Analyzing New Mexico State’s Future Independent Football Schedules

Despite going to – and winning – their first bowl since 1960, New Mexico State enters tumultuous times as an independent. Scheduling games as a Forgotten Five team is already a challenge but as an independent, the task is even more daunting. Unlike UMass, New Mexico State does not have their foot in a big TV market or the option to schedule games in an NFL venue, like UMass has with Gillette Stadium. Although New Mexico State has AggieVision, it pales in comparison to the reach of fellow independent Liberty’s TV network.

However, the Aggies have persevered and have already filled their schedule for 2018, and are two games shy of a full schedule for 2019. They have found a way to build a solid regional schedule with Power 5 paycheck games mixed in. Here is a look at all of the FBS agreements New Mexico State has scheduled through the 2021 season at this point.

New Mexico Lobos (Series Record 70-33-5 UNM) and UTEP Miners (57-36-2 UTEP): Both scheduled 2018-20XX

Part of the reason why New Mexico State was better suited for independent life than Idaho is their rivalries with UNM and UTEP. These two rivalries automatically gave the Aggies two games every year, while Idaho would have had to start with a blank slate every year for scheduling due to a lack of regional rivalries. Do not let the series records fool you, because both of these rivalries are becoming more competitive.

New Mexico State made ripples in the Group of Five with victories over the Lobos in the last two years, including one over the eight-win New Mexico Bowl champion team in 2016. The year before that, a 3-9 Aggie team went into the 4th quarter tied with the Lobos who would go on to defeat Boise State on the road and take Arizona to the wire in the New Mexico Bowl.

The Aggies have been less competitive with UTEP, as in between their last win over the Miners in 2008 and 2016, only the 2011 and 2015 matchups were decided by one score. However, UTEP is in a rebuilding mode entering the Dana Dimel era, so the Miners look to be a winnable opponent in the near future.

Utah State Aggies (30-8 Utah State): 2018, 2021

Where have we seen this opponent before? New Mexico State and the Aggies of Logan, Utah played one of the most climatic bowls of 2017 in the Arizona Bowl, and look to build on a budding rivalry. In addition to that, it is great to see a rivalry from the WAC renewed.

Next year this looks to be one of the more attractive all-F5 non-conference matchups. While it may not have the hype of Florida Atlantic-UCF or Toledo-Fresno State, this one will still be on the radar of most Group of Five fans, as it is a bowl rematch.

Wins over Utah State would make a statement to the Mountain West, as Utah State has been one of the conference’s more steady teams since joining the conference 2013. They won a division title in 2013 and have made a bowl every year except 2016, with one of those bowl appearances tallying a win over a 12-1 Northern Illinois team led by Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch. While a win here does not have the magnitude of a win over Boise State, it still counts as a quality win.

Wyoming Cowboys (47-0 Wyoming in 1953) 2018, 2024

While still a Mountain West team, this series lacks the luster of the Utah State series. Wyoming has made back-to-back bowls and returns much of their production from last year, but lacks much of the consistency of Utah State. In addition, the Aggies gain little in recruiting from this matchup, as Wyoming is far from fertile in terms of prospects. However, the Aggies can still make a statement with a victory over a Wyoming team coming off an eight-win season and a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (7-5 ULL): 2018, 2020

Wins over the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2015 & 2016 were key points in the process of the Aggies’ turnaround. In 2015, even though Louisiana-Lafayette would go 4-8, they were fresh off their fourth-straight New Orleans Bowl victory, a 14-3 win over a Cody Fajardo-led Nevada team. The win was a small statement at the time, signifying the Aggies’ rise to respectability.

ULL got better in 2016, making yet another New Orleans Bowl, and the Aggies repeated the feat while continuing their rise. The Ragin’ Cajuns are still one of the #FunBelt’s better programs, despite falling on tough times. A win in this series allows the Aggies to stay on the conference’s radar for when the next round of realignment occurs. Louisiana is also very fertile recruiting ground and a win could get the Aggies on some recruits’ radars.

Texas State Bobcats (3-2 NMSU): 2018, 2020

This series lacks the luster of all of the series mentioned so far, but it still carries a considerable amount of value.

The most obvious aspect is recruiting, since it gives New Mexico State a chance to appeal to Texas recruits. Last year, 37 players hailed from Texas including Larry Rose III and Jason Huntley. Another overlooked factor is the chance to appeal to bowl managers.

Two bowls come to mind, the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Frisco Bowl. The Heart of Dallas Bowl, although a Big Ten/Big 12 vs Conference USA tie-in, has had to use an at-large team four times since 2013, while the Frisco Bowl pits a team from the American against an at-large.

Texas State is only about four hours away from both bowls, so if New Mexico State can draw, they should gain attention from the organizers of those bowls for future consideration.

Georgia Southern Eagles (3-1 Georgia Southern): 2018-2019

Despite Georgia Southern’s proud tradition, this matchup loses some of its luster after Georgia Southern’s nightmare 2017 season. However, just like the other two matchups it keeps New Mexico State on the #FunBelt’s radar, while giving them exposure to fertile recruiting ground in
the South. The series has been competitive with three of the four meetings having been decided by one score.

BYU Cougars (2-0 BYU): 2018 @ BYU

The matchup with BYU is probably one of the most attractive future matchups for the Aggies.

