2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The New Mexico State Aggies were ousted from the defunct Western Athletic Conference following the 2012 campaign and had to spend 2013 as an FBS Independent, and the ensuing results were not pretty.
Under first-year head coach Doug Martin, NMSU floundered last season with a 2-10 record, its fourth double-digit loss campaign in the last five years.
The Aggies opened up the season with seven consecutive losses, each of which came by 10 points or more. They received a much-needed break in their schedule on Oct. 26 when they hosted FCS squad Abilene Christian, and they took advantage by snapping their losing streak with a 34-29 triumph.
After three more losses to Louisiana (49-35), Boston College (48-34) and Florida Atlantic (55-10), NMSU ended the year on a high note with a 24-16 victory over former WAC and current Sun Belt Conference foe Idaho, making a solid impression as it shifts to its new league in 2014.
OFFENSE: The Aggies were slowed by their offense last season. While they put up a respectable 382.2 ypg, their scoring offense (20.9 ppg) disappointed due to the 23 turnovers they committed.
A changing of the guard at quarterback gives the offense some hope for improvement heading into 2014. With the departure of Andrew McDonald, the starting gig has been handed over to Tyler Rogers, who played for Arizona Western last season, amassing more 2,196 total yards and 24 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
Rogers will need to get up to speed with his three experienced receivers. Joshua Bowen (39 reception, 324 yards, two TDs) and Jordan Bergstrom (30 receptions, 206 yards) were mostly possession guys last season, with neither averaging more than nine yards per catch. Jerrell Brown (33 receptions, 484 yards, two TDs) displayed slightly more explosion.
The ground game was stagnant all season, as the rushers put up just 3.8 ypc over 444 attempts. Brandon Betancourt (93 carries, 415 yards, two TDs) will have his chance to emerge as the feature back in the absence of Germi Morrison (451 yards, four TDs), and running behind three returning offensive line starters will help as well.
DEFENSE: While the offense certainly didn't hold up to its end of the bargain in 2013, the main reason for NMSU's struggles was the porous play of the defense. The unit allowed a whopping 44.6 ppg, which ranked 120th out of 123 qualifying FBS squads.
The good news is that six starters return on the defensive side of the ball, and it's hard to imagine the unit getting much worse. Martin remains optimistic for an improvement this season.
"We are a faster defense (than last season), but we are inexperienced right now," Martin said. "They are going to get better every game and will get better with every practice."
The team's three top tacklers from a year ago -- Davis Cazares (109 tackles), Trashaun Nixon (93 tackles, 13.0 TFL) and Bryan Bonilla (75 tackles) -- have all moved on. That leaves linebacker Clint Barnard (67 tackles) as the senior member of the unit.
Kawe Johnson (35 tackles, two INTs) and Lewis Hill (33 tackles, INT, FR) were solid in the turnover battle a season ago and will be welcomed returnees to the secondary. Jay Eakins and Stephen Meredith are back on the defensive line attempting to improve upon the team's low sack total (11).
SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the team's few bright spots in 2013 was the play of kicker Maxwell Johnson, who made 10-of-12 field goal tries, including all eight from inside of 40 yards. The squad is out to find a replacement for punter Cayle Chapman-Brown (70 punts, 43.8 avg).
Both return specialists are back, although neither were especially dynamic last season. Adam Shapiro ran back 26 kickoffs for 532 yards, and Joseph Matthews had 10 punt returns total 69 yards.
OUTLOOK: The bar is set very low for NMSU in its first season in a new league, as it was tabbed to finish last in the Preseason Sun Belt Coaches Poll, behind two FCS newcomers (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern), an Idaho squad that was 1-11 as an FCS Independent and a winless Georgia State team (0-12). Still, Martin is determined not to get caught up in what others are saying about his squad.
"Right now, all we can worry about is ourselves," Martin said. "There is a reason why you play the games. We know that this is a much improved football team right now than from this time last year. We understand the challenges we have ahead of us and we look forward to those challenges."
The Aggies have failed to field a competitive squad during the decade, and even a shift to one of the FBS's lower-level conference's isn't going to change the fact that they simply don't have the talent to compete. The Sun Belt schedule isn't daunting, so the possibility of a win or two along the way isn't out of the question, but NMSU's poor defense will keep them situated near the bottom of the standings all season long.