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New Mexico 2021 Season Preview

Year 2 of the Gonzales era

NCAA Football: New Mexico at San Jose State Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The calendar has flipped to August, and for college football fans that means that the season is quickly approaching.

That used to be a bad thing for the University of New Mexico football fans, as August meant the prospect of another bad season wasn’t too far away. That may have changed with Danny Gonzales taking over at the helm last season.

The Lobos finished 2-5 in the COVID-19 shortened season, but each of those wins were in the final two contests of the regular season, so UNM is riding a wave of momentum into this season.

Offense:

The Lobos will roll into the fall with experience at quarterback, no matter which direction they choose to go. Right now, many are projecting Kentucky transfer Terry Wilson Jr. as the starter heading into the season. Wilson started 25 games at Kentucky going 17-8. He completed 65% of his passes while with the Wildcats, throwing 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

If Wilson does not win the starting job, the Lobos still have Austin Apodaca, who led the Lobos to those two victories last season.

One player that they will rely on, but in a different role is Tevaka Tuioti. Tuioti left the game against Hawai’i last season with a concussion and did not return for the rest of the season. Earlier this week Head Coach Danny Gonzales announced that Tuioti is going to be an assistant coach this season after not being cleared still from the same concussion. Tuioti will work with the quarterbacks and offense this fall from the sidelines.

Bobby Cole will lead the ground attack this season, with Aaron Dumas and Chad Alexander backing him up. Outside of Cole there isn’t much experience at running back, but they are a small and fast group that can be a challenge to cover in the passing game.

The Lobos return two starters at receiver with Emmanuel Logan-Greene and Andrew Erickson. Logan-Greene caught 30 passes last season, while Erickson hauled in 18, but caught about every jump ball thrown to him. Those two will be flanked by Missouri transfer Cjay Boone, who is fast and tall, something Wilson will be looking for down field.

Reason for optimism:

It will be because of the experience Wilson brings to the table. He has seen a lot of SEC defense in his 25 games with Kentucky, so he has seen just about every package that defenses will be throwing at him. His solid play will lead to a huge season for UNM.

Reason for concern:

The lack of experience at running back is concerning entering the season. Bobby Cole is returning, but behind him are two backs that have not seen action at the FBS level. Meaning that it would behooves the Lobos to get those back behind Cole as many touches as possible in the non-conference portion of the season.

Defense:

It will be year number two under Rocky Long’s tutelage and the defense looks to pick back up where it left off at the end of last season. New Mexico’s defense totaled eight sacks in the season finale against Fresno State. That will be something that the Lobos will hope to accomplish in each game during the upcoming season.

Reason for optimism:

It will be because Jerrick Reed II lived up to the preseason hype and led the defense on a tear in the Mountain West Conference. Reed is on the preseason All-Mountain West Football Team announced in July, and near the end of July was named to the Thorpe Award watch list for this season. The defense will feed off Reed’s energy and leadership, how they perform will have a lot to do with how #9 performs.

Reason for concern:

Reed is the leader of the defense, but he won’t be able to do it alone no doubt. If the Lobos cannot improve their pass defense from 2020, then it will be another long season in Albuquerque. The Lobos will face some high-flying offenses in 2021 and need to keep the passing yards allowed to a minimum if they want to be bowling come December.

Schedule:

September 2nd……Houston Baptist

September 11th…...New Mexico State

September 18th……@ Texas A&M

September 25th……@ UTEP

October 2nd……...Air Force

October 9th……….@ San Diego State

October 16th……...Colorado State

October 23rd………@ Wyoming

November 6th……...UNLV

November 13th…….@ Fresno State

November 20th………@ Boise State

November 26th………Utah State

Thoughts:

This team feels like it is building into a contender. It may not be there this season, but Lobo fans should be happy that they see improvement, even over last season. Although picked to finish last in the Mountain Division of the MWC by the media at Media Days, the Lobos should easily eclipse the two-win mark that the achieved each of the last two seasons.

The fact that both regional rivals are on the schedule should get Lobo fans excited. Having New Mexico State and UTEP on the schedule should bring back memories for older Lobo fans and help younger Lobo fans build on the rivalry of yesteryear.

Certainly, the two blaring games on the schedule are the September 18th matchup with Texas A&M—hello money game—and the November 20th game against Boise State.

It will help that the Lobos will face the Aggies with a freshman under center for TAMU, but a big offensive line and Isaiah Spiller at running back could be tough to handle. Against Boise State, I mean come on, it’s Boise State. They will be tough as usual.

The biggest factor this year over last will be the fact that the Lobos will more than likely play games at home this year. Dorothy had it right, there is no place like home, for children and Lobo football.

Prediction:

For some, Texas A&M is a contender for a National Championship this season, riding on an experienced defense and a big offensive line. Outside of that game, I feel as though the Lobos can win the other three contests in their non-conference slate.

UTEP is going to be sneaky this season and might give the Lobos all they can handle down in the Sun Bowl. New Mexico State will be tough also, but I think the Lobos can take care of business against them. Houston Baptist only played four contests last season but should be sharper this season with more practices. Still, I feel as though the Lobos can get a win in that one.

The MWC slate will be daunting again for UNM. The Lobos draw San Diego State, Fresno State and UNLV out of the West Division. UNLV is a winnable contest, but it will be tougher against the other two foes from the West. Both San Diego State and Fresno State have talent to contend for the division title this season. Inside the Lobos own division, Utah State won’t be a gimme, considering what happened between these two in Logan last season. UNM hasn’t beaten Colorado State in the last 10 meetings between the two, and CSU will have a formidable defense this season. And playing Air Force, Boise State and Wyoming will complicate matters.

I see this team being a borderline bowl team heading into 2021. Many of their games can go either way looking at them on paper. If this team is 3-1 heading into MWC play, there’s a decent shot they can pull off six wins and get to a bowl game. If it’s 2-2 or 1-3, Lobos fans shouldn’t expect but a four- or five-win club.

For me, I feel like they will get to 6-6 on this season. I like the team going 3-1 non-conference and I feel they will find a way by three MWC foes. This team is capable of proving a lot of doubters wrong, it is time to show them.