Sunday, August 31, 2008

Herb Pope, what could have been

What a sad state of affairs that has led to Herb Pope leaving the Aggies.

I for one am upset. I know, many will say that if he doesn't want to be a part of the team or the team feels like it's in its best interest to let him go, then that's exactly what should happen. But we never saw the real Herb Pope last year on the basketball court. Would we have this year? We don't know. And that's the problem. It is unfulfilled potential for Pope the player and the Aggies as a whole.

Herb was a different type of player. Some will say difficult, some will say selfish. I will not use those terms. He's a gifted player who needs the elements around him to be right. I won't judge him as a person or his character. Make no mistake, he came to NMSU because he thought Reggie Theus would be the head coach. And I think this is a big factor. It takes a certain type of coach to handle a personality like Herb's. I don't think coach Menzies and Herb meshed well. Would Herb have come to Las Cruces if Menzies was here from the get-go? Just my opinion here, but I would have to think the answer would be no. Pope went out on a limb coming to NMSU. It was unconventional. When the infrastructure around the program shifted, it changed everything for him before last season even got underway.

I don't think the team is better without Pope. I was excited to see him on a frontline with Gillenwater and McKiness. I thought that would be formidable, challenging WAC opponents on a night-to-night basis. Who knows? He could have been an all-conference caliber player. He also could have been sub-par, much like last year. But it would have been nice to know.

I can honestly say that I hope things work out for him, I really do. He needs a strong supporting cast around him to help him grow as a player and a person. Just bouncing around from program to program is not the answer either. On a serious note, he needs to go to school, play ball and get a degree. Get an education. That's what this should be about with Herb Pope. His life has been hard enough. Let the man be, let him move on. I hope it works out for him. I just don't know if it will.

WAC recap

Did anybody see Louisiana Tech's win over Mississippi St. on TV last night? I've been calling La. Tech a sleeper in the WAC since they played the Aggies last year in Ruston. That game showed me all I needed to know about Derrick Dooley's team. They don't play afraid and they go right after the other team for four quarters. Solid defense, check that, the defense was outstanding on Friday. Good special teams - their kicker made a booming field goal last night to make the score 22-14 Tech in the 4th (They won the game by that score). He made three in the game. They won by eight.

A few things about Tech that do cause reason for pause. First off, their D was ridiculous, but Miss. St. just doesn't move the ball, period. I love Sylvester Croom, but he's a defensive guy, bottom line. MSU is pretty unimaginative on offense. La. Tech will be similar this year. They have a good ground game but the passing attack is a work in progress. In the end though, I said at the beginning of the year, when La. Tech comes to Las Cruces in late November, that game will mean something for both teams. After Friday, I have no reason to change that viewpoint.

Kyle Reed came in and led a San Jose State comeback in the 4th quarter and an eventual 13-10 win. Yes, it was against UC Davis, but Reed is a player to keep an eye on. He's a transfer from Cal and was highly touted coming out of high school. He led the team late on Friday and was clutch. Who knows what he'll do throughout the entire season, but my gut tells me he'll be fine in the WAC.

I voted for Chris Williams to win offensive player of the year in the WAC in my preseason media poll. If I had to select somebody else, it would have been Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. He is dangerous, mainly because he can run. He's going to account for a ton of TDs in Chris Ault's "Pistol" offense.

Idaho lost 70-0 to Arizona on Friday. Yikes. And Hawaii got hammered. The shocking thing was that I'm not too surprised about either outcomes. Except for Idaho. That's just a really big blowout.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Aggie postponement

What a crazy Friday night it was surrounding the Las Cruces sports scene.

All three local high school football teams won. The NMSU volleyball season got underway. The Herb Pope situation is still in a state of flux. And, in the most vexing event of all, the Aggie football game was postponed because of Hurricane Gustav hitting the Gulf Coast, preventing Nicholls State to cancel its trip to the Southwest. If you haven't heard, here's the story...

So what now for the Aggies? They are trying to reschedule with Nicholls. Another option is to find a new opponent. One thing that also seems up in the air is a bowl berth. McKinley Boston told Felix on Saturday that six wins seems to be the benchmark for an NMSU bowl game. If they get it in 12 or 11 games, it doesn't seem to matter. Here's the article, posted on our Web site today (Saturday).

