Friday, December 9, 2011
To the offseason: Aggie football faces new questions — and expectations
Another season is over for the New Mexico State Aggie football team — a 4-9 campaign that was somewhat successful.
The Aggies showed improvement and, for the most part, competed better.
For the first time in some time, there’s a base for optimism amongst fans.
Now, the program faces a big offseason.
Here are some questions for the team, with the 2011 schedule officially in the books.
1) Andrew Manley’s health: This drop-back QB with a big arm tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a Week 3 loss against UTEP. It’s a serious injury — a full tear of the ACL and a partial tear of the MCL — that can sideline a player anywhere from six to 10 months. With that time table, Manley’s availability for spring practices could be in question.
With a healthy Manley and Travaughn Colwell, the Aggies would appear OK at quarterback next year. An unhealthy Manley, however, and the position becomes a question mark.
2) Areas of need: The Aggies will have to replace their entire starting secondary — cornerbacks Jonte Green and Courtney Viney along with safeties Donyae Coleman and Ben Bradley. Coleman was a first-team All-WAC selection, while Green made the second all-conference team. The secondary was the strength of the defense and at least gave NMSU something to hang its hat on.
Head coach DeWayne Walker has talked about the need to upgrade the entire front-seven on defense, and the team just needs more lineman period — both offensive and defensive — to provide depth and give them a fighter’s chance each week in the trenches. The entire right side of the offensive line — tackle Aundre McGaskey, guard Sioeli Fakalta and center Mike Grady — will have to be replaced going into 2012.
3) Coaching changes: Well, you knew this was coming. The Aggies must find a defensive coordinator, defensive line coach and offensive line coach after three assistants left the program earlier this week. It’s doable, although the Aggies could use an experienced and versatile teacher to run their defense next season. Finding such a candidate can be hard for a school that paid former defensive coordinator Dale Lindsey $70,000 last year — well-below market value for a Division I coordinator. Walker was able to grab such a coach last offseason, however, when he hired Doug Martin to lead the offense.
4) Kicking game: We hate to pile on, but we’ve also said it 100 times — the Aggies have to be good in this area and they simply weren’t good enough last season.
Something happened to kicker Tyler Stampler, who was consistent within his range two years ago but struggled badly in 2011. In all likelihood, those struggles became an internal issue for the kicker. In any event, the Aggies need to hit makable field goals — and extra points.
As for punter Jake Capraro, he was inconsistent. One week it would look like he was getting it, the next he would hit a 9-yard flubber out of bounds. It didn’t seem like the Aggies won many field position battles.
5) Continued improvement: Again, 2011 was a somewhat successful year — and also was a year that could have been more.
While a four-win season exceeded the expectations of many, there were also four additional winnable games — vs. UTEP, at San Jose State, vs. Nevada, vs. Utah State — that the Aggies lost. Winning all four would have been a tall order, but splitting them would have given the Aggies a 6-7 record — which surely would have qualified as a stunner.
The truth is, if the Aggies make as big of a jump this offseason as they did last year, a six-win mark in 2012 is very possible in a reinvented Western Athletic Conference.
The one thing we can say is this: Where it stands today, the Aggies face yet another big — and busy — offseason.
A game-by-game look back at the past year’s 4-9 Aggie football team:
• Week 1 vs. Ohio (L, 44-24): Aggies are beaten soundly by solid Bobcats team.
• Week 2 at Minnesota (W, 28-21): Nothing short of a shocker, and a signature win in the DeWayne Walker era.
• Week 3 vs. UTEP (W, 16-10): In a game the Aggies should have won, UTEP pulled a fake-punt out of their hat.
• Week 4 at San Jose State (L, 34-24): A game the Aggies could have won.
• Week 5 at New Mexico (W, 42-28): Twenty-one first-quarter points puts the Aggies on top for good, over a miserable UNM team.
• Week 6 vs Idaho (W, 31-24): Travaughn Colwell leads second-half offense, defense makes goal-line stand.
• Week 7 at Hawaii (L, 45-34): Aggies are competitive in what’s usually a house of horrors.
• Week 8 vs Nevada (L, 48-34): A tale of two halves — NMSU up 27-20 at intermission, outscored 28-7 from there.
• Week 9 at Georgia (L, 63-16): Bulldogs score 42 second-quarter points as Aggies fall to SEC foe.
• Week 10 vs. Fresno State (W, 45-41): First win in NMSU’s history over Fresno State, this one coming in a shootout.
• Week 11 at BYU (L, 42-7): Cougars score 14 points in final 3:30 of the first half, run away from Aggies in the cold.
• Week 12 at Louisiana Tech (L, 44-0): When it rains it pours — Aggies lose awful game in Ruston.
• Week 13 vs. Utah State (L, 24-21): Aggies play hard, fall short to bowl-bound Utah State.