I picked up a Sports Illustrated from the beginning of the year. It was the college football preview edition. I flipped to the WAC.
Where was New Mexico State? At the bottom of the barrel. The magazine predicted them to finish 1-11 overall (with that one win coming over Prairie View it would seem), 0-8 in conference.
Phil Steele predicted NMSU to finish last overall.
OK, this isn't meant to bash either publication because I love both. The point is that it needs to be pointed out that, yes, the Aggies have been playing better than people expected, at least from a record standpoint. The team has three wins! And they'll get one more this year, mark it down. I said at the beginning of the year that this team would pocket four wins overall. No need to change that. Four wins! That's more than they got last year and they had a ton of more talent last season.
And I spoke to some diehard Aggie fans at the beginning of the season. The vast majority were split into two camps. Some said the team would win zero, maybe one game. Some said the team would win six to eight. Whoever said six to eight is just a blind fan. They just throw gaudy numbers up there because they feel it's their duty to be unrealistically optimistic.
Four was a challenge, yet a good measuring stick. If they got four, they were on the right track and there would be reason to believe. So far, I still think the team has exceeded expectations, even with the last two losses being straight-up bad.
It's our nature to look at every contest with a microscope and get caught up in this detail and that detail and break down what the team ran on third-and-three from their own 33 down 10-3 in the fourth quarter. You know, that's what makes all this fun. You get lost in it.
But at the end of the year, look at where the team is. And then look at what was expected of the team four or five months prior. A lot of people thought this team would muster just a single win - if they were lucky. Well, they've done better than that. And there's still five games remaining on the schedule.
Three-phases....an upgrade: You know, people can talk all they want about the season and what they think needs to be better and what isn't very good and what has been nice in the wins. But nobody can deny this: The defense has been a whole lot better from past years. If you play well in all three phases of a football game - offense, defense and special teams - you have a chance to win games. You can even get outplayed in certain aspects of a game, but if you're steady in all three phases, you still can win. We saw it when NMSU played Utah State this year.
The Aggies have been better in this area, as broad as it may be. They have played more together and the games they won - well, the UNM and Utah State games - they saw contributions from all three phases.
The defense, it's been so much better. And they don't really have a ton of talent. They have some nice pieces, sure, but do they have a flat-out stud? I don't think so. But they play as a team, they play with a passion and they fight. They've overachieved! And I mean that as a compliment. This defense has gotten more out of its pieces than many expected. And again, the team will win one more game this year. And the defense will have a lot to do with it.
Offense hasn't progressed: This has been discouraging to this point. The offense hasn't really progressed and one would think the unit would have at least gotten better by this point of the year. One could make the argument they have in fact gotten worse.
Walker said on Tuesday that the team will almost certainly not play Tanner Rust this year. Those waiting for or believing that he will get a shot, don't hold your breath. And really, what would happen if this kid got in this year? Would it make a difference? If you were living in a fairy tale, yes, but a realist would have to say a true freshman stepping into a situation like this wouldn't turn things around. Unless of course he was Superman.
Has it been all the quarterbacks' fault on offense? I don't think so. I really think the team has failed to go downfield more often. I really think Walls would be an effective downfield thrower if given time. If there was one thing I would like to see change from an offensive perspective, it would be that. How many 20-yard-plus passing plays has the team recorded this year? Off the top of my head, I'd say five. And I think that may be generous. It just isn't enough. Please open it up more.
No one can take away the season Seth Smith has had on the ground. I am worried about his workload and the physical pounding he has taken though. The kid just runs hard and into contact. And everyone in the building knows he's getting the ball. Tough way to make a living on that one. We'll see how he holds up, and also how he holds up next season. Sometimes those things catch up to you further down the road than one would expect.
Hey, lets see how the offense grows the last four WAC games of the year. It will be a crucial evaluation period for everyone. I wasn't expecting the team to average 30 points a game. I was expecting the team to be effective in their own way on offense and improve. So far, that hasn't been the case.