a 2-9 season.
Lucas, 48, was defensive coordinator at Eastern New Mexico from 1985-87.
"We played them last year (a 30-15 NMSU win); they've been here and the place isn't foreign to them. I look for them to play a lot better," said Mumme.