In any event, it is chaotic right now to say the least. It's also disappointing. I know we were all excited for the start of the football season and to see NMSU on Thursday night. Now, they will open at Nebraska. It's a tough pill to swallow. I sure hope things work out and a 12th game falls into place. Either way, it's a wacky way to start the year, and NMSU hasn't even taken the field yet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pope follow

Alright people. Here's the deal on Herb.

Apparently, NMSU is allowing him to explore his options on the East Coast. This is designed to get him closer to his family in Pennsylvania. Him playing for a new team next year is contingent on a hardship waiver, which would allow him to suit up immediately in 2008-09 instead of being forced to sit out due to transfer rules.

McKinley Boston said that if the waiver is not granted, Herb will most likely be back at NMSU next season. Will it be granted or not, or will he find the right school remains up in the air. As The Star Ledger has reported, Seton Hall appears to be interested. And I'm sure others will follow suit.

Here is the story on the Sun-News Web site....

Feel free to comment on the issue. Lets get some chatter going....

Herb Pope

I received this article today from the Star Ledger about Herb Pope....The article reports that NMSU granted him his release and he visited Seton Hall.

I called McKinley Boston and he said that Herb has family issues back home. NMSU is trying to assist him in these issues and the athletics director was 100 percent confident that Pope would be in an Aggie uniform next year. Check back in later. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wendell McKines

The return of Wendell McKines to Aggie basketball is good for the team and for its fans.

Wendell was a solid player for the Aggies last year. He's someone every team needs on its roster — a player who is willing to mix it up and do the dirty work down low. Wendell plays bigger than he is and relies on heart and grit to get the ball.

He's a valuable piece to the roster and I was disappointed when he left initially. NMSU has some weapons up front. Herb Pope, who knows what this guy can do. Last year it was hard to tell just because of the circumstances. Hopefully, he can have a full season with the team and be a breakout contributor. Troy Gillenwater is also an intriguing part piece of the puzzle. We've heard good things about Troy. How will he mesh with Herb will be something to keep a serious eye on.

But Wendell is different than both because he seems to be more of a grinder. One thing that has always stood out to me in basketball has been players who don't need to ball in order to make an impact on the game. It sounds simple and maybe even a little ridiculous, but it's fun to watch guys like that. Wendell can effect a game without really scoring. That's an ability that's hard to find. It's a blue collar mentality. He'll get some buckets, he'll get some boards, he'll play good defense and he'll bust the opponent up.

Nice re-acquisition for Aggie hoops.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A.J. Harris

Don't overlook A.J. Harris' presence in the NMSU offense.

Harris is a big, physical receiver who often gets overlooked. Last year, A.J. played on a bad ankle for the majority of the schedule, yet still led the team in receptions with 81, 10 more than the mark he set the previous year. Harris also passed Duane Gregory as the school's all-time receptions leader. His game isn't the prettiest — A.J. is big, physical and not especially fast — but it gets the job done and he does a lot of dirty work for the team.

In many respects, Harris acts as a short-yardage player for a team that doesn't have a typical power-running game. He needs 125 catches to set the All-Time NCAA career receptions mark, a stat that Hal Mumme thinks is attainable for the receiver. Are his numbers inflated by the system he plays in? Of course. But that's not a negative thing. Harris has been productive and a hard-charging player for the Aggies in his tenure. He should have a fine season, even if the other players around him garner most of the headlines.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seth Smith

The departure of running back Seth Smith shouldn't be that big of a deal for NMSU football. That is, if Tonny Glynn and Marquell Colston remain productive in the Aggie offense.

NMSU was fairly high on Smith when he came out of the College of the Sequoias and joined the team this spring. They also seem to like Colston a good deal. It seemed like the team would use Glynn and Colston primarily with even a sprinkling of fullback Brandon Perez.

The only time that Smith's departure becomes problematic is if Glynn and Colston just don't produce or they get injured. The Aggies spent a lot of the offseason talking about a lack of depth. Well, Smith is a good example of a player who could provide that depth if need be. But no more.

I think the key will be Glynn's health. He proved, when on the field last season, that he was a big-play threat. A combo of Glynn and Colston should be OK. But injuries happen in football. It is something to keep an eye on. The hope is that they stay on the field.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Less of a Factor

One thing that was a fixture in the Aggie offense the last 2 1/2 seasons has been the tight end in the passing game.

