NMSU, 3-8 last season playing in the Big West, is joining the Sun Belt Conference for 01 and will be knocking heads with the likes of Arkansas State, Idaho, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe and Middle Tennessee. This program may not be the caliber of Texas, but they dont shy away from competition. After opening on the road at Louisville, the Ags take on the Sporting News pick for the 01 national title, Texas, and follow that up one week later in their home opener with Sports Illustrateds pick for No. 1, Oregon State. Coach Tony Samuels, who played at Nebraska from 1975 to 1977, is determined to put Las Cruces on the football map, and the plan evidently is to become the best by playing the best. You gotta hand it to them for that.
But getting there could be kinda painful. The New Mexicans figure to be overmatched at about every position when they hit the sod at Royal-Memorial Sept. 1. But one area where they may test the Horns will be with their option rushing attack. If Texas has a concern this season, it is right up the gut on defense, between Marcus Tubbs and undersized Maurice Gordon, or whoever spells Gordon at the left tackle position. And it just so happens the Horns opening day opponent can do some ground-gobblin.
NMSU features a Nebraska-style, I-formation ground game which produced some impressive numbers the last couple of seasons, finishing in the nations top 10 in rushing in both 99 (7th) and 00 (6th). Last season, the Aggies posted four of the top-10 single game rushing totals in school history, with the 450 they rung up on Tulsa being the second-most yards ever gained on the ground by an NMSU team. The guy who should get most of the work against Texas will be senior RB Kenton Keith, 5-11, 189, who averaged 7.8 yards per carry last season, gaining 876 yards on 109 carries. Keith notched 122 yards on 37 carries against Louisville in the opener, but left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. If Keith plays against Texas, hell follow the blocks of fullback Keeon Johnson, a 5-11, 218 senior from Spring. QB Casey Enzminger, a 6-1, 200 senior, totaled the most career rushing yards ever by an Aggie QB with 1029 so he can take it and go as well.
Against Louisville, a 45-24 loss, the Ags showed the blueprint for how they will try to attack Texas, keeping the ball for over 37 minutes and pounding the Cardinals for 407 yards rushing. But the Cardinals turned four NMSU turnovers into touchdowns, including two fumbles returned for TDs, one from 87 yards and one from 82, and blanked the Aggies in the second half.
Enzminger and the Ags will take it to the air on occasion also. They finished 17th in the nation in total offense last season, with Enzminger hitting on 111 of his 236 passing attempts for 1454 yards and 15 TDs. His top two receivers are Manwell Talbert, a 6-2, 205 senior (26 catches, 360 yds, 4 TDs) and junior PJ Winston, 6-0, 181 from Commerce (34 catches, 553 yds, TDs). Winston snagged a 33-yard TD from Enzminger to give NMSU a first half lead against Louisville in the opener. The Aggies outgained the Cardinals 544 yards to 373 on the night, but couldnt overcome the turnovers.
Defensively for the Aggies, keep your eye on LB DeWayne Taylor, 6-0, 209, a pre-season All-Sunbelt selection, and tackle Tommy Laborin, 6-3, 302.
[Editor's note: Mack Brown's comments on the Aggies of NMSU, plus IT's NMSU game picks are coming later in the week.]