More national previews that can be found here at the Connection. The Lobos, have a favorable schedule with Texas A&M, Utah, TCU, and Arizona at home and the Lobos have a chance to go 3-1 and have an outsided shot to win the conference title. Especially if the Lobos can win their season opener against conference foe TCU.
56. NEW MEXICO COACH: Rocky Long (61-61 in 10 seasons).
LAST SEASON: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the Mountain West (tied for third in the league).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 37th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Junior quarterback Donovan Porterie made big strides as a passer and decision-maker in 2007, showing patience in the pocket instead of running as a first instinct. He’ll benefit from the return of coordinator Dave Baldwin, who runs a spread-’em-out scheme. Senior cornerback DeAndre Wright looks to repeat as an all-conference selection. Wright, who has started 26 consecutive games, had four picks and 12 pass breakups last season, and the school says he was thrown at just 11 times in man coverage in the final seven games of 2007. He’s also a good return man.
STAR POWER: Senior tailback Rodney Ferguson has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Given the Lobos’ emphasis on a punishing ground attack, there’s no reason that won’t get to three in a row. Ferguson doesn’t have top-end speed, but he’s tough between the tackles and is a workhorse.
STRENGTHS: With Long as coach, it’s always about defense in Albuquerque. There will be a new coordinator with Troy Reffert taking over for Osia Lewis, who left for the same post at UTEP. Still, expect the Lobos to be aggressive, show multiple looks and to blitz … then blitz some more. Wright and Glover Quin are a solid duo at cornerback and are two of four returning starters in the secondary (the Lobos run a 3-3-5 set). Ferguson and backup Paul Baker make for a nice tandem at tailback.
WEAKNESSES: Both lines must be rebuilt; just one starting lineman is back on each side of the ball. All three linebackers are new. And who will bring the heat off the edge? At least there is depth and size to choose from to apply pressure at the point of attack. The receiving corps needs reliable targets to step up from a unit that lost its two leaders. No returning player had more than 21 catches last season. And don’t underestimate the loss of kicker John Sullivan.
THE BUZZ: Is there a more underappreciated coach than Long? He guided New Mexico to its first bowl victory in 46 years last season and always has a representative program. The Lobos have finished at least .500 in the league in seven consecutive seasons and have gone bowling in five of the past six seasons. You know Long will whip a rebuilt defense into shape, but New Mexico will be taxed by a rough non-conference schedule that includes TCU, Texas A&M and Arizona. Regardless, look for the Lobos to sneak into the postseason, with a good offense covering for a defense that will round into “Rocky Long form” by midseason.