The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 120: New Mexico
Coach: Bob Davie (0-0, 1st season at New Mexico; 35-25 overall in five seasons)
2011 record: 1-11 (1-6 in Mountain West Conference, tied for sixth in MWC)
Look back: After winning one game in 2009 and one game in 2010, embattled New Mexico coach Mike Locksley opened the 2011 season insisting the program was finally headed in the right direction. However, more off-the-field issues helped end Locksley's tumultuous tenure leading the Lobos. Locksley's first year at New Mexico was marred by an age discrimination complaint filed by a longtime football office secretary and a physical altercation with one of his assistant coaches. Losing a lot of games, especially to rival New Mexico State, and declining attendance didn't help. The last straw proved to be a truly awful homecoming weekend early in the 2011 season. A teen was arrested and charged with aggravated DWI, minor in possession of alcohol and driving without a license while driving a car registered to Locksley's wife. The teen driving to New Mexico's homecoming game when he was arrested. The Lobos lost to Sam Houston State 48-45 in overtime and Locksley was fired the next day.
George Barlow, Locksley's defensive coordinator, took over as New Mexico's interim head coach for the remaining eight games of the season. The Lobos endured more blowout losses, but Barlow managed to hold together a group of disappointed players who bought into Locksley's recruiting pitch and were stunned he was fired so early in the season. Barlow led New Mexico to the sole win of the season, a 21-14 victory over UNLV on Nov. 12. Veteran linebacker Carmen Messina was the star of the Lobos' lineup, setting a Mountain West Conference record with 454 total tackles during his career.
New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs, who gave Urban Meyer his first head coaching job while serving as athletic director at Bowling Green, opted to go in a dramatically different direction when he helped select the Lobos' next head football coach. Locksley was nationally recognized as an elite recruiter, but he had no previous head coaching experience. Krebs hired former Notre Dame coach and longtime television analyst Bob Davie, who had not coached at the Football Bowl Subdivision level for 10 years. Davie had the support of a long list of college football leaders, including his former receivers coach at Notre Dame – Urban Meyer. Davie said his work as a television analyst allowed him to observe some of the best practices at college football programs, and he was eager to capitalize on that experience.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 3/8
Defensive starters lost/returning: 5/6
Key losses: LB Carmen Messina, S Bubba Forrest, DE Jaymar Latchison, K James Aho, OG Mike Muniz, WR Deon Long
Top returnees: QB B.R. Holbrook, WR Ty Kirk, LB Dallas Bollema, LB Spencer Merritt, DE Joseph Harris
Strengths: Davie gives New Mexico a fresh start. Whether you loved or hated Locksley, it was clear he was having a hard time meeting his own expectation for success leading the Lobos. Davie and his staff bring a level of national recognition and stability to the program. Senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook, who has endured a lot of hard knocks during his career, returns to help run New Mexico's offense. Davie and his staff are installing the pistol offense and will try to make the most of the returning offensive players. Receiver Ty Kirk leads a talented group of receivers who could help jumpstart the Lobos' offense.
Since the offense struggled to put up points during Locksley's tenure, the defense spent a lot of time on the field and has earned considerable game-day experience. Senior defensive end Joseph Harris leads a group that is hoping to quickly transition to a new defensive attack.
Weaknesses: New Mexico posted a 1-11 record in each of the past three seasons. Some of the talented recruits Locksley heavily invested in have transferred, leaving gaps on the roster. The Lobos lost their leading rusher, leading receiver, leading tackler and starting kicker from last season. The group includes Messina, who put up tremendous numbers despite being opposing teams' top target every week. Davie has not coached at the college football level in 10 years. He is working to rebuild recruiting pipelines while changing the culture of New Mexico football.
Outlook: The Lobos are headed in the right direction, but New Mexico has a tough schedule and simply needs time for Davie to implement his changes that could turn around the program. New Mexico is not far removed from Rocky Long's successful run leading the Lobos and the program is capable of winning again. It just might take more than a year to make it happen.