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Today at No. 96: NEW MEXICO Coach: Bob Davie (11-26, entering fourth season; 46-51 overall) 2014 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Mountain West; tied for...

college football picksToday at No. 96: NEW MEXICO

Coach: Bob Davie (11-26, entering fourth season; 46-51 overall)

2014 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Mountain West; tied for fifth in Mountain West

Look back: Former Notre Dame Bob Davie has delivered modest improvement during three seasons leading New Mexico. Thanks to a goal-line stand that sealed a 36-30 win over Wyoming in the 2014 season finale, the Lobos recorded four wins. It was a one-win improvement from the previous season and the Lobos’ 4-8 overall record was the closest the team has gotten to bowl eligibility since 2007. New Mexico’s 2-6 Mountain West record was its best since the 2008 season.

Injuries continued to hinder the Lobos’ offense for the second consecutive season, with starting quarterback Cole Gautsche suffering a season-ending injury Nov. 1. Inconsistent play by backup Clayton Mitchem forced the Lobos to lean on third-string quarterback Lamar Jordan to lead the offense.

Offensive starters returning: 7

Offensive starters lost: 4

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: OL LaMar Bratton, WR Tyler Duncan, WR Jeric Magnant, OL Jamal Price, DE Brett Bowers, CB SaQwan Edwards, SS David Guthrie, LB Tevin Newman

Top returnees: QB Lamar Jordan, OL Garrett Adcock, RB Teriyon Gipson, OL Reno Henderson, OL Eden Mahina, RB Jhurell Pressley, TE Reece White, FS Markel Byrd, DE Nik D’Avanzo, LB Kimmie Carson, LB Dakota Cox, CB Cranston Jones, LB Donnie White, DT William Udeh, P/K Zack Rogers

Strengths: New Mexico returns the core of its starters from last season and boasts the depth that was absent early in Davie’s tenure. The players should have a strong command of the coach’s system. After two seasons hampered by injuries, Gautsche is moving to tight end. Jordan led the first-team offense during spring drills, but transfer Austin Apodaca is expected to make a serious run at the starting job. Apodaca, who was a Colorado high school star, made stops at Washington State and Mesa Community College before arriving in New Mexico.

With the quarterbacks struggling last season, New Mexico relied on its ground game and ranked No. 4 nationally in rushing yards per game (310.4). Senior running back Jhurell Pressley returns to help the offense again in 2015. He recorded 1,083 yards on 114 carries, amassing 9.41 yards per carry last season.

New Mexico also got a boost from kicker Zack Rogers, who connected on 43-of-44 extra-point attempts and five-of-eight field-goal attempts.

Weaknesses: While the quarterbacks struggled last season, New Mexico also needs more help from the receivers unit to help balance out the Lobos’ offense.

The defense struggled as the offense sputtered and has considerable room to improve. The team ranked No. 124 out of 125 NCAA-recognized teams last season in total defense, surrendering 519 yards per game. The team got little pressure up front, ranking No. 122 in rushing defense (269 yards allowed per game) and No. 107 in pass efficiency defense (141.06).

Experience on the roster will help, but the Lobos have yet to perform at a high level against successful teams during Davie’s tenure. All the team’s wins last season came against opponents that finished with losing records.

Outlook: New Mexico rallied to overcome a deficit in the second half of every win last season, but the Lobos still haven’t shown they can pull off enough wins to clinch bowl eligibility. While Davie inherited a tough rebuilding project, he’ll need to inspire his players to take a few more big steps up in their play to compete for bowl bids and a Mountain West title.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Mississippi Valley State

Sept. 12 Tulsa

Sept. 18 at Arizona State

Sept. 26 at Wyoming

Oct. 3 New Mexico State

Oct. 10 at Nevada

Oct. 17 Hawaii

Oct. 24 at San Jose State

Nov. 7 Utah State

Nov. 14 at Boise State

Nov. 21 Colorado State

Nov. 28 Air Force

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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