It is time for the 2022 Wisconsin Badgers football season preview extravaganza to begin! Over the next (almost) two months we will be preparing you for the upcoming football season. We’ve got previews of every team on Wisconsin’s schedule, we’ve got positional breakdowns of each group at UW, we’ll have predictions for the full conference, rankings of the top units in the Big Ten as well as a couple of larger features that we think are interesting.
Next up, Wisconsin’s last non-conference opponent, New Mexico State.
Team: New Mexico State Aggies
Head coach: Jerry Kill, first season at NMSU
2021 record: 2-10 overall as independent
Game info: Saturday, Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m. CT, BTN, Camp Randall Stadium
Top returning players
- Junior, TE Thomaz Whitford, 19 catches, 206 yards, two touchdowns
- Senior, LB Chris Ojoh, 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles
- Senior, MLB Trevor Brohard, 71 tackles, seven TFL, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
- Senior, CB D.J. McCullough, 42 tackles, two TFL, three interceptions, three passes broken up, one forced fumble
- Junior, QB Diego Pavia, transfer from New Mexico Military Institute, threw for 1,728 yards (56.3% completion), 21 touchdowns and only one interception, he also ran for 658 yards and seven scores. Apparently NMMI’s offense is heavily run based, so Pavia’s numbers are pretty impressive.
- Sophomore, RB Ahmonte Watkins, transfer from TCU, 2020 4-star RB/DB out of Houston (No. 4 all-purpose back in the nation), Watkins played CB at TCU but played RB due to injuries the Horned Frogs suffered, 12 attempts for 49 yards (4.1 ypc), three catches for 41 yards (13.7 ypc)
- Sophomore, WR Kordell David, transfer from Trinity Valley (Texas) CC, recorded 707 receiving yards and seven touchdowns
- Sophomore, C Canaan Yarro, transfer from Southern Utah, started 18 career games, rated as a 3-star recruit by 247Sports
2021 season review
Since becoming an independent back in 2018, New Mexico State has won eight games. Total. In 2017, their last year in the Sun Belt, they won seven! To put into perspective how impressive that season was, allow me to turn to my friend Patrick Mayhorn and his excellent G5 newsletter The Outside Zone:
That last season in the Sun Belt was, realistically speaking, the best New Mexico State can reasonably expect to do in its modern form. Head coach Doug Martin pieced together a 7-6 roster around whatever talent he could find, claiming five one-score wins (while losing another two by one possession) and qualifying for the school’s first bowl since 1960. The two were separated by 57 years and nine conference affiliations.
Martin was finally canned after another disappointing season in 2021. The Aggies won two games, only one of which came against an FBS opponent, beating South Carolina State by eight and pounding UMass by 17. Of their 10 losses, only two weren’t by double digits and they only scored over 30 points four times, while they failed to score even a single touchdown twice. The Badgers only scored over 30 points five times last season, but you don’t want your team being compared similarly to the 2021 Wisconsin offense.
As you may have noticed in the “top returning players” section above there, uh, isn’t much on the offensive side of the ball that is coming back. The Aggies top passer, top rusher and top three receivers are gone from 2021. The offensive line, which wasn’t very good last year, lost a couple of pieces and will have to learn a whole new system this offseason.
The defense has a decent number of contributors returning, which is good, but the 2021 defense was also atrocious, which is bad. I’m not going to pretend to know one single thing about New Mexico State special teams, but they ranked No. 114 in the country last year so it’s probably for the best that we don’t discuss them any further.
Key stat: The fewest points NMSU’s defense allowed last season was 27, in their only FBS win of the season against UMass. They gave up an average of 40.4 points per game, good for No. 128 in the nation and only better than Kansas and, you may not be shocked to read this, the very same UMass Minutemen who lost to the Aggies last year. As far as their other defensive rankings, NMSU was No. 127 in total defense, No. 128 in passing defense and No. 112 in rushing defense.
2022 season preview
Hypothetically, New Mexico State has a considerably easier schedule this year than they did last year. Games against FIU, UMass, Hawaii, Nevada and FCS Lamar (four of them at home) should, at a minimum, be competitive for the Aggies. If new head coach Jerry Kill, of Minnesota Golden Gophers head coaching fame, is able to win three of those and improve on last year’s record...that’s an unqualified success.
Actually winning three of those games could prove to be tough though. Breaking in a new quarterback, new running backs to carry the load and as many as four new receivers to the offense would be a problem for most teams, let alone a team as bad as NMSU that is also replacing a number of offensive linemen.
Tight end Thomaz Whitford should be a reliable target for whoever ends up under center, while wideout Terrell Warner could also help out there. I am not 100% if Warner is still on the roster though. He is listed as a graduate student on the school’s website, but doesn’t have a number nor a height and weight attributed to him. Phil Steele lists him as a backup but Athlon Sports does not. I don’t know, but either way there is a dearth of proven talent at the point-scoring positions.
One intriguing thing about the Aggies’ offense is the size of their potential starting wide receivers. Justice Powers (excellent name) is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds while Kordell David is 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. Warner, if he’s on the roster, is 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds as well. They have the potential to create matchup problems for some opponents, although the Badgers have decent height in the defensive backfield to combat this.
I don’t like the looks of New Mexico State’s offensive line. They don’t have any depth nor do they have high-end talent. Having already played three games before taking on the Badgers, we’ll know for sure if the hog mollies up front are better than last year or not.
The defense for New Mexico State was statistically one of the worst units in the entire country last year. According to Phil Steele, they have nine starters returning and a ton of other players that received meaningful reps too.
They lose leading tackler Caleb Mills (76 tackles, two picks) from the defensive backfield, but sophomore Dylan Early is ready to fill in there and they also added nickelback Andre Seldon, a transfer from Michigan who was a 4-star prospect coming out of high school.
The linebackers, Ojoh and Brohard, are solid and backup Josh Ferguson is decent in coverage. The defensive line has some size (nose guard Lama Lavea is 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and DE Lazarus Williams is 6-foot-5, 270 pounds) but isn’t quite talented enough to be considered formidable.
All that being said, one would be pretty safe in saying that the defense couldn’t be any WORSE than last year and I’d even go as far to say that they’ll be better. I’m a glass half full kinda guy.
This, like the game against Illinois State, is one that should see a ton of backups get some reps in the second half for the Badgers. Kill will be looking to get his system installed in year one and to try and find some useful pieces for his team moving forward. I’m sure Wisconsin will be favored by, like, 40 and only win by 20 and I’ll be mad about it...but all that needs to happen is that no one gets hurt before the following week’s game against Ohio State.