The New Mexico State Aggie football team opens up its 2016 campaign on Sept. 3 against the UTEP Miners at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, in the 94th edition of the Battle of I-10.
Offensively, NMSU returns AP All-American third-teamer Larry Rose III, who last year rushed for a school record 1,657 yards on just 239 attempts, which was good for a 6.9 yards-per-attempt average.
“I got stronger. I’m weighing in at 190 (pounds), and I’m definitely ready to take on the load,” said Rose, who broke the NMSU single-season rushing record as a true sophomore. “We have so many weapons, so we just have to figure out how we are going to be running our offense. Whoever it is, we’ll be capable and I’m excited.”
Junior Tyler Rogers will start at quarterback for the Aggies. Rogers is coming off a year in which he only played in three games before sustaining a season-ending injury against New Mexico. Rogers looked much improved before going down for the season, as he led NMSU to 47 points in the overtime loss against UTEP a year ago.
Rogers will have a plethora of weapons to throw the ball to, with newcomers Jaleel Scott and Johnathan Boone looking to produce immediately along with returnees Gregory Hogan and Tyrian Taylor at wide receiver.
“Foundationally, this program is as good as it’s ever been,” said NMSU head coach Doug Martin at a media day event earlier this month. “It’s all about winning football games now.”
Defensively, the Aggies welcome former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani into the program as the team’s defensive coordinator. Spaziani has almost 40 years of experience coaching defenses, most notably serving as the defensive coordinator at Boston College from 1999-2008, before replacing Jeff Jagodzinski as head coach in 2009.
Spaziani does have his work cut out for him. The New Mexico State defense gave up 45 points per game to opponents last season, which was the third-worst average in the nation. The good news is the defense returns eight out of its 10 top tacklers from last season. The linebacker corps looks to be the strength of the defense, with sophomore Terrill Hanks, juniors Derek Ibekwe and Dalton Herrington, and senior Rodney Butler all having at least 50 tackles last season.
The team will look to avenge last year’s heartbreaking 50-47 loss to UTEP in its season opener this year. The Miners are coming off a 5-7 season, and will start Fresno State transfer Zack Greenlee at quarterback against NMSU.
“I hope our team has a chip on their shoulder, that they want to go out and prove how good they are,” Coach Martin said. “They saw how close they were last year… four games that were less than a touchdown. As long as it’s a healthy chip on their shoulder, I’m all for that.”
UTEP has a star running back of its own in El Paso native Aaron Jones, who ran for 1,321 yards his sophomore year in 2014. UTEP head coach Sean Kugler, who played at UTEP from 1984-1988, is looking to improve his coaching record against NMSU to 4-0, while extending UTEP’s winning streak in the rivalry to eight games.
Saturday’s game will have a 6 p.m. start at the Sun Bowl. NMSU fans can purchase tickets at the Pan American Center ticket office starting at $15.