Nick Cleaver was a reliable target for Chase Holbrook, since Hal Mumme moved him from safety to TE in Cleaver's sophomore season. He is now gone though and the team could possibly see a reduced role from that position this year.

Actually, I think it's a certainty that this spot will see decreased significance on the field. NMSU is loaded at wide receiver and, while I like prospects Ryan Franzoy and Kyle Nelson, they're still a ways away from being effective fulltime on the field.

Cleaver was a good player there for the Aggies. His departure leaves a void, one that will be filled by one of the team's speedy receivers. Still, it will be a different look for a team that has grown accustomed to having a reliable tight end running routes underneath. I'm sure the talent out wide will make up for his loss, however.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Good luck with that

Joe Lee Dunn said that he will play 11 men on defense if that's what it takes to get results.

Last year, the Aggie defense actually rotated players on a regular basis, particularly on the defensive line, where they felt they were deep. We all saw how that worked out.

So this season there is a different approach, as Dunn will put on the field who he thinks has the talent to get the job done. In the end, this could be tough. You need depth in football, it is so physically taxing and the punishment can be unreal. Players wear down and get injured if you don't have proper reinforcements coming off the bench.

Dunn will look high and low to get an improved unit out on the field. Competing with a limited number of players may work initially, but in the long haul? I think it will be extremely hard. Fatigue and injuries will likely set in. And if he doesn't think the backups are worthy for field time, he might not have much of a choice at that point.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

San Diego State

We have written a bit about scheduling and there has been some back and forth on the blog surrounding the topic.

Well, personally, I like the San Diego State matchup for Aggie football. First off, both these teams could be considered comparable. Both have had their struggles within their conferences, comparable conferences as well. Both have potential too, however, and games like this could be good barometers over where the programs stand. Like I said, I was in favor of NMSU playing Wyoming this season, until the Cowboys backed out. The SDSU scenario is somewhat similar and I like the Aggies going against the Mountain West, a fellow "mid-major" conference.

2009's out-of-conference schedule features the two rivals — @ UNM and vs. UTEP — to go along with away games at Ohio State and San Diego State. I like this. NMSU's goal is to stick with the rivals, have a big money game against elite competition and then have a contest vs a comparable mid-major. It seems like they accomplished this for 2009. Assuming the schedule sticks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NMSU volleyball

I know this doesn't get as much play as football but when was the last time an NMSU sports team was in the top-15 in the country?

That's where volleyball found themselves last year and should again this season. Mike Jordan has done an excellent job recruiting to this area and the team faces some marketable competition.

Someone on my previous post asked why more top-tier teams don't come to NMSU to play. You don't see that problem in volleyball because the program has been a winner the last handful of years. Things shouldn't change in 2008 either. Texas, Utah and Houston will all make the trip to Las Cruces this year in early September.

NMSU faces two challenges this upcoming season. One is ousting Hawaii from the top-spot of the conference — no small task. The Rainbow Wahine have been a WAC powerhouse and aren't going to leave that post quietly.

Secondly, the Aggies need to advance in the NCAA tournament. Outside of winning the WAC, there is really nothing left for this team to accomplish in the regular season. Last year was thought to be the time NMSU broke through to the second round. It didn't happen. People will be saying the same thing again once tourney time rolls around. Pressure will be there to continue improvement and growth. And that's the way it should be.

Aggie volleyball should be a program well received by NMSU fans. They have been a consistent winner. And that should continue to be the case this year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Receiver to DB?

You would figure that this is an option for the team. They have so many wideouts it's not even funny.

Chris Buckner is a decent example but he wasn't in their top flight of receivers anyway. There are other guys who would make great safeties or cornerbacks just based off pure athleticism.

I think that Mumme believes he really needs all these weapons on offense to have a legitimate shot at winning. They are just so deep here it's silly. The secondary had problems last season and didn't really add anyone of significance. You would have to figure that they would have the same problems yet again unless the new coaching staff is simply filled with miracle workers.

We'll see how Buckner does in his transition to the secondary. Apparently, they are trying him at safety. It's not an issue of athleticism for Buckner. He has the talent to cover people. But will he tackle? That's always the question for receivers making the move. Good defenders seek contact and love hitting. If Buckner has that passion, he could make a legitimate DB for the Aggies.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Attack of the WAC

I have to say, I think the New Mexico State Aggies have the potential to be good. A team nobody wants to face. Would you want your team facing a foe that can drop points in a hurry? I'm talking 50. This team can drop 50. But here's the thing.

