2019 Was Frustrating for New Mexico State, but the Future Stays Interesting

The 2019 season was a rough one for the Aggies. Opening the season on the road against Washington State and Alabama produced blowouts for paychecks, as anyone would expect. Ole Miss wasn’t as good as either of those teams, but the Ags still played an SEC team on the road with similar and predictable results.

Considering that rough start and their strength of schedule overall, a bowl berth was a long shot for sure.

The losses to San Diego State and Fresno State were frustrating because a win wasn’t expected, but NMSU beat themselves more than anything. Too many turnovers, and at the worst times, did them in much more than anything the Aztecs or Bulldogs did.

Different frustrations appeared in the close losses against New Mexico and Liberty; New Mexico got a three-point win in a game where NM State’s only turnover was returned for a touchdown, and Liberty needed two red-zone turnovers by the Aggies to get a seven-point win.

2020 and Beyond Will Now Be a Showcase for the Program

That being said, the Aggies have a lot of interesting things coming down the pipeline, and a lot of them have to do with their schedule. Let’s start with some chronology:

  1. Jan 2018, NMSU and Hawai’i agree to home-and-home with 2020 in Hawai’i
  2. Aug 2018, NMSU signs on to play at UCLA in Week Zero for 2020
  3. Feb 2019, NMSU adds a 2023-24 home-and-home vs Hawaii, with 2024 being a Week Zero game in Las Cruces
  4. May 2019, it’s announced that Nevada at NMSU in 2022 will be Week Zero
  5. Oct 2019, Hawai’i creates a 2021 in-season home-and-home with NMSU, giving the Aggies the chance to move their home game against UTEP to Week Zero, while also moving their 2023 home game against UMass to Week Zero.

Perhaps you’ve been connecting the dots, perhaps not. If you haven’t, let me rattle off the interesting details that list creates.

New Mexico State will be showcased on the Week Zero schedule of games for the next five consecutive seasons, and after next season’s opener at UCLA, the Aggies will have a nationally televised home game during Week Zero for four straight seasons.

In addition, their biggest rivalry game will be a season-opening nationally-televised home game in 2021.

Obviously they won’t have zero competition for television eyeballs during those games, but there’s a big difference between a day where there are literally dozens of other games being played (a typical Saturday) and a day where there are no more than four other games going on, even fewer of which are at the same time.

It is thus imperative to have something to show off, so winnable games (like UTEP in 2021 or hopefully UMass in 2023) are a good idea, as are off-season facility upgrades that give announcers and a relatively captive audience some specific positives to discuss.

2020 and Beyond Will Bring in Some Decent Revenue for the Program

For a program with New Mexico State’s meager budget and geographic isolation, you take gains where you can get them. In the bank account is one nice place to get such gains, and the Aggies will get that for sure in the coming seasons.

  • At least $2.525M from Florida and UCLA in 2020
  • $3.1M from Alabama and Kentucky in 2021
  • At least $2.4 from Wisconsin and Missouri in 2022

Obviously, few of these games are liable to be even competitive for the Aggies unless a crimson upswing matches a marked downturn for one of these programs, but $8+ million in revenue over three years is a respectable consolation prize.

2020 Could Also Be about the New Mexico Bowl for the Aggies

So now I’ve drifted from trying to be positive about the future to losing my goddamn mind, right? Stay with me.

The exception here is, of course, that a 6-6 record and a bowl bid is either at or very near this program’s ceiling as an FBS independent.

That being said, look again at their 2020 schedule:

Home: Texas Southern, Akron, New Mexico, Texas State, Louisiana
Road: UCLA, UAB, UMass, UTEP, Hawai’i, Fresno State, Florida

This is a favorable schedule. Here’s a table of the final 2019 S&P+ numbers for the Aggies opponents in both 2019 and 2020:

