Month: November 2014

New AD jumps on board

NMSU President Garrey Carruthers announced on Monday the hiring of new athletic director Mario Moccia, who replaces McKinley Boston effective January 5th. Moccia, an NMSU graduate of 1989, was previously the athletic director at Southern Illinois University, and also has administrative experience at other Division I schools.

Moccia is looking for the Aggies to compete in every area–on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. He’s very good at drumming up support in the community, and his status as a former Aggie himself will give him a boost with alumni and other supporters.

At this point, any leadership change was sorely needed. Boston was incredibly passive and low-key about pretty much everything. He improved our student-athlete graduation rate and our NCAA Academic Progress Report (APR), but never got any substantial success from any major sports (besides men’s basketball and volleyball). Football is an annual problem, and mostly that was due to Boston’s ineffectiveness as an administrator and his general inability to provide financial resources to a struggling program.

Moccia went on the record as saying that he refuses to accept that we simply can’t be good in football here in the Mesilla Valley. He’s supportive of what Doug Martin is going to do, and he’s willing to help out with facility improvements and such, so we can compete at a high level with other Sun Belt Conference teams.

All our other sports (except for equestrian) are still in the Western Athletic Conference, and Moccia is keeping us in that conference for the time being. In the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics, stability is a must, and I believe that Moccia will do a much better job of keeping all our teams competitive in the WAC.

Football-wise, Martin has said that we still need renovations to the locker rooms and the press box at Aggie Memorial. There’s also the added issue of recruiting; hopefully, Moccia will help get us where we need to be. I can tell that Coach Martin is happy to be able to work with him.

Aggie Up!

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The surprises

So as I’ve mentioned previously, no one has been safe, and there have been plenty of surprises in the 2014 college football season. The mighty have fallen, and the weak have fought hard. Who’s in? Who’s out? That’s the real question as we inch closer to bowl season.

THE GOOD:

NC State Wolfpack (ACC): The Wolfpack became bowl-eligible last week after crushing Wake Forest 42-13, and it looks like they’re finally hitting their stride under second-year coach Dave Doeren. His hurry-up offense has worked wonders, and while his team is still very young, there’s plenty to like about him and his method. He’s also an excellent recruiter, and there’s no doubt that the Pack will be fighting hard against powerhouse ACC programs for some of the top recruits in the south.

Virginia Cavaliers (ACC): The Cavs needed a big year to save Mike London’s job, and they’ve responded. Their defense is young but tenacious, and London is one of the top recruiters in the conference. There’s still work to do, but UVA is heading towards being a contender once they mature on both sides of the ball.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten): Never underestimate Jerry Kill–his Gophers have become relevant (again) behind a hard-nosed running game and an opportunistic defense. They played tough against Ohio State in the middle of a blizzard last weekend, but now both Nebraska and Wisconsin are up next.

TCU Horned Frogs (Big 12): The Horned Frogs’ offense has rocketed them to national contender status–46 points per game is nothing to sneeze at. Despite a last-second loss to Baylor, TCU is still a top five team, and they play two of the conference’s weaker teams (Texas and Iowa State) to finish out the year. Also, they scored 82 against Texas Tech–yes, you read that correctly.

Utah Utes (Pac-12): The Utes, coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons, didn’t give up and have gotten back into the Pac-12 race in a muddled (but highly competitive) South Division. This team is 7-3 overall, notching huge victories over USC, UCLA and Stanford. The Arizona Wildcats are up next.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Big Ten): The Scarlet Knights weren’t expected to do anything entering the Big Ten, but coach Kyle Flood has kept his team focused, and they’re bowl-eligible at 6-4. Flood got a contract extension early this season after a strong start, but he must amp up his recruiting game if they truly want to compete in the Big Ten for the long haul.

Air Force Falcons (MW): There were serious questions about coach Troy Calhoun’s future at the Academy after last season’s 2-10 disaster. But the Falcons usually spring some of their best seasons when nothing is expected. Now they’re 8-2, with momentum-changing victories over Boise State and Nevada.

Georgia Southern Eagles (SBC): The Eagles have been bulldozing opponent after opponent, and are undefeated in Sun Belt play, with their only losses coming against NC State, Georgia Tech, and Navy. Coach Willie Fritz is both a proven winner and a great recruiter.

Western Michigan Broncos (MAC): The Broncos have bought in to energetic coach P.J. Fleck, and a year after going 1-11, they stand at 7-3 (5-1 in the MAC). Fleck landed the best recruiting class in conference history last year, and he’s ready to cement WMU as a consistent player in the conference race.

