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The two teams that battled for the 2002 Sun Belt Conference title and will play on national television in the last league game of the 2003 season have been picked to finish first and second in the annual Sun Belt Conference Football preseason poll that was released today.

The New Mexico State Aggies have been picked to finish second, behind two-time defending conference champion North Texas.

Middle Tennessee was tabbed third, Arkansas State fourth, UL Lafayette fifth, Utah State sixth, Idaho seventh and UL Monroe eighth.

The poll was compiled from votes from the league's coaches, media relations directors and media.

Last year the Aggies were picked to finish third and finished second.

"Anyone can win the conference and that's the bottom line," said Aggie head coach Tony Samuel. "We came close last year. Every team in this league has really good talent up front."

NMSU and North Texas will play each other in the last game of the league season on Tuesday, November 25 in a nationally televised game from Aggie Memorial Stadium.

"I can see a lot of teams possibly being here in December," said Samuel. "Hopefully if things work out, both teams will be undefeated coming into the game. That would be a great scenario. But we just can't focus on North Texas, every team will be very stiff competition.

" Also A trio of senior Aggies were named preseason all-Sun Belt Conference - running back Eric Higgins, kicker Dario Aguiniga and defensive lineman Joe Olivo.

Higgins was the Aggies' second leading rusher last year and had a trio of 100-yard or more games despite missing four games due to injury. The senior I back had 499 yards, three touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards per carry in his first season at NMSU after transferring from Reedley Junior College.

"Eric had a really solid year in his first year with us," said Samuel. "As always, we'll use a lot of people in the backfield, but if Eric stays healthy, he has a chance to have a great season."

Olivo hopes to return to the form that earned him first team all-Sun Belt Conference honors as a sophomore. He has made 30 career starts and has 11 1/2 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in his career. Last year, during an injury-plagued season, Olivo had 36 total tackles including six for loss and two sacks.

"I think people will really be impressed with Joe this year," said Samuel. "He is ready to step up and have a big senior season. His work ethic this summer has been excellent and I think he will be a real force for us in the middle of our defense."

Aguiniga was a first team all-Sun Belt Conference pick as the league's leading scorer a year ago. He set a school record for most points by a kicker with 83 and was twice named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the week in 2002. Dario enters his senior season ranked third in career field goals made, just eight field goals away from breaking Day Ly's record of 40. Last year he made 17 of 23 field goals and 32 of 33 extra points. His 17 field goals tied a school record for field goals in a season.

"He is a really good solid kicker," said Samuel. " One of the reasons we signed him out of high school is because he won the state championship on a late field goal. He's a big game kicker. Hopefully he'll have a great year because I think he has professional potential."

The Aggies open the season at nationally ranked Texas in Austin on Sunday, August 31. Practice for the 2003 season opens Monday, August 3.

Also on July 31th It's Aggies After Hours In Albuquerque!

NMSU head coach Tony Samuel will be the guest speaker Thursday, July 31 at the Hyatt Regency in Albuquerque.

Hors d'oeuvres will be served beginning at 6:00 p.m. with the cost being $15.

The Hyatt Regency is located at 330 Tijeras in Albuquerque. Please RSVP by Monday, July 27 by calling the Aggie Scholarship Association at 877-N1-Aggie or e-mail the office at

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