Statistically the Aggies have shown great improvement in certain areas. But the area the team has made the biggest improvement in is attitude.
Ask any coach, any player and they all agree that attitude is everything.
"I just like this team," says head coach Tony Samuel. "We have more quality leaders on this team than last year."
"The whole character of our football team is better," says offensive coordinator Barney Cotton. "They work harder and they believe in themselves more. In the past, bad things would happen to us, but we almost expected bad things to happen. These guys figure out how to win close games."
"The guys we have now stay positive," says senior co-captain and starting offensive guard Shalimar Jackson. "This is the first year since I've been here where I could call everybody on the team my friend. We've never had that around here."
The team's character has been tested nearly every week this season.
The Aggies got off to a 1-3 start, but those three losses came on the road to South Carolina, California and Georgia. All three of those teams are or have been ranked in the top 25 this season.
The Aggies have won 4 consecutive games since that start, but in the last 3 victories, the team has had to battle back from behind to win.
The California duo came into the season having to replace senior and 3-year starter K.C. Enzminger. Enzminger was a proven leader that finished his career ranked in the top 3 in career total offense and passing yards.
Pierce started the year in spectacular style, earning Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors after compiling 271 yards in total offense against #18 South Carolina. But Pierce went down with a shoulder injury the following week against Cal, forcing Dombrowski into action.
Dombrowski started against New Mexico in week 3 and ran for 136 yards in an emotional 24-13 win over rival New Mexico.
Pierce would return to action in a limited role against Georgia and then full-time against UTEP. The two shared the position equally against UTEP, rotating every play on certain series. The result was a 49-14 thrashing of the Aggies rival to the south with the duo combining for 189 yards passing and 67 yards rushing.
Again Pierce became injured, this time in the first quarter against UL Monroe. Dombrowski has played most of the last three games as the starter, but Pierce is ready work his way back into the lineup.
Does it mean that a quarterback controversy is in order in Las Cruces? Don't bet on it. "As long as Buck is healthy, he's the starter," says the younger Dombrowski. "He's a great quarterback and I've learned a lot from him."
While Pierce has been frustrated by the injury bug, he agrees that it has allowed Dombrowski to develop into a top notch quarterback.
"It's tough because you work so hard to get to where you want to be and then you have to watch. Paul has really come around. There is a lot of pressure and focus on the quarterback in our offense. He's doing some great things right now."
While the time out of the lineup has been tough on Pierce, both quarterbacks have benefited in one way or another.
"He does a real nice job in teaching me the little things," says Dombrowski. "He doesn't try and do too much. He always keeps me up."
"You always have to get something out of each situation," says Pierce. "If you don't, you're wasting your time. You can learn about some things that you can't see when you are out on the field."
While the highly competitive situation could cause friction among the two players and carry over to the team, the duo has handled the situation and been a good example for the rest of the team.
"I think it does set a good example," says Pierce. "We are all out for the same goal, to play in the bowl game on December 17.
"It's kept us growing together," says Dombrowski. "We pull for each other. The team is the most important thing."
Veteran tight end Alex Davis reflects the team's confidence in both quarterbacks.
"We are as confident with Paul in there as when Buck is in there," says Davis. "Buck came into the same situation that Paul came into. People questioned his (Buck's) ability at the beginning of the season and then he put on a great performance at South Carolina. Paul came in and we handled UNM pretty well. I think there is no question he is as capable as Buck at running our offense."
The results on the field have been as successful as their relationship off the field.
Dombrowski has already set a school record for most yards rushing by a quarterback in a season with 546 yards while completing 57 percent of his passes.
Pierce has yet to throw an interception in his two seasons as Aggie quarterback, a school record streak of 122 passes. This season he has completed 67 percent of his passes for 572 yards and 4 touchdowns