Meet the Home Team
Who are the New Mexico Lobos? In a nutshell, they are one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but you don't have to take my word for it. Off Tackle Empire's own resident "statisticians" Stewmonkey and Hoeger, in their most recent data-based rankings, place the Lobos at #127 and #121, respectively, out of the 130* teams in FBS. According to the Massey Composite, most of the people crazy enough to rank the entire FBS agree that at least 100 college football teams están mejores que los Lobos.
Why is there such a strong consensus that a team with a 2-2 record is one of the nation's worst? The Lobos' two wins are highly unimpressive: a 39-31 escape against FCS Sam Houston State and a 55-52 thriller against winless in-state rivals, the New Mexico State Aggies. The sort of football that happens in the Land of Enchantment is perhaps best illustrated by the play from the Battle of I-25 pictured below, where a whole lot more football action is happening way out of bounds than on the actual, official field of play.
In a preseason poll announced at Mountain West Media Days at the Cosmopolitan Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, the Lobos were picked to finish last in the six-team Mountain Division. That they received 22 points in the 21-voter poll tells us 20 of those voters agreed that UNM would finish sixth while only one dissident optimist picked them for fifth place. The Lobos are decisive underdogs in their own conference.
* Stewmonkey only lists 129 teams in his rankings. He will be deep in the cold, cold ground before he recognizes the Liberty Flames. I heartily approve of his choice and so, apparently, does the SB Nation autotag algorithm.
Reasons to Watch the Lobos
At this point you might be thinking that New Mexico football is not your cup of tea. Perhaps you find it more exciting to stay up nights imagining reasons your Ohio State Buckeyes might win their next game by fewer than 30 points (scream emoji). Or you're eager for the Michigan State Spartans' next "first team to double digits wins" contest. Maybe you're an Indiana Hoosiers fan, perpetually charging full-speed like Charlie Brown (no, not the defensive tackle for the North Texas Mean Green) into hopes for football adequacy only to have Lucy pull the ball away at the last second. Far be it from me to kink-shame your college football preferences. But I would still like to list some reasons you should watch my Lobos, in order of importance.
#1) Punter Tyson Dyer
Tyson Dyer, who is unsurprisingly a 27-year-old native of Australia, is one of the nation's best punters, ranking 5th in the FBS averaging 48.1 yards per kick. Dyer was named one of "Ray's 8" Week Five finalists for national Punter of the Week honors. He pinned all five of his punts against Liberty inside the 20 with a 47.8 yard average. We all know that the Ray Guy Award is Rutgers Scarlet Knights punter Adam Korsak's to lose, but don't count out Tyson, who has realistic NFL dreams to "follow in the footsteps of former UNM punter Corey Bojorquez, who now plays for the Buffalo Bills."
#2) Kicker Andrew Shelley
Andrew Shelley is a hometown hero hailing from Albuquerque's Eldorado High School. Shelley has converted all seven of his field goals in UNM's first four games. He made four field goals in UNM's eight-point win over Sam Houston State. Then in The Battle For All The Green Chiles, Andrew coolly connected on a 48-yarder and a 49-yarder to help preserve a three-point victory over the rival Aggies. Without Shelley's strong, accurate leg, the Lobos may be 0-4 right now.
#3) Outstanding Passing Stats -- for the Other Team
New Mexico's biggest challenges lie on the defensive side of the ball. The Lobos rush defense is perfectly mediocre, allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 146.5 yards per game, but opponents have lit up UNM in the passing game, completing 106 of 170 passes for 1,518 yards, and a stunning 13 touchdowns against only one interception. That's an efficiency rating of 161.42, which would make "whoever is playing quarterback against New Mexico" the 24th most efficient passer in the nation, nestled between Zac Thomas of the Appalachian State Mountaineers and Cole McDonald of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. If you watch a Lobo game, expect explosive plays in the passing game ...
#4) Drama at the QB position -- for the Lobos
... but not necessarily for New Mexico. The Lobos are cursed at quarterback, with 2019 being the 4th consecutive season a starting QB has gone down to injury before October. Senior Brandt Hughes started the first game, but suffered a shoulder injury. Junior Sheriron Jones replaced Hughes and started against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In 15 passes against Notre Dame, Jones completed four to his fellow Lobos and three to Irish defenders, so he was benched in favor of Tevaka Tuioti, who suffered a head injury last year against the wisconsin bagders (as if you didn't already have enough reasons to hate them). Tuioti was great against NMSU (16/28 for 355 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT) but struggled at Liberty (12/26 for 139 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs).
A Tough Conference Slate
UNM begins Mountain West conference play this weekend, and it promises to be an uphill climb to bowl eligibility for the Lobos. Six of their eight upcoming opponents have already defeated teams from Power 5 conferences.
- Tonight's road opponent, the San Jose State Spartans endured thousands of people making pig noises and defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 31-24 in Fayetteville.
- On October 19, the Lobos travel to Laramie, where the Wyoming Cowboys lured another "Supposed to be SEC" team, the Missouri Tigers, into a wild 37-31 loss.