Memphis Tigers (AAC): Memphis is still very much a basketball-centered school, but there’s no denying what they’ve been building on the gridiron this year. Coach Justin Fuente’s defense has really made its mark as a strong unit, and quarterback Paxton Lynch gets better every day. The Tigers currently sit atop the American conference standings–ahead of more-established programs like East Carolina, UCF, and Cincinnati.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (C-USA): Skip Holtz had a mediocre debut last season (4-8), but now the Bulldogs are 7-3 and a perfect 6-0 in conference play. One thing’s for sure: it’ll be one for the ages when they face undefeated Marshall in the conference title game.

THE BAD

Syracuse Orange (ACC): Ever since Doug Marrone left to coach in the NFL, the Orange have been mediocre, going 10-13 in a much tougher conference (the ACC). Is there enough gas left in the tank to return to a bowl game, or will Syracuse soon need a fresh start?

Texas Tech Red Raiders (Big 12): It’s been a nightmare in Lubbock this season, with the Red Raider defense routinely getting torched and the quarterback position not responding enough. The Raiders have sunk to the basement of the Big 12, and while popular opinion of coach Kliff Kingsbury is still high, his recruiting efforts need to be felt soon.

Washington State Cougars (Pac-12): The Cougars got to a bowl game last season, and there’s no questioning Mike Leach’s resume, but the Pac-12 has gotten so good that the Cougars (currently 3-7) have been pushed back to the bottom of the barrel. Improved recruiting and a new football complex will help, but the rebuilding project continues for Wazzu.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (Big 12): The normally potent Cowboy offense has been running on fumes in 2014, with the Cowboys getting showed up by Texas last Saturday, 28-7. Okie State is 93rd in the nation in scoring, and they enter two extremely tough games (Baylor and Oklahoma) riding a four-game losing streak.

South Carolina Gamecocks (SEC): The wheels came off early in Columbia, as the Gamecocks currently have one of the worst defenses in the country. The offense is still scoring points, and they’ve definitely had some heartbreaking defeats, but Steve Spurrier definitely didn’t expect to be sitting at 5-5 in November.

THE UGLY

Iowa State Cyclones (Big 12): The arrival of venerable offensive coordinator Mark Mangino hasn’t helped much for an offense that has been maddeningly inconsistent. After nearly beating Texas earlier in the year (they lost 48-45), ISU has only scored 28 points combined since then (in losses to Oklahoma and Kansas).

Kent State Golden Flashes (MAC): The Flashes have been plagued by injuries, an anemic running game, and simply haven’t scored enough points to survive in the MAC. Their only win was against Army on October 18th.

SMU Mustangs (AAC): After coach June Jones’s unexpected resignation early in the season, it’s been all downhill. The SMU offense can barely muster a whimper, and the defense sure hasn’t helped, allowing nearly 50 points per game. Adding insult to injury: the Ponies lost on Saturday on a touchdown pass to USF–with four seconds left. They remain winless, at 0-9.

Georgia State Panthers (Sun Belt): The Panthers have won two games in three years. Granted, one of those years (2012) was when they were still an FCS school, but beating a lousy Abilene Christian team on a last-second field goal isn’t good enough in the big-boy leagues. Coach Trent Miles is currently 1-21 overall in Atlanta.

Miami (OH) RedHawks (MAC): Any way you slice it, first-year coach Chuck Martin was going to inherit a train wreck. The RedHawks were miserable last year at 0-12, and now they’re 2-9. Martin, who came over from Notre Dame, has the experience to create something good in Oxford–but the fans will have to wait until 2015.

The Coyer Effect

If you know much about NMSU football, you’ll know that our defensive woes have been well-documented. Historically, we’ve been one of the worst defenses in the nation, and right now we’re plagued by youth and inexperience.

Still, Coach Martin continues to stress how much better we are fundamentally. And we are. We’ve got some young talent that, once mature, will be one of the best in the conference. I truly believe that.

Why? Because of defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.

If you see Coyer in person, he seems like a kindly old grandpa who might have been an iron worker in his prime (yes, that’s a reference to his blue-collar upbringing in Huntington, West Virginia). He’s somewhat short and stocky with white hair, so you wouldn’t guess that less than five years ago, he helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl XLIV.

But make no mistake, the 71-year-old brings an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to the table. The soft-spoken Coyer spent three years with the Colts, six years as a defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (under his longtime friend Mike Shanahan), two years as the defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and one season with the New York Jets in the same position.

Coyer first met Doug Martin in 1993 at East Carolina, where Coyer was defensive coordinator and Martin coached tight ends and special teams. They were impressed with each others’ resumes and stayed in touch over the years. Now in 2014, they’re both in Las Cruces, looking to mold a group of untested rookies into a battle-hardened defense.

