It has been a tough stretch for New Mexico football lately. The program has only 15 wins (six against FCS teams) since the last winning season in 2016 season wrapped. There is potential for that trend to move upward, but that's up to the Lobos. Below is the case of why things could change.
NEW MEXICO 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Mountain West Conference (NOTE: MWC dropped divisions this spring)
2022 RECORD: 2-10
CONF. FINISH: 0-8 (last in old Mountain Division)
HEAD COACH: Danny Gonzales (4th year at school/overall; 7-24 record)
ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Donte Martin, Sr./CB (28 tackles, 6 PBUs); Christian Washington, Soph./RB-KR (26.7 yards per kick return; top returning rusher); Tavian Combs, Soph./DB (16 tackles); D.J. Washington, Jr./WR (76 yards receiving ); Aaron Rodriguez, Jr./P (44.2 yard average); Alec Marenco, Jr./LB (26 tackles).
THE NEWCOMER: Dylan Hopkins, Jr./QB (4,000+ yard passer at UAB) — expected to rejuvenate this offense in 2023, and he also has 2024.
Let's not mince words here when it comes to the past two years. Last year the top passer at New Mexico (now departed Miles Kendrick) threw for fewer than 900 yards, 3 TDs and 7 INTs. Now the program has a 4,000-yard career passer in UAB transfer Dylan Hopkins, as stated above. That should be a big pickup as Gonzales tries to get this program back to relevance with eight total starters back. The offensive line is experienced, and there are skill players back.
In 2021? The Lobos had a fifth-string quarterback playing out of necessity. And the program hasn't had a winning season since former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie took over and in 2016 led the program to a 9-4 record, a bowl game — and it was the last season the program has been above three wins since.
Gonzales is trying, but the Mountain West Conference is no slouch league. The transfer portal is a necessarily evil and programs dip into the sin pool to get talent when they need it. It's part of the college game now. Gonzales and his staff did a good job with it.
The defense wasn't horrific last year, giving up only 26 points a game when the offense scored a putrid 13 per contest. The problem is, the defense only returns two starters, losing the top nine (yes NINE) tacklers — but DBs Donte Martin and Tavian Combs are potential league stars and they return. Washington State DL transfer Gabriel Lopez and TCU transfers Marvin Covington and D'Arco Perkins-McCallister are on board, too. It's worth mentioning, also, only Martin is a senior.
THE KEY GAME AND WHY
Hawaii at home is a biggie on Oct. 21. The Rainbow Warriors are rebuilding, just like the Lobos, and this game could settle who isn't at the bottom of a very competitive Mountain West. A close second key matchup is what is a non-conference matchup with in-state rival New Mexico State on Sept. 16 — for obvious reasons.
THE TOUGHEST GAME AND WHY
Out of conference, you dread gameday for the Lobos when they play the game on Labor Day weekend at Texas A&M, obviously a payday game. In conference, having a UNLV team with a new coach — albeit former SEC head coach Barry Odom — is a biggie on Nov. 4. New Mexico has to be looking at that matchup thinking, this could be a game that gets us to four wins and beyond.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
Zero. The Lobos will continue to build towards that with a very young roster in 2023.
You hate to use the sports cliche "wait until next year" but it serves the purpose when it comes to New Mexico. If the roster has faith in Gonzales and its staff, it could be the biggest bounce back story in one year's time — with 21 of the 22 projected starters being underclassmen. So tuck that key fact inside your craniums for 2024. If the New Mexico players buy in? They could be bowling next year.
For now? Put away FCS Tennessee Tech, a typically weak UMass team on the road, beat Hawaii at home, and beat just one other team in the league (or non-conference rival New Mexico State maybe?) and this program will have a buzz around it the entire next offseason cycle.
Don't be surprised if by December 2024, the Lobos are back in a bowl game like when Davie led them to a postseason win in 2016.
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