New Mexico State recently announced that they are moving their 2022 game vs Nevada to Week Zero. While this seems like small news, it represents the continuation of a trend.
If everything remains the same, New Mexico State has three Week Zero games in the future, playing at UCLA in 2020, and hosting Nevada in 2022, and Hawaii in 2024.
The Aggies have a unique opportunity given their independent status and geography to use Week Zero to their advantage. They schedule more non-conference games with the Mountain West than their Group of Five counterparts, particularly other independent schools.
For instance, the Aggies have games scheduled with the likes of Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada in the near future. Hawaii’s membership in the Mountain West allows their schools to move games to Week Zero more frequently.
While other out of conference schools have avoided moving games with Mountain West schools to Week Zero, the Aggies have shown great flexibility. All that’s needed is for the networks to take these Week Zero games more seriously.
As we’ve written earlier, ESPN had a chance to promote the Aggies’ Week Zero game last year. However, they televised the match-up with little fanfare.
A Light Slate and A Chance for Spotlight
Week Zero is typically a very light slate, with the main games being the FCS Kickoff and games with Hawaii or some of their home opponents who elected to play that week.
For instance, before the NCAA egregiously decided to give Florida and Miami a waiver to play on Week Zero, there were only four games. The slate consisted of Arizona at Hawaii, Villanova at Colgate, and the 2019 FCS Kickoff between Samford and Youngstown State.
New Mexico State gained a good amount of national attention last year when ESPN2 broadcast their season opener versus Wyoming in prime-time. That was their first appearance on the network since 2007.
Other Group of Fives envy the type of exposure New Mexico State receives from Week Zero. The Aggies not only play Mountain West schools that weekend but have a pretty high profile game in 2020 against UCLA mixed in. The chance to play a Power 5 school in a venue as historic as the Rose Bowl does much for exposure and recruiting.
Week Zero Rivalry Games?
The Aggies still have other opportunities to move games to Week Zero in the future, particularly in 2021, with San Diego State, who plays at Hawaii that year, and 2023 when they play at Hawaii themselves. They can make another leap in gaining exposure by moving one of their rivalry games to Week Zero.
New Mexico State has advantages over UMass and Liberty in their established rivalries with New Mexico and UTEP. They have played the Lobos 108 times and the Miners 96 times.
With so much tradition in these two series, why not move one of them to Week Zero. Since the new Week Zero rule came into play in 2016, many of the match-ups have had little appeal. Aside from the occasional game in Australia, games like UMass-Duquesne or Rice-Prairie View A&M have done little to excite fan bases.
In moving either of these games, the nation gets to see an underrated rivalry. Recently, both rivalries have become more competitive and exciting. In 2016, the Aggies upset a Lobo team that would win eight games and a New Mexico Bowl title. Also, networks like ESPN would have more reason to give Week Zero games the hype they deserve.
The next year, the Lobos almost came back from a 30-5 4th quarter deficit, but Javahn Ferguson tipped the tying two-point conversion to preserve a 30-28 victory. In 2015, UTEP out-dueled New Mexico State in a 50-47 overtime thrill ride, where the Aggies blew two different two-touchdown leads.
Rivalries make college football great and why not kick off the season with the emotion one of the best rivalries in the Group of Five? Playing either of these games on Week Zero increases the exposure for UTEP and UNM. UTEP benefiting more especially due to Conference USA’s less than favorable television deal.
Becoming Week Zero’s Team
In the end, the Aggies have the rare opportunity to associate themselves with a specific date, a lot like the American has associated itself with Black Friday.
Little things like this go a long ways toward building a brand. It may seem far-fetched, but over time, New Mexico State can use this brand to help them get admission to the Mountain West or Conference USA. In turn, a conference that picks up the Aggies can use their Week Zero games to bolster their TV footprint.