In 2013, the UTEP Miners and the New Mexico State Aggies will square off in the 91st edition of the Battle of I-10, with the game set to take place September 14th in Las Cruces. The Miners hold the all time advantage at 53-35-2, and have won four straight in the series, including last year's 41-28 victory in the Sun Bowl.
Its no secret. Its been a nightmarish ride for the Aggies and their fans over the last decade plus, and there's not much to say anything will change in 2013. Since 2000, NMSU has had only one winning season (2002), and they haven't won more than four games in any season since 2004.
The team is coming off a 1-11 campaign that saw them win the season opener against Sacramento State 49-19, and lose every game after that. Subsequently, head coach Dewayne Walker abruptly resigned in January to take over as defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So, with Walker out, in steps a familiar face in former offensive coordinator Doug Martin. He happened to be the OC under Walker in 2011, bolted for the same gig at Boston College in 2012, and found himself back in Las Cruces for the 2013 season, only to wind up being promoted to head coach once Walker resigned.
This isn't unfamiliar ground for Martin either. The guy has been around the block a time or two. He's spent time at Louisiana Monroe, East Carolina, and Kent State, before his more recent stops, and was the head man at Kent State from 2004-2010 before resigning and moving on to NMSU.
Martin has got a good track record, and is considered to be a good coach, but can he turn around a program that has been dreadful for the better part of the last half century? That is still yet to be seen.
If there is any turnaround to happen this year, it'll have to happen with a new man under center as gone is junior Andrew Manley, who decided to transfer after the departure of Dewayne Walker. Travaughn Colwell and Andrew McDonald seem to be the likely suitors to replace Manley, with Colwell perhaps leading the way.
Gone with Manley and Walker is NMSU's traditional drop back passing attack, and installed in its place will be an offense that utilizes the speed of its quarterback. Expect to see a lot of zone-read, and even more moving of the pocket.
The good news is that while the Aggies are trying to replace their starting quarterback, they do return plenty of experience and productivity throughout the rest of the offense.
Starting tailback Germi Morrison, a senior, returns and is looking to build upon a respectable junior year that saw him rush for 767 yards and a couple of touchdowns on 159 carries. That's good for a solid 4.8 yards a touch. The Aggies will just have to find a way to build some depth behind as they have little else returning in the back field.
The Aggies also get back junior wide receiver Austin Franklin, who was their top wideout in 2012, reeling in 74 catches for 1245 yards. The kid is an absolute playmaker, now its just a question of whether or not the new man under center can get him the ball.
On the line, NMSU loses only one starter in right guard Andrew Kersten, and welcomes back second team All-WAC left tackle Devontae Wallace. Four returning Aggie linemen have more than 10 starts under their belt, led by Wallace with 36. There's no question, they're an experienced unit. Oh, and they also happen to average 6'3 and 300 lbs.
This offense will definitely have some pieces to work with, but it could take some time to learn and effectively run a completely new scheme. Likewise, much of the same can be said of the defense.
Most notably with that unit, is the arrival of handful on division 1 transfers, most of which are coming from high major programs:
|Matt Romando||DT||Michigan State||So.|
|Kalei Auelua||LB||Washington||RS Fr.|
Starting on the line, the Aggies return two of four starters in senior DT Kevin Laudermill and senior DE Kalvin Cruz. Neither put up stellar numbers in 2012, but both have plenty of experience. They also return a couple more players with game experience, but this is a unit that ranked 115th in the nation a year ago against the run. Needless to say, that will have to improve.
In the middle, the Aggies get back a pair of solid linebackers in senior OLB Trashaun Nixon, and senior ILB Bryan Bonilla. Those two ranked 2nd and 4th on the team in tackling, respectively. However, with the move to the 3-4 base defense, it'll take more than just those two to make this unit effective.
The secondary is perhaps the most experienced unit for the defense. Returning are three starters in senior FS David Cazares, senior SS George Callender, and senior CB Cameron Fuller. Cazares and Callender ranked 1st and 3rd on the team in tackling in 2012, while Fuller was 2nd in pass breakups with 6.
Also returning in the secondary are some key reserves in senior CB Darrien Johnson, who will likely slide into the starting role, and also senior FS Justin Smith. Unfortunately for the Aggies, they did lose another key reserve in sophomore CB Samuel Oyenuga to an ACL injury. He's out for the year.
In 2012, the Aggies defense was ranked near the bottom in most major statistical categories. They ranked 114th in overall defense, 115th against the run, 95th against the pass, and 120th in scoring defense allowing 39.4 points a game.
This year, one has to assume that as a whole the defense will be much improved. They return a number of experienced seniors, and welcome a handful of talented transfers and freshmen. Its hard to believe they'll anywhere near as bad as a year ago. Again though, much like the offense, its just a matter of how quickly they can learn and implement new schemes.
On special teams, the Aggies return starting senior P Cayle Chapman-Brown and also have star wideout Austin Franklin returning kicks, but they'll have to find a new kicker and placekicker to fill some voids created by graduation, and may even want to reconsider keeping Franklin in the return game.
As a whole, there's only one place that Aggies can go, and that's up. They're coming off an abysmal 1-11 campaign, and its not likely that there will be a repeat of that in 2013. However, this is still a program that has struggled to find any form of consistency for decades so this is far from a prediction that they'll find that this year.
I will step out on a limb though and say this team won't be a pushover. Now, they may not be a contender for bowl eligibility come November, but they could be one to ruin a potential bowl team's chances. Miners, don't take em lightly!