The WAC is tough. It goes seven deep, and I count NMSU in that seven. Utah State and Idaho. Uhhh, no. They don't seem to be there. But the other schools are my friends.

I still like Boise. Look out for junior receiver Jeremy Childs, who put a blow torch to the Aggies last year. And we all know about Ian Johnson.

Fresno will be good. They always are a hard nosed team. And look out for Nevada. Who's going to that game on Oct. 11? NMSU in Reno, should be a shootout. Both team can put up points, particularly if Colin Kaepernick is the starting QB for the Wolf Pack. The game last year in Las Cruces was up and down with no end in sight....Until a missed Aggie FG at the gun.

Hawaii is the wild card for me. I don't know what to expect from them but my initial gut feeling tells me they have a down year. I think the Aggies could be up on them this year, especially with the game being in LC. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about Louisiana Tech. I think they are a sleeper team who is going to be a pain for the big dogs. I think La. Tech cracks the top 4 in this conference and I think when they come to Las Cruces in November it will be a big game for both teams. Mark it down.

San Jose will surprise as usual. Kevin Jurovich had a monster year last season. 85 grabs for 1183 and 9 TD's. Those are huge numbers! And they had no ground game. Yonus Davis returns for the Spartans after an injury sidelined him in 2009. But they need a QB.

And that's where the Aggies have an edge over a lot of these teams. They have a certifiable quarterback in Chase. There are question marks with a lot of QB's in the WAC. NMSU has one. So does Fresno and Nevada. But you need a quarterback to win in football. So that will be a key position to keep an eye on this year for all WAC teams. Only if Chase gets hurt will you have to concern yourself with the hometown team.

I will say that the conference is competitive. It will be hard for the Aggies to move up a ton in the standings. They will have to exceed expectations. In other words, win more than 5 games, four being in the division. Good luck in the WAC. It's tough.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New look

Anyone who has been out to Aggie practice has noticed the defense has been running a ton early on. Joe Lee Dunn wants his players in top shape and is putting them through the gauntlet early on.

Right now, this seems to be the first unit as practice hits just its fourth day on Sunday.

Down linemen: Rhyan Anderson, Dylan Moss and Ka'ua Adolpho. Also seeing snaps is E.J. Cannon.

Linebackers: La'Auli Fonoti, Nick Paden, Jason Scott

Secondary: Davon House, Brennan Baiamonte, Derrick Richardson, Alphonso Powell and Vince Butler. Again, last year's starting cornerback Chris Woods is out with a shoulder injury. He's expected to be on the shelf until midseason. Ben Bradley also made some plays on Saturday and Chris Buckner is trying to make the transition from wide receiver to DB. He made one nice play that stood out at practice as well.

Moss and Adolpho saw limited playing time last year and Cannon redshirted.

Paden and Scott are both newcomers.

Baiamonte and Powell didn't play much while Butler battled injuries and inconsistency.

Scott is undersized but said that he takes pride in the mental aspect of the game and tries to be the most prepared on the field day-in and day-out. He was in perfect position for an interception on Saturday during passing drills and had the ball slip through his hands. Still, the team was fired up after the play.

The secondary played well in practice on Saturday. They were active and enthusiastic about being on the field. I know it's early but the unit is working hard to get better and running all the time. House said that at the end of each practice the defense runs 40's for 3 minutes and 15 second, then does up-downs for 1:45. Then back to the 40's again, then back to up-downs. They do the routine for 15 minutes and everyone is absolutely gassed afterwards.

Dunn said that he wants his team to be tough physically and mentally. Doing those drills in the heat should do the job. He also said he will play 15 guys if that's what it takes and if that's what the talent pool is. We'll see. But it definitely is a more intense look from last season, and a needed change.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brennan Baiamonte

Brennan Baiamonte really didn't play last year. That's about to change.

New NMSU defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn said that Baiamonte will get significant action this season, probably even start. Baiamonte played in all 13 games last season as a backup but frankly, I don't remember him seeing the field at all. Unless of course you count the Crimson Game.

