Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Darkhorse on the O-line

I got an offensive lineman to keep an eye on this year. Sioeli Fakalata will be a starter at right guard - an intriguing move for a player that has shown flashes in the past.

Fakalata was a defensive tackle his freshman and sophomore years and actually played the position well. He's very athletic for a big man, standing at 6-foot-3, 321 pounds. Two years ago, Fakalata played in all 13 games for the Aggies, making 20 tackles - three for a loss - and also recording two sacks. Some would say 20 tackles isn't a lot. For a defensive tackle, playing in a 3-4 defense - which is what they ran under Woody Widenhofer - 20 tackles, for someone who wasn't even a consistent starter, is a very fair number. At that position, you can make one tackle all game but still disrupt the offense consistently. We won't say Fakalata was the second coming of Casey Hampton - the Aggie defense was miserable with or without him the past three years - but he showed ability as a big, athletic player in the trenches. Last season he sat out with an injured shoulder.

So, now they moved him to offense. I think this is a move that could pay dividends. Frankly, the team could probably need him on the defensive line as is. But this is a unit that is undersized on the offensive front. Go ahead, get on me for saying that you need some 300-plus pounders on the offensive line. Guess what? You do. You need some hogs who are gonna push the pile. Fakalata will bring that to the interior - or at least he should at 6-3, 320. A team that runs the ball, you want some bulldozers. Hopefully, Fakalata can bring a little bulldozing mentality to the a unit that is changing its personality.

Speaking of which, I spoke to Michael Grady on Tuesday night. Mike will start at center for the Aggies this year after playing tackle and center last season while the unit was ravaged by injury. He will enter camp as the team's starting center.

"It's gonna help out a lot," Grady said of the playing time he got last season. "I know what to expect, not only from myself but from the competition too. Mentally, I'm a lot more ready to go."

I asked Grady about a team changing offensive philosophies and how that effects the offensive line.

"As a unit, we can do it," Grady said. "We can run the ball. It's kind of an old-fashioned style of football."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Keep an eye on these key spots

With the start of fall practice just a little more than a week away, I want to let you, the fan, know what five things regarding the Aggies I will keep a close eye on as camp unfolds

1) The quarterbacks: Uh, this is one of the most obvious things I've ever written on my blog. Who won't have their eyes on this position? Years ago, I used to say that in football you really didn't need a great quarterback to win. I have changed my view on the issue. A team is ultimately a reflection of its quarterback play. Bad performance here will sink a squad and exceptional performance can put one over the top.
The candidates to play under center are Jeff Fleming, Trevor Walls and Tanner Rust. NMSU doesn't need the QB to blow the doors off Aggie Memorial Stadium, the Aggies just need competent play here - limited turnovers, good decision making, strong leadership skills. And a grittiness. No style points here. Just a football player who earns the respect of his teammates and the Aggie fans. Those are the very best quarterbacks, regardless of what the stat sheet might say.

2) The offensive line: I will keep a close eye on this unit because I think, behind the quarterback, it will be the most important position on the field this year for NMSU.
First off, NMSU is making a major transition in offensive schemes, from a pass-happy outfit to one which will mix in the run much more. This change will be felt along the offensive line, you can count on it.
The unit was also very banged up last year and loses two good players and leaders - center Richie Bolin and guard Polo Gutierrez. So it will look much different than a year ago.
Also, I believe the unit is a bit undersized. The group's biggest player is guard Joe Palmer, who stands at 6-foot-3, 308 pounds. I know, this is not small for regular human standards, but along college football lines, it's not very big. Only three lineman top 300 pounds.
Tackle Kyle Smith played well last year when he was in the lineup and Michael Grady is versatile. Tackles Patrick Blount and Joel Buschmann have shown ability in the past.

3) Linebackers: This unit is thin across the board. Starting at middle linebacker will be Mayfield High School graduate Ross Conner. A backup during his time at NMSU, the senior Conner will fill in for the injured Nick Paden. A lot will fall on Ross' shoulders this year as the team's defensive quarterback.
Outside linebacker Jason Scott was solid last season and is versatile. He will see time on the weakside and also in the middle. If the team had too, Scott could line up in the secondary as well. He's undersized, but he's a football player at heart.
The other outside linebacker spot will come down to Jamar Cotton and Sam King. They will battle it out at this position, and I like Cotton to come down with the starting spot.
Depth is an issue as well here. The team doesn't have a whole lot of linebackers on the roster and the ones they do have are inexperienced and unproven. If Scott, Conner and Cotton stay healthy and on the field, this position should be OK. But it's highly unlikely all three will be at 100 percent all year. It's just the nature of football that guys go down.