As for NCAA experience, Coyer’s list is long as long as my arm. Let’s take a look at where he’s been:

  • Marshall (1965-1967), secondary coach
  • Bowling Green (1971-1973), secondary coach
  • Iowa (1974-1977), defensive coordinator
  • Oklahoma State (1975), defensive coordinator
  • Iowa State (1979-1982, and 1995-1996), defensive coordinator
  • UCLA (1987-1989), linebackers/secondary coach
  • Houston (1990), secondary coach
  • Ohio State (1991-1992), secondary coach
  • East Carolina (1993), defensive coordinator
  • Pittsburgh (1997-1999), defensive coordinator

Coyer is a fundamental, old-school guy, and that is reflected in his coaching style. He’s also great at coaching his assistants, which is something that Martin explicitly said he was looking for. And as good as Will Martin, Kerry Locklin, and Zane Vance are as assistant coaches, they’re even better with Coyer overseeing the operation. I have confidence that Coyer can turn things around on defense, as long as we keep recruiting the athletes that we need. Also, the defensive assistants are really solid recruiters, and they’ve obviously got a great selling point: “Hey, kid, you wanna come play for a guy that spent 13 years in the NFL?”

I’d sure say yes.

Recruit until you get it right…

This past week, the NMSU Aggies were thoroughly outplayed, losing 44-16 on homecoming night to the Sun Belt Conference’s best team, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. It was honestly really hard to stomach, as it was our eighth straight loss after starting the season 2-0.

It’s not that the Aggies don’t have some talent. Our young defense played well, but this time it was our offense that kept making mistakes. That’s been the mantra all year–self-inflicted wounds on offense that have crippled us, prevented us from scoring, and kept our young defense on the field for far too long.

Our freshman running back, Larry Rose III, has really proven himself to be a special player, despite playing through injuries. Teldrick Morgan and Greg Hogan are outstanding receivers, and both have enjoyed great seasons.

The main complaint is quarterback Tyler Rogers. I know Tyler, and I know he does his best every game and in practice, but he keeps making bad decisions in games and currently leads the nation with 20 interceptions. While other offensive players have definitely had their woes, Rogers has been a lightning rod for criticism. He’s had his moments, but it just hasn’t been enough.

The frustrating thing is that Rogers is basically our only option right now. As many of us know, Coach Martin signed six quarterbacks last February. One (Nate Grimm) transferred after fall camp, and three (Cassius Corley, Nick Jeanty, and Jalen Jones) are currently being redshirted. That leaves freshman Andrew Allen as the primary backup. Allen is a wonderful athlete (4.5 in the 40) but is extremely raw as a passer. He looked lost in the Idaho game earlier this year, and frankly, he’s the only other option we have.

Coach Martin said in the press conference that he and his staff are planning on recruiting one more QB in the Class of 2015, saying that we’ll essentially “recruit until we get it right.” And for the record, I don’t blame Martin and his staff for recruiting so many young, inexperienced players; we kind of have to at this point. But we’re in desperate need of consistent quarterback play. If we can’t get that, we won’t get anywhere offensively.

It’s reminiscent of 2013. Last year, Andrew McDonald was inconsistent and King Davis III couldn’t stay healthy, so Martin elected to start over at the position entering 2014. But in the end, it’s become apparent that Rogers is the only player who can carry an offense.

Martin has had praise for Nick Jeanty–he was our highest-rated recruit last year and has apparently looked great on the scout team. He’ll definitely be a special player in time. But right now, it’s been very annoying seeing our offense continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Martin continually stressed the turnover margin, but nothing seems to work. I ran into Larry Rose on campus last week and he explained how much he hated losing, and we both agreed that the offense needs to be more efficient.

Honestly, it’s not Coach Brandon’s fault, or Martin’s fault. The playcalling is perfectly fine, it’s just that we aren’t playing disciplined football. And the QB–the most important position on the field–isn’t doing enough.

Candid opinions, part 2

So fall weather is upon us, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and the college football season marches on. There have been no shortage of surprises and disappointments alike, and it seems like there’s been a major upset every week.

Is it too premature for me to proclaim coaches of the year yet? Perhaps, but barring any late-season surges or last-minute collapses, here we go.

ACC Coach of the Year (Atlantic Division): Dave Doeren, NC State

Doeren’s team is one of the youngest in the nation (only 19 seniors) and they’ve cooled off after a 4-0 start, but they’re miles ahead of last year’s 3-9 calamity. The Wolfpack are still in control of their own destiny, and they have a fairly soft schedule the rest of the way (Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and North Carolina).

ACC Coach of the Year (Coastal Division): Mike London, Virginia

Entering the 2014 season, there were serious questions in Charlottesville about London’s future. Despite his considerable recruiting success, the on-field product was lacking. But the Cavaliers have proved critics wrong this season, and they look like they’re building a salty defense. London seems to be off the hot seat, at least for now.

