Both college football teams are probably entering Saturday's Rio Grande Rivalry game exactly where most fans thought they might be. Saturday's matchup could mark a pivotal moment in both team's seasons and a lot might be riding on the line at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
UNM head coach Bob Davie has often referred to not letting the air out of the balloon, making the analogy in several of the past season openers. The idea being that teams can sometimes let a pin poke that metaphorical balloon and things go flat before it even realizes what happened.
Even though it is week three for UNM, not many things could let whatever is left in balloon that is Lobo fan support, than losing to its in-state rival for the third season in a row. A loss for the University of New Mexico football team could undo any momentum the program has started to regain and potentially thwart hopes of trying to bring in the casual fan to attend future home games — support a financially struggling athletic department could desperately use.
New Mexico State (0-3) could use a pick-me-up as well. The team earned its first bowl berth in nearly 60 years and earned a 26-20 victory over Utah State in the Arizona Bowl to cap last season, but past performance has not been a good indicator for future success for NMSU.
The Aggies had a tough schedule to open the season and have paid for it with losses in their first three games. New Mexico State hosted Wyoming before hitting the road to take on Minnesota and Utah State. NMSU lost all three games by 22 or more points — including a 47-point drubbing at the hands of Utah State last weekend, which walked away with a 60-13 victory to avenge last season's bowl loss.
A 0-3 start for New Mexico State probably isn't shocking to most fans considering the opponents that Aggies have faced, and the Lobo results have seemed equally predictable.
New Mexico (1-1) took care of business against Incarnate Word in its season opener and dropped a road contest to then-No.5 Wisconsin. The Lobos dropped 62 points on Incarnate Word, but looked porous on defense — giving up 30 points to an FCS school that had a lot of new faces.
Many fans were encouraged by UNM's road performance against Wisconsin. The Lobos scored on their opening drive and trailed just 10-7 in the third quarter despite losing starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti to an apparent head injury.
But Wisconsin was playing without two of its key players and still won big, turning three Lobo turnovers into three touchdowns to pull away for a big 45-14 victory. It should be pointed out that, after its opening drive, New Mexico only amassed 49 total yards the rest of the way, aside from a late scoring drive with less than four minutes remaining when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
So neither New Mexico game is a really good candidate to answer the question, "How good is this Lobo football team?" Somewhere between Incarnate Word and Wisconsin — that's a big spread.
But New Mexico State might be a good benchmark, especially since the two teams have played in some tight games over the past few seasons. The last two meetings were decided by a combined three points, with the Aggies winning both including a 30-28 win last season.
That game was interesting as New Mexico State nearly blew all of its 30-5 lead before Tuioti, a freshman at the time, entered the game about midway through the third quarter. He gashed the Aggies for 151 yards passing and two touchdowns and was a failed two-point conversion away from completing an improbable comeback to force overtime.
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On Saturday, New Mexico State will face another Lobo quarterback it won't be familiar with — and not a lot of tape to rely on for help. UNM junior quarterback Sheriron Jones is scheduled to get the start for the Lobos and — while he was responsible for all three turnovers at Wisconsin — he has had a full week of reps in preparation as the starter.
It might be intriguing to see if the NMSU defense gets into any trouble while trying to figure out and adjust to Jones' style of play. To make things more difficult for the Aggies, New Mexico State will be without defensive back Ray Buford Jr. for the first half, who, by rule, will have to sit out that time frame after picking up two personal foul penalties in the previous game.
The matchup is set to take place on Saturday, Sept. 15 in Las Cruses, New Mexico at Aggie Memorial Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.