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2. Alabama (10-2) 32.6 47.1 (3) 14.1 (6) -0.3 (74)
7. Florida (10-2) 23.9 36.7 (15) 14.4 (7) 1.6 (19)
25. Wash. St. (6-6) 11.4 42.4 (5) 33.3 (94) 2.3 (4)
33. Louisiana (10-3) 8.9 36.3 (16) 28.6 (71) 1.3 (31)
53. Ole Miss (4-8) 2.8 28.6 (70) 24.0 (42) -1.8 (119)
61. San Diego St. (9-3) -0.2 14.7 (127) 16.8 (17) 1.9 (11)
73. Hawaii (9-5) -3.1 34.3 (30) 35.9 (113) -1.4 (110)
78. UAB (9-4) -3.3 17.6 (120) 20.6 (28) -0.4 (78)
80. UCLA (4-8) -3.6 28.9 (66) 32.2 (88) -0.2 (71)
81. Fresno St. (4-8) -3.7 30.9 (47) 33.5 (96) -1.0 (98)
86. CMU (8-5) -4.4 26.0 (79) 29.1 (73) -1.3 (107)
87. Liberty (7-5) -4.4 29.9 (54) 34.2 (100) -0.1 (68)
89. Ga. Southern (7-5) -4.6 23.4 (98) 27.8 (64) -0.2 (69)
118. Texas St. (3-9) -14.9 18.1 (118) 32.7 (90) -0.3 (73)
119. New Mexico (2-10) -17.5 20.5 (108) 39.5 (123) 1.6 (21)
127. UTEP (1-11) -26.2 17.7 (119) 43.9 (129) 0.0 (61)
129. Akron (0-12) -29.9 7.7 (130) 35.3 (108) -2.3 (125)
130. UMass (1-11) -33.7 15.7 (125) 49.0 (130) -0.5 (84)
Teams in bold were 2019, teams in italics are 2020, teams with both are both.

In 2019, the Aggies faced only two teams (plus Incarnate Word) who were in the bottom 25 of both offensive and defensive S&P+ and went 2-1 with a three-point loss to UNM.

Next season, they’ll face four teams (plus Texas Southern) that fit into that category this past season, none of whom return enough meaningful production to indicate a massive upswing in quality.

Texas State will likely also wind up in this category since they finished 118th on offense and will graduate literally every meaningful contributor from a defense that finished the season 90th.

Not only that, but after opening on the road against UCLA and UAB, four of the five lowest FBS teams on that list (New Mexico, Akron, UTEP and Texas State) occur in four straight weeks, and the only road game is a 45-mile hop to El Paso.

I’ll update this opinion once we know exact numbers on returning production, but that’s an FCS win and five games that will be a toss-up at worst.

Add in their deal with the New Mexico Bowl, which allows the “local and far more likely to sell tickets” Aggies to be chosen regardless of what the Mountain West or Conference USA does, and the path looks a bit brighter than usual.

2021 Could Conclude the Grand Audition

The Aggies are also creating a Notre-Dame-style niche in the Mountain West landscape. The Aggies have a 115-year-old rivalry with New Mexico, but last season NM State also played Wyoming and Utah State, and this year they played San Diego State and Fresno State.

In the next five seasons, the Aggies will play USU, Wyoming, SDSU and Fresno a second time each, SJSU and Nevada twice each, and New Mexico and Hawai’i five times each.

Even without realignment, by the end of the 2024 season, the Aggies will have played eight of the 12 MWC teams at least twice in seven years. In 2021 alone, they’ll play six MWC teams a total of seven times.

That’s nearly a standard schedule for a Mountain West program. If your goal is to audition for a conference, a great way to do so is to play a bunch of games against that conference.

Obviously, if you don’t win any of those games it might not be a successful audition, but you have to give yourself the opportunity first, and that has been done.

This year and last year weren’t pretty. When your margin for error as a program is as razor-thin as it is for an FBS independent, it doesn’t take much more than a tougher than average schedule and horrific turnover luck to turn a mediocre record into a horrible one.

The upcoming seasons are much more competitively scheduled, and the Aggies have an annual advertising opportunity baked into the mix that will give them the sort of national exposure and relatively upward mobility that could do meaningful things for the program.

Oh and by the way, if you sign on to play at New Mexico State as an incoming freshman in 2020, you’ll get to travel to Hawai’i three times in four seasons even without a bowl game.

Just saying.

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