Baiamonte is long and has a nice build for a football player. Dunn said that the safety ranks right up there with any Division-1 college football player he has ever coach. He also sighted fellow safety Derrick Richardson and defensive end Rhyan Anderson in the same category. The difference is that both Richardson and Anderson saw significant action last year.

It will be interesting to see Baiamonte in action this fall and early in the season. It appears that he will play a big role in the new system. The secondary will need to hold strong and is already thin - cornerback Chris Woods is out until the middle of the year with a shoulder injury. Everyone will have to step up, none more than Baiamonte.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

5 things to watch for

As the Aggies are set to kick off fall practice on Thursday, here are five key elements to look for leading up to the season:

1) Defense: This is a no brainer. If NMSU can hold teams to under 30 points per game, they will win their fair share of games. This is two-fold, because in the Aggies' case, a good offense can make a good defense. Go up by 14, put a team in pass-first mode, and the D will be better. But at the end of the day it comes down to this: Can the defense win a game or two by themselves? You figure the NMSU offense can pocket at least four games if everybody is healthy. The defense will need to step up as well and steal a couple contests if NMSU is serous about being bowl eligible.

2) Kicking game: This will help the defense as well, if Kyle Hughes can boot balls inside 5-yard line on kickoffs. he has the leg to do it, but will he be on the field? Last year his grades were an issue. Here's to hoping that isn't the case again. Today, someone asked Hal Mumme what freshman can make the biggest impact and he replied kicker Jordan Davenport. Apparently, he has a leg that's comparable to Hughes. Either way, whoever's booting that ball needs to do a better job than what the team has done in the past. This area has been a mess and must be corrected. But I feel if Hughes is on the field, people will be impressed.

3) Offensive line: Losing two players like Mike Martinez and James Farrelly will make an impact at both offensive tackle positions but the question becomes, how big of an impact? The team has two solid leaders on the line with center Richie Bolin and guard Polo Guitierrez. Starting tackles remain a question but that's what camp is for. This unit needs to come together and keep Chase Holbrook standing and throwing the ball downfield. For me, this is a position that could make or break this team. They have to protect Chase and let the passing game fly if the team hopes to be successful.

4) Overall team health: Holbrook needs to stay healthy, but don't underestimate the players around him. On the line, the receivers, led by Chris Williams, the running backs. Defense too, which is extremely thin. Any losses at any position along the defense and it will be felt throughout the entire team. Last season saw injuries mount, making most weeks a lost cause all together. I know some people are tired of hearing about it but there is no denying how things played out. Winning without your best players is tough, really tough. The impact Aggies need to stay on the field.

5) Mumme's job security: Again, this is impossible to ignore. Hal's record in Las Cruces has not been good. 8-29 to be exact, with four of those wins coming against 1-AA teams. Just one on the road. He has to win. It's not a knock. It's a fact, as Division-1 sports are a bottom line business. He will feel the heat if the team is floundering by midseason. Last year the reality was this: Things were going well, all things considered, until the Aggies went to Boise and got roasted. Injuries hit and things just weren't the same. Points won't be a problem but the defense and kicking game need to improve. If they do, the Aggies can get six wins. That's not out of the question at all. But it has to happen. Otherwise, things could fall apart.

No denying that this is a big year for NMSU football. But lets enjoy it. Practice is here and it's a time to be excited. Hope to see you out there.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Hoops schedule

I have to say, I'm excited about the basketball schedule on tap for the Aggies this year.

I have to give Menzies credit here. Away games at Kansas and USC? That's great stuff. I also love the game at Long Beach and hosting Pepperdine. Those are some scrapiron programs which I'm all about.

The only thing I wish was that some more marketable teams came to Las Cruces. I'm tired of watching the Aggies beat up on the Prairie View A&M's of the world. But NMSU wants to get its name out there to a national audience. No better way than to play the national champs and a team like USC. Hopefully, NMSU is competitive in these games. That will only help. Last year's Duke game was fun, but the Aggies got beaten badly.

Tough to look this far ahead, but going to Hawaii to finish the season right before the WAC tourney is tough. They also go to La. Tech on Feb. 26. Those are two hard travel days right at the end of the season. And lets not forget, WAC tourney is in Reno this season. Totally different ballgame.

Excited for the football season and hoops isn't as far away as it may appear. Good time right around the corner.