4)Defensive safeties: I am intrigued by two players at this position - Junior Fasavalu and Stephon Hatchett. Part of the reason I am so intrigued is because they really haven't played at all during their time at NMSU and now they will be thrust into significant roles at the safety position.
Will both start? It seems like that is yet to be determined, although it also seems as if they are in the running. Freshman David Quiroga was moved from wide receiver to defensive back this offseason to add depth and competition at fall camp.
Good defenses are built up the middle of the field. That is, strong defensive tackles, good play from the middle linebacker and good safeties. And I do have concerns about NMSU going up the middle of the field.

5) Special teams: I truly believe if the Aggies are going to be competitive this year, they aren't going to be pretty doing it.
That isn't a knock on the team. Actually, a lot of good football teams aren't pretty. Winning is beautiful no matter how it's viewed and that should be the bottom line, not style points.
With that being said, a resourceful special teams unit is a must. Capitalize on makeable field goal attempts, pin the opposition deep punting the ball and don't give up big returns on kickoffs.
On the flip side of the coin, strong return games are a must as well. It's all about field position. Even if a return man gets the ball up to the 50-yard line on a kickoff and the Aggies go 3-and-out, at least they swing the field and put the opposition in a dubious hole.
It's won't be the prettiest aspect of the game and it certainly will be overlooked, but good play on special teams will keep NMSU in some games this year.

Also of note: I am looking forward to seeing the running backs this fall - Marquell Colston, Tonny Glynn and Seth Smith....The quarterbacks are important but finding some reliable targets in the passing game will also be huge. Receiver play will be watched....The defensive line is young. But they will have to be tough....Who will outplay the other at the No. 2 cornerback position? That spot will be up for grabs between Jonte Green and Chris Buckner.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Man in the middle

I spoke with Ross Conner today, who will be starting at middle linebacker for the Aggies this season.

This is a great opportunity for Ross and I can't help but be happy for him. He's a local guy, who played at Mayfield. Now he gets to start for NMSU as the the team's middle backer. You could just hear his enthusiasm through the telephone.

“I'm extremely excited,” he said. “I welcome the pressure on my shoulders. The (middle) linebacker in this defense has a lot on his shoulders and I'm ready for that.”

Ross has big shoes to fill in replacing Nick Paden, who made over 100 tackles last season for the Aggies. Ross is a bit undersized, but he will make up for it with heart and hustle. It will be interesting to see him start a full 13 games for the Aggies in the middle.

I also spoke with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey today. He's certainly an old-school coach who has a ton of experience in the NFL. He said that his primary job heading into the fall will be developing depth behind Jason Scott, Conner, Jamar Cotton and Sam King.

It looks like Scott will be a swing linebacker, starting on the weakside and backing up Conner in the middle. King and Cotton will battle during fall ball for the other starting linebacker position.

The concern is if any of the starters go down, where does the team go from there? This is not a very deep position and it looks like just about all the linebackers on the roster will be asked to contribute in some way shape or form. It's inevitable that the backups will be asked to go in and hold down the fort throughout the season.

I will have a story on Lindsey online on Thursday and in Friday's edition of the Sun-News.


I also spoke with Aggie safety Stephon Hatchett last week.

Stephon intrigues me as a player. I know that Hal Mumme was high on him two years ago at Gallup camp and Hatchett played well in spot duty the past two seasons. He was a wide receiver in 2007 and a running back/defensive back during his high school career in Newport News, Va.

He was moved to defensive back last year and he said on the phone last week that he never felt totally comfortable there last season. Now, he feels more up to speed and said that playing receiver actually helped him defending the pass.

“The transition to DB was easy because I knew what (the opposing receiver) wanted to do because I played that position,” he said. “I actually think it helped a lot.”

Both Hatchett and Conner are key to the Aggie defense. Football defenses need to be strong up the middle of the field — D-tackle, MLB and safety. NMSU is very light on experience at these key positions. At least these players are excited about the opportunity here. Their development will dictate how much progress the Aggies make as a team in 2009.

Monday, July 20, 2009

LaVorick Williams

On my last post on cornerback Eric Hunter, a reader (IC) asked what's up with LaVorick Williams.

