New Mexico quarterback Cole Gautsche returns to help lead the Lobos' offense. (Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today Sports / November 2, 2013)
Editor's note: This post was updated with New Mexico's correct conference record.
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 105: New Mexico Lobos
Coach: Bob Davie (7-18, entering 3rd season; 42-43 overall)
2013 record: 3-9 (1-7 in Mountain West Conference, 7th in Mountain Division)
Look back: New Mexico coach Bob Davie has recorded seven wins during his first two seasons leading the Lobos, which is the same amount the program had in the previous four seasons combined. The former Notre Dame coach has been committed to changing the culture at New Mexico following Mike Locksley's bumpy tenure.
While the Lobos have improved, injuries to key players slowed the progress last season and contributed to a three-win season. QB Cole Gautsche and RB Kasey Carrier, who accounted for 60 percent of the Lobos' offense, suffered concussions and missed the final two games of the season.
Davie and his coaching staff put an emphasis on recruiting, adding depth, size and toughness to help New Mexico better absorb any future injuries.
Ahead of his third season with the program, Davie said in the school's spring preview, “The next piece of this is winning. We need to win now to get this thing rolling.”
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB Kasey Carrier, P Ben Skaer, LB Dallas Bollema, OL Dillon Farrell, OL Darryl Johnson, RB Crusoe Gongbay
Top returnees: MLB Dakota Cox, QB Cole Gautsche, KR/WR Carlos Wiggins, DL Brett Bowers, OL LaMar Bratton, S David Guthrie, CB SaQwan Edwards, CB Cranston Jones
Strengths: New Mexico brings back some key leaders in every phase of the game. Linebacker Dakota Cox, who earned Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America honors, was the first freshman to lead the Lobos in tackles (99) since 1994. Gautsche, a dual-threat quarterback, recorded five 100-yard rushing games during the 2013 season, the second highest tally in Mountain West history. And KR/WR Carlos Wiggins was the Mountain West special teams play of the year after leading the nation in kickoff return yards (1,303).
Weaknesses: Gautsche has proven to be a dynamic quarterback, but he has suffered concussion problems three times during his career. It's unclear whether he will be able to avoid future injuries, especially with his penchant for running the ball.
Davie is pushing for more balance in the Lobos' offense after the team relied on the run game for 73 percent of its offensive production last season. The shift in philosophy may take on greater urgency in an effort to protect Gautsche and offset the loss of top returning rusher Crusoe Gongbay, who has been suspended from the team after being charged with sexual assault.
New Mexico needs new recruits to help bolster a defense that ranked No. 118 out of 123 NCAA recognized teams in scoring defense (42.8 points allowed per game.)
Outlook: The New Mexico football program is in much better shape than it was three years ago, but the Lobos still have work to do before they can clinch bowl eligibility and compete for a Mountain West title.