Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lamenting Aggie Football

The NMSU football game in Moscow, Idaho just ended. Despite being a two touchdown favorite to the perennial pushover Idaho Vandals, the Aggies lost once again. I suppose the typical response from the average fan would be, "Here we go again," because looking at the remaining schedule it appears as if the team will not make a bowl game for the 48th year in a row. The unfortunate thing about this season is the team looks very good on paper/in video games. Senior quarterback Chase Holbrook led the nation in passing a couple of years ago. Senior wide receiver Chris Williams could be the fastest player in the nation. A new defense brought hope that confusing the opposing offense with unique looks could lead to increased turnovers. Injuries to key players last year forced young players to grow up quickly and looked to infuse this year's team with a deeper roster.

But a funny thing happened on the road to familiar mediocrity. First, a hurricane forced the Aggies first opponent to cancel coming to Las Cruces. Then the Aggies, understandably rusty, had to play Nebraska in Lincoln and played well considering it was the Cornhuskers third game. The following week brought a heart-stopping shootout in El Paso against UTEP resulting in a one-point Aggie victory. At this point things were looking up. Coach Hal Mumme's "Air Raid" offense produced an 84-yard touchdown on the first Aggie play against UNM and a 79-yard touchdown three minutes later. And then the offense was shutdown. Despite the disappointing 35-24 loss in Las Cruces, the next two weeks brought some hope with a blowout win against Alcorn State and a big time shootout win over Nevada in Reno.

For the first time in a long time the Aggies had a winning record this far into the season (3-2) and a winning conference record (1-0). Hopes for a bowl games were alive and well in Las Cruces. Of the seven remaining games, it looked like the Aggies could win five (San Jose State, Idaho, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Utah State) with two being complete pushovers with only one win (Utah State beat Idaho and Idaho beat lowly Idaho State). Only six wins are needed to get into a bowl game and with Boise State likely to win the rest of its games and play in a BCS bowl, NMSU was in good shape.

Then came the San Jose State game. With a pumped up crowd the Aggies could barely muster any offense and lost 31-14. The only bright spot for the game, the second annual "Tough Enough to Wear Pink" game, was the nearly $600,000 raised for breast cancer research. But the team itself played poorly. Still, despite the depressing performance from the team (and the fans, most of the student section left at halftime despite only being down 14) there seemed to be light on the horizon. A trip to Moscow, Idaho loomed and the laughably would be an obvious win. Right?

Of course not! Untimely turnovers (as if there are any other kind) lead to another anemic performance from the Air Raid offense. Was not a high-powered offense what Hal Mumme came here to create? All the branding in the world from Athletic Director McKinnley Boston, all the new uniforms, updated stadiums, new scoreboards, new websites and post-game fireworks shows in the world can mask that Mumme has underperformed and underwhelmed the people of Las Cruces. People here love football. The attendance of high school football games proves there is a market for college football. If it is entertaining, that is. But nobody will keep on going if they know the team will lose AND the team will probably not put up many points. And guess what? They know.

I do not blame the players for not winning. They are not paid (though you can, and I have, make the argument that a free education is, in fact, payment). They do not come up with the game plans. They do not recruit defensive linemen that are much too undersized for the position. No. It is the coaches, Hal Mumme in particular, who are not constantly out-coached and out-smarted. He is at fault. How long has he been here? Three, four years? A dozen? Does it matter anymore? His teams underperform constantly.

Now, I will not sit here and say he should be fired. But losing has become something of an expectation around here. It is never good for your team to be a joke. Mumme needs to prove to us, the fans, that he can make the team play up to their potential. It is on him. If he can not do that, then the team hold him accountable.

There are still five games left. We need three wins. We will not beat Boise or Fresno. We get Hawaii and Louisiana Tech at home and Utah State is still not good (of course, Idaho is even worse and we lost to them).

Go Aggies. Please.