The late-season success of the New Mexico State University football team under first-year coach Jerry Kill - winning five of its last six games, with the only loss coming against Missouri, and earning an invitation to play in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday - should silence critics like me who have suggested that the team should drop from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the Football Championship Subdivision.
That’s especially true now that all the sports-haters on campus have their ire squarely focused on first-year basketball coach Greg Heiar following the involvement of an NMSU player in a late-night shooting at a University of New Mexico dormitory.
Years of losing had convinced me that the Aggies’ quest to compete at the FBS level was best expressed by Paul Simon when he sang, “the nearer your destination the more you’re slip-sliding away.”
Before this year, the team had compiled a 71-187 record in games played this century. Their best record this century, including this year, was 7-5. They had a winless season in 2005 and two years with just one victory.
It looked to be more of the same this year, as the Aggies started the season 1-5. But a win over in-state rival UNM in front of a large crowd on Hispanic Heritage Day at Aggie Memorial Stadium was the beginning of a late-season rally.
The invitation to the Quick Lane Bowl presents a tremendous opportunity for both the players and the team. The bowl game is affiliated with the Detroit Lions and will be played at Ford Field. NMSU players will get to compete on an NFL field and play in an NFL stadium that seats 65,000 fans, though most seats will likely be empty.
The program will get a national spotlight all to itself. The Quick Lane Bowl will be the only game played Monday. Lots of folks will undoubtedly be taking off work the day after Christmas and will be tuning in for the afternoon game.
That exposure could help in future recruiting, which now includes not only high school players but also college players who can use the transfer portal if they aren’t happy where they’re at.
Looking ahead, the move next year to the C-USA Conference will finally give the football program some stability. Athletics Director Mario Moccia deserves enormous credit for patching things together during the past five years when the team played as an independent. But it’s tough when you’re playing Lamar one week and Missouri the next.
One reason for all the losing seasons is that the Aggies have been required to take so-called “money games,” where smaller, weaker teams are paid handsomely to take a drubbing by teams in the power conferences. Hopefully, moving to C-USA will mean fewer of those games in the future.
Obviously, one break-even season (Monday’s game will determine if it is a winning or losing record) won’t end the calls for NMSU to reduce its attention to and spending on football. And, it remains to be seen if funding levels will allow the program to remain competitive.
But for now, let’s just enjoy the run and look forward to a win over Bowling Green on Monday.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.
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