It turns out that Williams is not going to be on the Aggies after all. According to coach DeWayne Walker, the Aggies weren't in a position to give Williams the full scholarship the wide receiver needed.

Fans were excited about Williams being back in the fold after it seemed like he would leave the program with the departure of former coach Hal Mumme. At the end of the day, the receiver won't be in Las Cruces.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Eric Hunter leaves team

Also just wanted to let people know that NMSU freshman cornerback Eric Hunter has left the team.

Hunter, according to coach DeWayne Walker, was homesick. Hunter is from Los Angeles.

He didn't figure to be in the mix this season, as the Aggies are fairly deep at cornerback. Walker was reportedly a big reason Hunter came to NMSU to begin with.

Still, it's noteworthy for some out there who had the freshman on their radar entering fall practice.

Preseason poll

Alright folks. Just filled out my pre-season WAC football poll and faxed it to the conference office. For those who don't know, there are two preseason polls, one the media votes on and another that the coaches vote on. This is how I think it will line up:

1. Boise State
2. Louisiana Tech
3. Nevada
4. Fresno State
5. San Jose State
6. Hawaii
7. New Mexico State
8. Utah State
9. Idaho

Offensive player of the year: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Defensive player of the year: D'Anthony Smith, DT, Louisiana Tech

A few thoughts

1. Lets start with the Aggies, who I expect to be selected last by both the media and coaches when both polls are sorted out. Why? Well, the team is virtually starting over from scratch, with a new coaching staff and new personnel at key positions — QB, WR, middle linebacker, safety. Expectations around the conference aren't very high for NMSU. There are always surprises during the year, however, and I think that the Aggies finishing in seventh place constitutes as such. Here's my opinion: I think that the Aggies will beat Idaho in Week 1 and Utah State in Week 6. Really, the Aggies finishing in seventh is contingent upon them beating the UtAgs, as many have USU being a much improved team in 2010, possibly contending for a top-5 position in the conference. The only way NMSU finishes above them in the league standings is if they beat them at Aggie Memorial. I also have NMSU upsetting either Fresno State or Nevada at home. The pick here is Nevada, as the game is later in the season with the possibility that the Wolf Pack will be overlooking NMSU. We shall see.

2. The second "surprise" in my poll is Louisiana Tech finishing in second place, although I am a believer in this team. I think defensively they will be strong and offensively they have some weapons. Look out for running back Daniel Porter and wide receivers Phillip Livas and Cruz Williams. The Bulldogs will be more explosive than people realize in 2010. All four conference road games will be key for La. Tech; They go to both Utah State and Idaho, which isn't easy — just ask NMSU fans last year about those two road trips. They also visit Nevada and Fresno State. I don't know if they have to win both, but if they are to finish above both of these teams, winning here is preferred. I do see a major upset on the horizon here though — Nov. 6, hosting Boise State on ESPN. Very interesting.

3. Boise State does not move anywhere from their perch at No. 1. Why would they? The Broncos remain the class of the WAC and will roll through the competition again.

4. Nevada, Fresno State and San Jose State will remain solid teams and be in the postseason bowl hunt.

5. Hawaii slips out of the top-5.

6. Moore, Smith, POY: Moore is an easy choice. Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick will put up eye-popping numbers this season, but the Wolf Pack won't overtake Boise. And I do question Kaepernick's durability this season — he is involved in a ton of plays offensively, both throwing and running the ball. Moore, on the other hand, won't put up the same gaudy numbers, but his stats will be big none-the-less. And Boise's domination in the conference is tough to ignore.
As for Smith, just ask the Aggie offensive line how tough he is on the interior. Polo Gutierrez specifically mentioned Smith after last season's game between the two teams as being one of the toughest defensive tackles he's ever gone against. Smith led all La. Tech lineman last year in tackles with 65 and sacks with 5. And at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, he effects the game well beyond the stat sheet. Behind any good defense is a strong defensive tackle as its backbone. My pick is Smith.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The running backs

Regardless of who the quarterback is for the Aggies in 2009, the team will need good play from its running backs.

Again, NMSU needs to play mistake-free with the football. And in order to do that, they need a consistent effort from the ground game.

I like Marquell Colston out of the backfield. He's a physical runner who isn't afraid of contact. Can he carry the load? Last year he battled injuries throughout and led the team - yes, led the team - with 82 rushes. That's not very many for the team's leading ball carrier, but that's the way things were last season at NMSU. The backs were banged up and the running game was on and off.

