The Lobos and Rocky Long are the model of consistency by going 61-61 during his tenure, and even though Long has had good teams he has yet to have a year where the team contended for a conference title. While always dangerous the Lobs never seem to put together a complete season. Wil this be the year…
The whole idea is to be good enough and consistent enough to have a good pipeline of players who can come in, be plugged into the system, and produce. If a coaching staff is around long enough to be able to get to that point, it’s fortunate.
Rocky Long is hoping his Lobos are past that point and can finally be a true challenger for the Mountain West title, after years of being a steady upper-division bowl team, but that could be tough with one of his youngest, most inexperienced teams losing 15 starters and 22 key lettermen.
However, there’s a tremendous base or core players to build around, stability in the coaching staff, and the cloud of post-season frustration is finally gone after Long finally won a bowl game. Now, young or not, it’s time to do more.
What to watch for on offense: The backfield. The receiving corps loses its stars, but it’ll be fine with a little bit of time. The line has to replace four starters, but JUCO transfers will make up for the concerns and there are good talents to get excited about. The difference between another good, bowl season and a possible sleeper run to the Mountain West title lies in the backfield where Donovan Porterie appears ready to become a special playmaker. Rodney Ferguson, is a sure-thing for 1,000 yards if his academics are in order, while Paul Baker is ready to bust out. The Lobos have the skill players to put up some big numbers.
What to watch for on defense: The secondary to be among the best in America. The corner tandem of DeAndre Wright and Glover Quinn will be special, while the three safeties in the 3-3-5 formation, Ian Clark, Blake Ligon and Clint McPeek, are all solid veterans. the pass defense was 20th in the nation even though there wasn’t much of a pass rush, and now it should be even better. Few will be able to consistently throw on this group.
The team will be far better if … the offense can score on the good teams. The points and production simply weren’t there throughout last season on a consistent basis. While there were 44 points against New Mexico State and 58 against Sacramento State, the Lobos only scored more than 30 points one other time, against Air Force, and averaged just over 11 points per game against BYU, TCU and Utah.
The Schedule: The schedule is cruel. Too cruel. The opener against TCU will set the tone for the Mountain West season, while home games against Texas A&M and Arizona could build/crush the team’s confidence. And then things really kick in with three road trips in four weeks including battles at Tulsa, who led the nation in total offense last year, New Mexico State, who gets almost everyone back on its high-octane offense, and at BYU. If that wasn’t a bad enough break, there isn’t an off week; the Lobos are going 12 straight weeks with the open date coming at the end. Just to add to the fun, there’s a second stretch of three road games in four weeks to close the year.
Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Rodney Ferguson. While Donovan Porterie should get to another level where he can start to make his receivers better, instead of the other way around, and while it could be Paul Baker who gets the starting nod early on as the team’s top back, Ferguson is the pounding 100-yard star who’ll keep the offense grounded. Suspended from the New Mexico Bowl because of academic issues, he’ll soon be back in everyone’s good graces.
Best Defensive Player: Senior CB DeAndre Wright. With a great mix of speed, tackling ability and size, Wright is the Mountain West’s premier cover corner, and has been for a few seasons. His stats might not be all that great since no one likes to throw his way, but he’ll erase everyone’s number one target.