Big Ten Coach of the Year (East Division): Randy Edsall, Maryland

Edsall’s team was so-so in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten this past summer, but he’s really built something that fans can be proud of–the Terps currently stand at 6-3 overall and look to carry a lot of momentum into the postseason. Maryland is blessed with excellent facilities and they’re in an area of the country that is dripping with high school talent.

Big Ten Coach of the Year (West Division): Jerry Kill, Minnesota

Who can say enough about Kill? He’s improved Minnesota’s facilities, he’s helped change what is historically a difficult area to recruit, his staff loves him, and he’s done this all while battling epilepsy. Kill’s next job is to win the Gophers’ first bowl game since 2004. Given their 6-2 overall record, Gopher fans just might get their wish.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year (South Division): Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Fans and commentators alike have been pointing to 2014 as the year that the Wildcats begin to make serious noise. But that’s crazy, right? I mean, it’s no picnic going up against Arizona State, USC, and UCLA in the South Division. But the ‘Cats and RichRod are sitting pretty at 6-2 right now, and while it doesn’t seem like they’ll win the South this year, it’s something great to build on.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year (North Division): Sonny Dykes, Cal

The defense still needs work, but Dykes’s air-raid offense has finally taken off in Year Two, giving opposing secondary coaches fits. There’s still plenty to like about the direction of this program, and fans are noticing. The real question is what will happen during “The Big Game” against Stanford on November 22nd….

SEC Coach of the Year (East Division): Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Kentucky football is popular? Well, basketball is still king in Lexington, but there’s no denying what Stoops is building on the gridiron at UK. A defensive guru, Stoops is infusing toughness and swagger into his players, and they’re very close to being able to compete with anybody–in the nation’s toughest conference.

SEC Coach of the Year (West Division): Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Mullen has really taken the reins in Starkville, as they’re no longer the little brother in the Magnolia State. They’re just as competitive and dangerous as the hated Rebels, and the Egg Bowl rivalry game on Thanksgiving is gonna be one for the ages. Mullen, who was Tim Tebow’s offensive coordinator at Florida, has done an outstanding job molding the local talent into his offensive and defensive schemes.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU

Patterson’s TCU teams are known for their stingy defenses, but check out what their offense has done under new leadership: 48 points per game and the sixth-best passing offense in the nation. Trevone Boykin has developed into an award-worthy quarterback, and the receivers, plagued by drops last year, have vastly improved.

American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year: Justin Fuente, Memphis

I mentioned Fuente in my previous blog post as a coach on the rise. And while Memphis (5-3, 3-1 in conference) is currently playing a cupcake schedule, they’ve shown enough improvement on offense to be a bowl contender. Having a top 30 defense doesn’t hurt, either. Don’t forget: Fuente mentored the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton while both were at TCU.

C-USA Coach of the Year (West Division): Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech

Holtz had a below-average debut with LA Tech (4-8 record), and his flame burned out at USF, but he’s done a fine job at keeping the Bulldogs relevant in their second season in C-USA. Their offense has turned some heads this season, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is molding his unit into a disciplined one.

C-USA Coach of the Year (East Division): Bill Clark, UAB

Clark is a rare breed: a legendary high school coach who has done well at the NCAA level. An Alabama native through and through, Clark spent five years as offensive coordinator at South Alabama before being named head coach at Jacksonville State in 2013. After a year there, he moved to UAB, where he’s already defying expectations. He’s upgraded the facilities and recruiting, and the Blazers currently stand at 5-4–they won only five games in the previous two years combined.

MAC Coach of the Year (West Division): Matt Campbell, Toledo

Campbell, the second youngest coach in the nation at age 34, is 23-12 in two and a half seasons at Toledo, where he took over for Tim Beckman (now at Illinois).

MAC Coach of the Year (East Division): Terry Bowden, Akron

If you have the last name of Bowden, you’re automatically included on this list. Seriously, though, Bowden’s return to coaching has been good, given that the Zips are in a fertile recruiting region and have exceptional facilities.

Mtn. West Coach of the Year (Mountain Division): Jim McElwain, Colorado State

McElwain’s squad is rocking and rolling into November with an 8-1 record; their only loss was in Week Two to Boise State. But who would’ve thought that the Rams would have a better overall record than the Broncos (6-2)?

Mtn. West Coach of the Year (West Division): Brian Polian, Nevada

The Wolf Pack (6-3) are officially bowl eligible in Year Two of the Polian regime. With a vastly-improved defense, Nevada is taking advantage of a down year in the division and could be on pace to make it to the Mountain West Championship Game.

Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern

Fritz, formerly of Sam Houston State, has only been Georgia Southern’s coach since January, but his offense has been borderline unstoppable, rushing for over 400 yards per game. Their only two losses have been by a combined five points to ACC opponents Georgia Tech and NC State.