Colston showed what he was capable of last year when the team picked up a win at Nevada. He carried the ball 24 times for 125 yards, caught three passes for 22 yards and scored two touchdowns. It was a beastly effort. If Colston can stay on the field, he has the skill set to be a No. 1 back.

I also am a fan of Tonny Glynn, although he had a down year last season. Simply put, he found the doghouse and was never able to break out of it. It never seemed like he got a chance and when he did get on the field, he was plagued by fumble problems. Two years ago, Tonny was very good before getting hurt three-quarters into the year. He was a gamebreaker for the Aggies, best used when he got the ball out in space, one-on-one with a defender on the outside. Did he benefit from playing in the “Air-Raid.” I think he did a little. But a player like Glynn can be effective when used correctly and if he's given a fair chance this year, he could be solid. In the spring he was given the ball and made some runs which was good to see.

There is also Seth Smith, who didn't play last season because of grade issues. He should be back in 2009 and could get some carries as well.

People have questions about the quarterback position, about the offense in general and if it will move the ball enough. The reality is that the offensive line and the running backs will determine just as much success the Aggies have as the QBs do. The running game needs to lighten the load, even carry the load at times. The team is fairly deep at this position and I expect all three players to see significant action in 2009, as long as they stay healthy. They will face a lot of eight-man fronts and will have to run into some brick walls. That's part of being a running back. If they can grind it out, move the chains and control the clock, it will really be a big plus for the offense.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The quarterbacks

Lets take a look at the quarterback situation at NMSU this season with fall practice less than three weeks away.

Do the Aggies need a quarterback that sets the night on fire? No. They need one who can be a leader, move the chains and not make a ton of mistakes. It sounds simple, but finding the right one often provides its challenges.

It's a toss up between three players: Junior college transfer Jeff Fleming, redshirt freshman Trevor Walls and true freshman Tanner Rust.

Fleming and Walls seem to have the inside track, simply because they are a bit more seasoned. Fleming is mobile, Walls is a better pocket passer. Walls was recruited by Hal Mumme, who really liked the quarterback's ability last fall and was excited about his potential. Walls stands at 6-foot-5, 207 pounds. I thought during spring ball that he looked like the better of the two QBs.

Fleming is more athletic and can move outside of the pocket. He can gain yards on the ground after leaving the line of scrimmage. Do the Aggies prefer his athleticism? Maybe so, but he was more erratic than Walls throwing the ball during spring work.

Rust is intriguing. He is a great athlete who comes highly touted out of San Diego. Coach DeWayne Walker said that Rust would compete for time during fall practice but that redshirting remained a possibility. I would say yes, he will redshirt, unless he simply outplays both QBs during fall practice and his ability is impossible for the staff to ignore this season. But don't forget this about the Aggies: This year, in many respects, is one of rebuilding. As much as fans don't want to use that word, this team is not as talented as some of its conference counterparts. What's the point of throwing the freshman into the fire when it will likely be a tough year regardless? You want your quarterback of the future playing his best years when the team is on the rise, not wasting a season when things are in transition.

I think we will see a two-quarterback system for much of the year. Fleming and Walls can both do different things well and can give defenses a different look. Is it ideal? No. The hope is that one takes over the reigns and leads the team. We will keep close tabs during fall practices.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another cornerback in the mix; The linebacker situation

It looks like Chris Buckner will also be in the mix and possibly start at cornerback.

"Buckner is also in the hunt at corner," coach DeWayne Walker said via text message on Sunday. "He and Green will battle."

Buckner impressed me last year when he stepped forward and voluntarily moved from wide receiver to defensive back. He wanted to get out on the field and felt like going to the other side of the ball gave him a greater opportunity at playing time.

In the end, it didn't. Chris made just five tackles last season and broke up one pass. Still, the potential is there. Buckner is a good athlete and looks like he could play the position effectively.

Again, Davon House will start on the other side as the team's No. 1 cover man.


The linebacker position looks like an area of concern.

I like Ross Conner as a player. Ross has a high motor and is a local guy. You gotta pull for him.

But, at the same time, he will have big shoes to fill when replacing Nick Paden as the Aggies' middle linebacker.

Jason Scott should be effective once again and has a nose for the ball. Last year he was a good player in Joe Lee Dunn's defense.

But Scott and Conner have the same battle to fight - a lack of size. Both stand at 5-foot-10 and just over 200 pounds. It is an issue.

