Quarterback Andrew Manley is a solid focal point to rebuild the Aggies' offense in 2012. The redshirt sophomore was the starter at the beginning of 2011 before he suffered a season-ending injury vs. Texas-El Paso in the Aggies' third game. Manley returns after throwing for 892 yards and six touchdowns on 62-109 passes, including a career-high 362 yards against Ohio in the season opener.
Joining Manley in the backfield will be New Mexico State's third-leading rusher from a year ago, Robert Clay. The senior returns after carrying the ball 41 times for 132 yards and a score. Clay's numbers should improve this season as he gets more rushing attempts and has two starting offensive linemen returning, including preseason first-team All-WAC left tackle Davonte Wallace.
Manley will have two new starting receivers this season to target. Seniors Kevan Walker and Kemonte Bateman are projected to start and have the potential for big years after both were named preseason second-team All-WAC.
Kemonte Bateman is expected to be a top receiver in 2012.
Bateman played in all 13 games in 2011 catching 28 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-1, 185 receiver also returned four punts and may become the full-time returner in 2012.
Walker is expected to play a key role in the Aggies' offense despite only having one collegiate catch for 16 yards, which he recorded while at Oregon State. After the 6-0, 195 fifth-year senior redshirted his freshman year, he played mostly on special teams for the Beavers before transferring after the 2010 season. Because of NCAA rules, Walker had to sit out last season before he could play at New Mexico State, which counted as a year of eligibility because he had already used his redshirt.
The Aggies' defense struggled last season, losing seven of nine contests in which they allowed 28 or more points. With only three starters returning, defensive coordinator David Elson has the opportunity to rebuild around a full corps of linebackers in 2012.
Bryan Bonilla led the group last year with 63 tackles, earning him preseason second-team All-WAC honors. Defensive end Donte Savage, who was named to the same team, returns after redshirting last season. The fifth-year senior recorded 36 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2010.
Despite the experience at linebacker, New Mexico State's defense is projected to be led by preseason first-team All-WAC tackle Walton Taumoepeau. The 6-3, 300-pound senior returns after starting seven of the last nine games in 2011. Playing in all 12 games, he recorded 25 tackles with 4 1/2 for lost yardage, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Key Players to Replace: Quarterback Matt Christian threw for 1,906 yards and 14 touchdowns on 128-237 passing a season ago while also finishing second on the team in rushing with 247 yards and four scores on 72 attempts. Running back Kenny Turner rushed for a team-leading 1,009 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011 on 206 carries and finished second in receiving yards with 514 yards. Wide receiver Taveon Rogers led last year's team in receiving yards (976) and catches (53) while adding nine touchdowns. The 2011 Aggies were led in tackles by safety Donyae Coleman, who recorded 110 while also leading the team in interceptions (seven), recovered fumbles (three) and forced fumbles (three). End David Niumatalolo's 12 1/2 tackles for a loss and seven sacks were team highs last season and he also recorded 67 tackles.
All-Star Candidates: Quarterback Andrew Manley (62-109, 892 yards, 6 TDs); running back Robert Clay (41 carries, 143 yards, 1 TD); Kemonte Bateman (26 receptions, 360 yards, 3 TDs); defensive tackle Walton Taumoepeau (25 tackles, 4 1/2 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); linebacker Bryan Bonilla (63 tackles, 1 1/2 TFL); linebacker B.J. Adolpho (40 tackles, 3 TFL)
Series Results: Auburn leads 2-0
Aug. 30--Sacramento State at New Mexico State
Sept. 8--New Mexico State at Ohio
Sept. 15--New Mexico State at UTEP
Sept. 22--New Mexico at New Mexico State
Sept. 29--Texas-San Antonio at New Mexico State
Oct. 6--New Mexico State at Idaho
Oct. 20--New Mexico State at Utah State
Oct. 27--Louisiana Tech at New Mexico State
Nov. 3--New Mexico State at Auburn
Nov. 10--San Jose State at New Mexico State
Dec. 1--New Mexico State at Texas State
Key Games for New Mexico State
New Mexico State at UTEP--UTEP holds a strong 52-35-2 series lead in the rivalry game nicknamed The Battle of I-10 being named after highway that connects El Paso to Las Cruces. New Mexico State will try to snap the Miners' current three-game winning streak in the 97-year-old series after falling 16-10 in 2011.
New Mexico at New Mexico State--Being the only two Division I institutions in the state, the Aggies and New Mexico first faced each other in 1894. The Lobos lead the series 66-31-5, but this season New Mexico State will look to extend its current winning streak against its in-state rival to four.
Worth Noting: New Mexico State has only made three bowl appearances in program history, all three being in the Sun Bowl.
The Challenge For Auburn: Week eight is vital for Auburn players to get some rest after playing host to Texas A&M and with Georgia coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium a week after this non-conference matchup. The Aggies aren't expected to pose much of a threat so if Auburn plays solid football the backups should have an opportunity for significant playing time and the starters should be rested heading into the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.