Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ANALYSIS: Aggies stayed course, yet didn't dominate, in new-look WAC

(Sim Bhullar and the Aggie men's basketball team were WAC Tournament champions in 2012-13, their third such title in four years/AP photo)

It was a respectable year in New Mexico State athletics. Although it's not as if the department excelled entirely.

While reaching three NCAA Tournaments in 2012-13, the Aggies didn't win any Western Athletic Conference regular-season championships - all postseason berths came via WAC Tournament titles, which grant automatic bids into the NCAAs.

While NMSU continued to do reasonably well in it's non-football sports - men's basketball, women's volleyball and men's golf all returned to NCAA play - it's football program remained dreadful.
And in a revamped Western Athletic Conference - one that figured to be ripe for the Aggies picking, only to provide competitive balance with all 10 league members winning either regular-season or postseason titles in at least one sport - NMSU finished fourth in the 10-team Commissioner's Cup standings (a competition that divvies up respective points based on regular-season and postseason finishes amongst league members). The two years prior, NMSU finished in third place in the annual rankings.

In this package, we take a look at the highs and lows of the 2012-13 season, as well as what to watch for entering the 2013-14 academic year:

• Three WAC Championships: While men's basketball and women's volleyball were expected to perform better during regular-season play (the two teams finished third and fourth, respectively, in the conference standings) both were also talented teams that took control to win their respective WAC Tournaments. In men's golf, the Aggies won the WAC Championship in dominant fashion, beating second-place Texas-Arlington by six strokes in a three-day competition that NMSU led wire-to-wire. Despite the Aggies' six WAC golf titles in eight years, the 2013 victory was somewhat surprising, considering NMSU's struggled during tournament play in recent seasons.

• Sun Belt Conference football membership: While the Aggies put together an impressive 2013 independent schedule, the hopes of establishing such a docket long term would have been daunting. By landing in the Sun Belt as a football member, a league New Mexico State belonged to from 2001-04, the Aggies can at least have stability with a structured schedule to provide guaranteed home and away conference games. The Aggies were also competitive during their early days in the Sun Belt, although the league has picked up it's level of play over recent years.

• Aggie football: The Aggies were an improved team in 2011, before falling off the proverbial cliff a season ago. While some prognostications had NMSU competing for a bowl game this past fall, the team won it's first contest (a 49-19 victory over Sacramento State) before losing every one after (by an average score of 38-15) to finish with a 1-11 record. Other WAC teams on similar competitive ground as NMSU - schools such as Utah State and San Jose State - continued to take major strides on the playing field, with each playing in bowl games by season's end. Head coach DeWayne Walker departed following his fourth season at NMSU for an assistant coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL. He has since been replaced by Doug Martin, as the Aggies start from scratch on the gridiron yet again.

• Spring sports: Aggie softball was clearly better than every other team in the WAC - aside from San Jose State and, more specifically, the Spartans' top pitcher Amanda Pridmore. NMSU held a first-place standing in the WAC throughout the year, only to lose five straight to SJSU to close out the schedule - three games to end conference regular-season play and then two more in the WAC Tournament. As for Aggie baseball, the team came off a 2012 NCAA Tournament appearance, although also competed in an under-rated WAC in 2013. Still, it was a ho-hum campaign, with the Aggies showing flashes of being better than the .500 team they were, but never able to seemingly win the big game. Aside from men's golf, other NMSU spring sports - women's golf, women's tennis and women's track and field - didn't finish well in the WAC standings.

What to watch for in 2013-14
• Aggie football schedule: While there was concern the Aggies wouldn't put together a quality independent football schedule for the upcoming season, the exact opposite took place. The team's home schedule could be the best in program history, or at least in recent memory: Teams such as Minnesota, San Diego State, Boston College and Rice all come to Aggie Memorial Stadium, as well as UTEP, Idaho and Abilene Christian. Such a lineup gives Aggie fans some marquee names to watch for this fall, and hopefully some competitive play from the home team.

• Basketball back to the NCAAs: New Mexico State's men's hoops team could very well make it's fourth trip in five years to the NCAA Tournament. For those who thought the WAC was weak last year, just wait until the 2013-14 version is unveiled, with team's such as Chicago State, Texas State, Grand Canyon University and Missouri-Kansas City as a handful of programs that'll make up the 2013-14 conference membership. The Aggies also bring back a talented team to the table, with Daniel Mullings, Sim Bhullar, Renaldo Dixon, Kevin Aronis, Remi Barry, Tshilidzi Nephawe, Terrel de Rouen and some reinforcements at point guard hopefully taking the court. While NMSU typically has the physical talent to be a quality team, the hope is this season they take the next step (as in, advancing in NCAA Tournament play).

• Taking home trophies: While the train of thought was the Aggies being a top-tier athletics program in the 2012-13 Western Athletic Conference, they should flat-out dominate next year's edition of the WAC. While the league might be bottom of the barrel from a competitive standpoint, it should at least give NMSU a chance to rack up plenty of conference-championship trophies and NCAA Tournament appearances.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg


Anonymous said...

See the former Aggie QB landed in a lower division Illinois school. Glad to see that he will get to play this season.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said he wanted to get closer to home, etc.

Then he moves to a time zone or two away?!
I guess he knew he wasn't going to be the #1 QB and fed us a bunch of family BS.

Oh well, good luck

Anonymous said...

Where's the whack job who predicted Manley was headed back to Hawaii? Wrong two years ago. Wrong again.

Anonymous said...

Well that "whack job" was correct Anon3:25pm.

Andrew left Las Cruces went back to Hawaii and talked to UH who didn't need him then he went to Illinois .

That whack job never said that he was going to stay in Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

Yeah,where's the hack that predicted Manley was going back to the islands!? IDIOT!!

I'm glad he will get to play somewhere but, the bulletin board he gave unm & utep right after the spring game was un-necessary....especialy if he's not going to be around and back it up!!