BYU suffered from a down year in 2017, but still has one of the most well-known brands not just in the Group of Five, but in all of college football. Thanks to the Church of Latter Day Saints, they have a huge, nationally located fan base. Not to forget the fact that BYU was one of the prime candidates for Big 12 expansion.

A win over BYU would serve as a signature victory for the program much like the Aggies’ victory over Minnesota in 2011. Similarly, last year, UMass’s victory over BYU at Provo gave the budding independent program some credit.

Fresno State (17-1 Fresno State): 2019-2020

San Jose State (17-3 SJSU): 2020-2021

A series against a Mountain West opponent on the rise, and in the rich recruiting ground of California; New Mexico State hit the jackpot with these two series.

Since the WAC disbanded in 2012, New Mexico State has lacked the opportunities to play out West, as the westernmost opponent they had faced since then was Idaho. Ten players from the 2017 team hailed from California, and these series provide opportunities to increase their footprint in the Golden State.

Much like the series with Utah State, it is a blast from the past to the good old WAC days, and everyone can get behind that.

Hawai’i (8-0 Hawaii): 2020-2021

Hawaii has faced a lot of challenges in the playoff era, as the Rainbow Warriors once had no problem luring power-conference programs to the island for a late-season game in the Aloha State.

However, with the College Football Playoff’s emphasis on strength of schedule, and the growing revenue divide between the Power Five and the Group of Five, Hawai’i has found it difficult to schedule non-conference home games.

In one particular stretch from 2003-2006, the Warriors played Alabama, USC, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Oregon State, and Wisconsin all at Aloha Stadium. In contrast, Hawaii has not played a home game against a Power Five team since 2015, and they only have two such home games scheduled up to 2023.

What many may not realize is like the series with UMass and Liberty, the series with Hawaii is a series of necessity for both programs, as Hawaii previously had to schedule a home and home with UMass in 2016 and 2017. Do not be surprised if more meetings are scheduled.

San Diego State (9-1- 1 SDSU): 2021 @ SDSU

This matchup ranks with BYU in terms of attractiveness for the program. San Diego State has built a national reputation as of late as a breeding ground for running backs. They have gone 73-33 since 2010, including 32-9 over the past three years with wins over Arizona State, California, and Stanford in that span.

Despite the prowess of the Aztecs, this is a game where the Aggies can be competitive. In the last meeting in 2013, New Mexico State held leads of 16-0 in the second quarter and 16-11 in the fourth quarter before losing 26-16 to the Potato Bowl Aztecs. A win over the Aztecs would be a defining win on the level of the 2011 Minnesota victory, but would also increase their attractiveness to California recruits and potentially the Mountain West for the next round of realignment.

UMass (No Prior Meetings): 2020-2023

Liberty (No Prior Meetings): 2018-2019 4-game series

These two series are grouped together because of their similarity. These series are necessary for the survival of all three programs. The UMass series does not offer much in terms of recruiting or exposure, but the Minutemen are arguably on the rise, after a 2017 season where they upset Sun Belt co-champ Appalachian State and play competitively against the likes of Ohio, Tennessee and even a ranked Mississippi State team.

The same can about the Liberty series, as Liberty is three hours away from the fertile Virginia Tidewater region, perhaps too far for the Aggies to leave a mark on that area’s recruits. However, Liberty should be competitive in their first year as they beat Baylor last year. This particular match-up holds extra intrigue as unlike most of the other series, which are home-and-home across multiple seasons, it features a home-and-home within the same season – twice. That could be good or bad depending on the trajectory of each program the next few seasons, but it’s definitely unique and different.

Paycheck Games:

  • Minnesota (Tied 1-1): 2018, 2024
  • Alabama (No Prior Meetings): 2019
  • Washington State (No Prior Meetings): 2019
  • Ole Miss (1-0 Ole Miss): 2019

There is not much to say about these games as they are necessary, and even though New Mexico State has improved, they are not on the level of “Giant Killer” yet.

The Aggies have been  competitive against Power Five schools in recent years. They only trailed Sun Bowl-bound Arizona State 14-13 at the half last year and rallied late for a one-score loss. They trailed by one score on the road against Kentucky the year prior.

The last meeting with Ole Miss, New Mexico State lost 52-3 and were outgained 665-239 by the Rebels. The Minnesota games are likely the Aggies best chance of an upset, as they beat the Gophers on the road in 2011, and were competitive in the 2013 game before losing 44-21.

In addition, Group of Five teams typically play Minnesota very competitively, with six of the Gophers’ last seven meetings with Group of Five Schools being decided by one score. Washington State is a consistent performer in the Pac-12, but they have slipped multiple times against FCS schools in Mike Leach’s tenure and Alabama, well is Alabama.

Implications:

The scheduling agreements the Aggies have so far have accomplish their short-term goal in giving the Aggies a regional focus to suit their athletic budget. The long-term goal is to join a permanent conference after bouncing from the Big West to the Sun Belt, to the WAC, to Independence, back to the Sun Belt, and back to Independence in a span of less than 20 years.

Sadly, there does not appear to be any shuffling in any FBS conference in the next few years. That could change if the Big 12 does expand and raids either the American or the Mountain West, creating a domino effect. If that does happen, New Mexico State needs to show that they can compete with the Group of Five to gain consideration from Conference USA, the Mountain West, or even the Sun Belt.

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