The Aggies will be "playing up" throughout the 2013 college football season, an independent schedule on tap for an FBS program trying to find it's footing.
The tasks: beginning the year on the road at the University of Texas, followed by a home game against Minnesota of the Big Ten; the team's two rivals (UTEP and New Mexico), as well as Pac 12 power UCLA and a solid San Diego State team on the schedule - and that all comes before the Aggies' bye week in early October.
From there, the schedule does get a bit more manageable, and hopefully some wins will be in the cards when the dust settles.
For now, all we can do is prognosticate. With that, we take a look at the Aggies 2013 competition:
Date: Aug. 31
Game: at Texas
Scouting report: What a way to start. The Longhorns are going to have top-level talent across the board and, as if that's not enough, head coach Mack Brown is on the hot seat entering the new year. A Top-25 team in the preseason polls, don't expect Texas to go easy on the opposition in this one. Rather, they'll look to take things right to the Aggies.
Date: Sept. 7
Game: vs. Minnesota
Scouting report: This is going to be an important contest for Aggie football - home opener, good crowd and a new coach (Doug Martin) running an NMSU team with a new vision. Certainly it would be nice if the Aggies were to be competitive, and give the locals something to feel good about. But it won't be an easy task. Minnesota is still a Big Ten team, and for those pointing out the Aggies beat the Golden Gophers in 2011, understand these are two different clubs from that point in time. For one, Minnesota finished 6-6 last year, and went to a minor bowl game in the process (Meineke Car Care Bowl). Also, the team returns virtually their entire starting lineup from last season, and some of those returnees just might remember NMSU's 28-21 upset win in Minneapolis two years ago.
Date: Sept. 14
Game: vs. UTEP
Scouting report: Another key game for the Aggies, because it's one they can certainly shoot for. The Miners find themselves with a first-year coach of their own - former UTEP player Sean Kugler took over the reigns from Mike Price this offseason. They're breaking in a new quarterback (such a factor could dictate the entire season for the Miners) and new starters across the board on defense. The team could look to run the ball more in 2013 - Kugler is a former offensive lineman, and has coached the position in the college and NFL ranks. Aggie head coach Doug Martin has been pointing to the program's rivalry games since the day he got the job, and will get his first chance at one here.
Date: Sept. 21
Game: at UCLA
Scouting report: This is similar to Texas - power team from a power conference in a heralded away venue. The Bruins were improved last year under first-year head coach Jim Mora Jr. This big-money game will be another chief challenge for the Aggies on the 2013 schedule.
Date: Sept. 28
Game: vs. San Diego State
Scouting report: Another challenging contest for the Aggies, as San Diego State is a quality team under former University of New Mexico head coach Rocky Long. For those familiar with Long, they'll know the Aztecs will bring in a solid defense and should be prepared. A veteran roster will also be in tow. If the Aggies could get this one, it would be a huge win for their football program.
Date: Oct. 5
Game: at New Mexico
Scouting report: Can the Aggies beat UNM? Why not? After all, they've done it three of the last four years. But the Lobos were improved in 2012 under head coach Bob Davie (one of their four wins was against the Aggies, 28-14, in Las Cruces) and this year's contest will be in northern New Mexico. This in-state rivalry affair also comes after a gauntlet of games for the Aggies. A winnable contest? Sure. But far from an easy one.
Date: Oct. 19
Game: vs. Rice
Scouting report: Rice was a bowl team last year, finishing with a 7-6 overall record (4-4 in Conference USA), and return a solid core. Expect the Owls to be hunting for bowl eligibility again in 2013. Again, a tough one at home for the Aggies.
Date: Oct. 26
Game: vs. Abilene
Scouting report: NMSU has to win this football game over an FCS program that recently played Division II football. Abilene Christian does have some history behind it's program, and has put some players in the NFL over the years. While on paper it looks like a game the Aggies should win, the Wildcats might not be pushovers once they come to town.
Date: Nov. 2
Game: at Louisiana-Lafayette
Scouting report: This is a high-quality team folks. After finishing 9-4 and winning the New Orleans Bowl last year, the Ragin' Cajuns were picked to win the Sun Belt Conference entering the 2013 campaign. Aggie head coach Doug Martin said this would be a key measuring-stick game for his program - the Aggies will be in the Sun Belt in 2014, and will compete in the same Western Division as Louisiana-Lafayette. But make no mistake: the Ragin' Cajuns look to be a bowl team once again.
Date: Nov. 9
Game: vs. Boston College
Scouting report: Can the Aggies pocket a win here? It's not out of the question. Boston College was not a good team last season, finishing with a 2-10 record. While the Eagles were competitive in some of those contests, they also had a loss to Army on their resume. Martin was offensive coordinator at BC in 2012, and should be familiar with the opposition. And while the Eagles will make the trip to Las Cruces, they'll also do so between two ACC home games on their schedule - vs. Virginia Tech and vs. NC State. Yes, they're still a BCS team. But they're also a beatable one.
Date: Nov. 23
Game: at Florida Atlantic
Scouting report: Again, perhaps a winnable game for the Aggies, as Florida Atlantic went 3-9 last season. The only issues: it's an away game, and who knows where the Aggies will be from a health standpoint at this point of the season. With that being said, certainly one NMSU can shoot for.
Date: Nov. 30
Game: vs. Idaho
Scouting report: Similar to Abilene Christian, this seems like a game the Aggies have to win. They get the Vandals at home, and Idaho's in a similar position in 2013: a program that should be scratching for wins while playing an independent schedule. Who knows where these two clubs will be when they meet in Las Cruces for the last week of the season. The underlying factor here could be which team holds the better health.