There is also not a ton of depth at the position. I would expect Justin Alford and Jamar Cotton to see the field as well. After that, the roster has just three other players listed - Boyblue Aoelua, Sam King and Numi Lolohea.

This is a concern for me. This unit will have a lot of fight in it. But how will it stack up against the competition? And what will happen at midseason, when guys get banged up and the lineup becomes shuffled? On paper, it doesn't look good.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The cornerbacks

I've written this before: I think the New Mexico State Aggies are going to get strong play out of their cornerback position this year.

Here's the situation: Davon House is a junior and has been starting since his freshman season. Davon has gotten stronger and has become a better player over time. He should be a leader on the unit and could be an all-conference performer. He has a knack for the big play.

I'm also excited to see the play of Jonte Green at the other cornerback spot. Green is a redshirt sophomore who is expected to start at the other corner spot. The coaching staff was high on him coming out of spring ball and I expect him to step in and perform immediately.

Another intriguing player is Eric Hunter, a freshman, from Los Angeles, Calif. Will Hunter play right off the bat? Tough to say, but the talent is there for him to make an impact.

It's going to be wild to see the transformation the Aggies make this year on the football field. They will be much better defensively. One of my biggest complaints the last few years was that the talent wasn't dispersed evenly throughout the roster. The team would have seven receivers who could make plays and two defensive backs who were forced to fend for themselves. Things will be more balanced this year.

NMSU needs to be steady throughout all phases of its game. That means having a good ground game, to not turn to ball over when throwing, play stout defense and a have kicking game that plays field position battles well. Will it happen overnight? No. Are the pieces starting to be built? I think so.

Can't wait for Week 1. I really can't wait anymore.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wendell McKines

NMSU basketball player Wendell McKines is writing that he will play this year despite being behind credit hours in the classroom.

Wendell does the little things right on the basketball court. He's the team's best rebounder hands down and has turned himself into an effective offensive player. He's a "glue guy," the type of player that can energize a team with his style of play. It seems like many times the club needs a spark, Wendell is there to pick them up. Whether it be tracking down a loose ball, grabbing an offensive board to give the Aggies another possession or throwing down a rim-rattler, McKines brings that electricity to the court that is essential in basketball.

While Wendell put up strong numbers last year - he was the only WAC player to average a double-double - his contributions go beyond the box score. Wendell is the type of player that doesn't need to ball in order to be effective. While that doesn't always add up on the stat sheet, it does equal winning basketball. Guys like that are a luxury to have on your team.

Is he going to play? He seems optimistic that he will. Time will tell. I know the Aggies want him on the court, but also believe that a year of conditioning and working on his game will make McKines a force to be reckoned with when he does return.

I, for one, think that Wendell needs to be out there. He's arguably the most important piece to the team. They wouldn't be the same without him.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Pat Hill

Fresno State coach Pat Hill has a solid reputation around the country. Still, some Fresno State fans question Hill's playcalling, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. And maybe fans aren't the only ones.

Here's the thing with sports and success. It's all relative. For instance, New Mexico State football fans would be head over heals to have a season or two that the Bulldogs are accustom to having. Fresno State fans are trying to catch the Boise State's of the world. In a nutshell, fans and programs are always looking to get to the next level. Who can blame them?

It is a fine line though. It's tough to win every year. Some years are better than others, some years are down. Does Fresno State lean on the side of caution on offense? Maybe. Probably. But you can't argue with Hill's success, can you?

The guy has won consistently at Fresno. He's recorded 85 wins in 11 seasons with the program. He's taken them to bowl games year in and year out. Fresno always has a solid batch of talent and moves players on to the NFL. Yes, Hill does run the ball a lot. That's his formula. Once again, the Bulldogs have a stable of running backs this year and they will lean on them now more than ever. Hill's philosophy is simple: Play well along the lines, run the ball well, get mistake-free football from the QB position and stop the run on defense. Is it flashy? No. Does it win games? Yes.

I think a lot of frustration comes from last year, when Fresno State was considered to be a WAC favorite, even possible a BCS bowl team, and failed to live up to the billing. It almost gave Hill the stigma of being a good coach who couldn't take his team to an elite level. Is it fair? I don't think so, and I don't think it to be true either. But when expectations are high and you fall flat, that can happen.