- The aforementioned 'Bows of Hawai'i, who beat the Arizona Wildcats 45-38 and the Oregon State Beavers 31-28, come to Dreamstyle Stadium on October 26.
- On November 2, the Lobos will be in Reno, where the Nevada Wolf Pack staged a memorable comeback against the Purdue Boilermakers for a 34-31 win.
- The Air Force Falcons visit the ABQ on November 9 after doing what the Nebraska Cornhuskers couldn't do, beating the Colorado Buffaloes 30-23 at Folsom Field.
- And on November 16, New Mexico heads to the Smurf Turf to face the Mountain Division favorite Boise State Broncos, who beat the Florida State Seminoles 36-31.
So Which Game(s) Should I Attend?
I feel I let the community down by failing to attend the 107-point masterpiece between UNM and NMSU. However, I believe I can change my best, keep rowing the boat down the Rio Grande, and focus on going 1-0 at a future Lobo home game. Five more college football games are slated for Dreamstyle Stadium in 2019. (All times KTZ.)
Friday, October 11 vs Colorado State (6 pm)
- The Colorado State Rams are 1-4 and appear to be New Mexico's best chance at a win in their rugged Mountain West conference schedule.
- This will be "Educators' Night," with discount tickets for teachers and chances for schools to win grant money and be recognized on the field.
- Since this is a Friday game, it won't conflict with me watching the Iowa Hawkeyes host the Penn State Nittany Lions the following evening. Huzzah!
- Prediction: Andrew Shelley nails a walk-off 45-yard field goal, his third of the night, giving the Lobos a thrilling 37-35 victory. In a tearful post-game interview Shelley dedicates the win to all the teachers in his life who told him to follow his dreams.
Saturday, October 26 vs Hawai'i (2 pm)
- The Rainbows are in the driver's seat of the West Division with a 4-1 (1-0) record and getting both pre-season division favorites (San Diego State Aztecs and Fresno State Bulldogs) in Aloha Stadium.
- I'm guessing MNWildcat already has a dissertation ready for the Don't Watch This; Watch That column to convince us that we'd be foolish to miss this game.
- This will be Homecoming! And Hispanic Heritage Day! And Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day! And Family Week! This game has ALL THE PROMOTIONS!
- This game starts four hours after the kickoff of Iowa's game against the Northwestern Wildcats. With all the Establishing Of The Run likely to occur, that game should end quickly with plenty of time for Mrs. Hogan and I to get to the Lobos game. Huzzah!
- Prediction: Hawai'i cleverly neutralizes UNM's biggest weapon by allowing the Lobos to drive easily into the Red Zone on every possession, keeping punter Tyson Dyer on the sidelines all game. The UH defense gets enough stops to force UNM to settle for five Andrew Shelley field goals, securing a 63-43 Rainbows victory.
Saturday, November 9 vs Air Force (Noon)
- This could be a trap game for the Falcons, coming between a sure-to-be emotional contest against the Army Black Knights and an important in-state rivalry game against Colorado State.
- Not sure how the law works, but I might be deported if I forego the opportunity to attend in person while a service academy plays Triple Dang Option Football in my hometown on Veteran's Day weekend.
- From GoLobos.com: "Don't miss the display of military might, including helicopters, police cruisers, fire trucks and more in a fully immersive and interactive exhibit in the Howl Zone."
- Unless the Iowa/Wisconsin game is played at night, this game could very well conflict with my desire to watch the Hawkeyes. Not huzzah. :(
- Prediction: New Mexico will give Air Force's triple option more trouble than expected. The Falcons still move the ball and eat a lot of clock, but settle for too many field goals. Ahmari Davis bursts free for a critical 4th quarter touchdown, and Andrew Shelley's extra point completes the Lobos' 24-23 upset win.
Saturday, November 30 vs Utah State (2 pm)
- The Utah State Aggies are 3-1, with their only loss so far coming in a wild 38-35 road game against the surprisingly undefeated Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
- What I'm saying is that Utah State is probably actually pretty good despite being one of the minority of Mountain West teams who haven't yet beaten a Power 5 opponent.
- Since this is a Saturday game, it won't conflict with the now annual tradition of me watching Iowa beating Nebraska on Black (and Gold) Friday! Huzzah!
- Prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life. This Groundhog Day reference is your reward for still reading this far! Utah State wins 27-17.
Saturday, December 21: The New Mexico Bowl!
- Who plays in the New Mexico Bowl? Well, the first question is always, "Are the New Mexico Lobos bowl eligible?" Every season that UNM has been bowl eligible and the New Mexico Bowl has existed, UNM has played in the New Mexico Bowl.
- Assuming the Lobos are not likely to make it to six wins, another Mountain West team, probably from the Mountain Division, will face a Conference USA opponent in this game.
- Bill Bender at the Sporting News is currently projecting the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to face the Wyoming Cowboys to play in the New Mexico Bowl, but I've got my fingers crossed for the UAB Blazers.
- Since no Big Ten teams ever play in pre-Christmas bowls, there's no way I'll be missing Iowa's bowl by attending this game no matter how badly the Hawks screw up down the stretch. Huzzah!