Last year was a disappointment for the program. The team actually got off to a nice start. Wins at Rutgers, Toledo and UCLA put them at 3-1, the one loss coming 13-10 to Wisconsin. Something happened during WAC play however. First off, the Bulldogs dropped the conference opener, at home, to Hawaii. Not a good start to league play at all. And they simply didn't play well against the conference's elite. They lost by three at Louisiana Tech, then came home the following week and fell to Nevada. At Boise State the last week of the season was tabbed as a possible conference decider prior to Week 1 of last season. It was anything but. Not only were the Bulldogs out of the race by that time, they got pummeled on the Blue Turf as well, a 61-10 loss. And then they lost the New Mexico Bowl to Colorado State. They finished 4-4 in the WAC and beat the bottom feeders. And they struggled in some of those games as well.

Right or wrong, this seems to be a big year for Hill. I still believe that he's a solid coach and someone who can get the job done. It's just how that old saying does — the grass is always greener on the other side. Taking Hill's success for granted could be a mistake by Bulldog fans.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Abdoulaye N'doye

From my understanding, basketball player Abdoulaye N'doye will be on the NMSU campus shortly.

The 7-foot-1 African center could possibly be at NMSU by the second summer session and will almost surely be here by the time school starts.

N'doye, a native of Senegal, never made it to Las Cruces last year. His arrival would give NMSU another big body in the frontcourt.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Utah State

It seems that a lot of people are picking the Utah State football team to be a breakout program in the WAC this season. Here's what I think....

I think the UtAgs were a lot better last year. They finished 3-5 in the WAC and the case could be made that they should have went 4-4. They beat Idaho, NMSU and Hawaii all at home. They also were extremely competitive with Fresno State and Louisiana Tech, losing to FSU 30-28 and to Tech on the road 45-38. Either one of those games could have gone to Utah State.

This year, the team brought in a new coach, Gary Anderson, who was the defensive coordinator at Utah. Anderson comes from a strong program and has the reputation of being a good defensive strategist and recruiter. The program believes Anderson can recruit with Utah and BYU in the same region.

He takes over a team that has some talented pieces formed by former coach Brent Guy. Guy was fired after last season but did not leave the roster without skill. Offensively, the UtAgs have an underrated player in quarterback Diondre Borel. I actually think Borel was the single reason USU made the turnaround it did last season. He was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 4 and the team promptly went on to blow out Idaho 42-17. He injected the offense with some needed spunk and energy and made them difficult to defend. Borel is a mobile quarterback who is tough to gameplan against. Bringing him into the fold was a good move by Guy and probably overdue. Anderson hired former New Mexico offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin to open things up for the UtAgs. USU will spread the field and hope to take advantage of Borel's playmaking abilities. He will be a junior this season and will need to exceed last year's performance if the UtAgs are expected to take the next step.

Another key to the team moving forward will be its performance on defense. Last year, Utah State was terrible on this side of the ball, surrendering 34.7 points per game, eighth in the WAC (Idaho was ninth at 42.8; NMSU seventh at 34.1). This is where Anderson comes into the fold. Although Guy had a defensive background upon his arrival at USU, Anderson will bring a fresh perspective and, the hope is, better results. The team shuffled its personnel in the offseason. One was moving running back Curtis Marsh to the cornerback position. Another was moving around some pieces on the defensive line, some defensive ends to tackle and linebackers to end. The moves were designed to generate more speed on that side of the ball. Clearly something had to be done with the personnel here, as this was a major weakness in 2008.

Here are the keys for the UtAgs:

1) The performance of Borel. He also needs to stay healthy and avoid the big hits that can happen to a mobile quarterback.

2) The defense needs to be better, a lot better. If the team surrenders over 30 points per game again, they will not be much improved.

3) The team's success against Utah and BYU are important. Although not WAC games, USU has suffered from being a “third wheel” within its own state. Utah and BYU remain powerhouse programs in the Mountain West, but nothing will open eyes faster than being competitive with these two teams and perhaps even pulling off an upset here. It will be a tall order, as both games take place on the road this season.

4) Obviously, playing well in conference is a must. They host Nevada, La. Tech, San Jose State and Boise State. The game versus BYU is on ESPN. Gotta love the nationally televised contest in Logan. It's scheduled for Nov. 20. On the road, they come to Las Cruces, go to Idaho, Fresno State and Hawaii. It's a tougher road schedule than advertised. I'm looking forward to seeing them at NMSU (Oct. 10).

Where can the team end up? They could finish in the Top-5 in the conference. Frankly, I can't see them finishing higher than fifth. They could also finish in the bottom three. They are one of the more intriguing teams as the 2009 season approaches and one WAC program to keep an eye on.