When Conference USA announced last year that New Mexico State would be joining the league in 2023, the Aggies football program was an afterthought.
NMSU’s basketball program makes any league stronger, but the football team was 7-29 since winning the 2017 Arizona Bowl to end the longest bowl game appearance drought in the country.
The Aggies had a nationally recognized name in head coach Jerry Kill with some experienced players returning on defense and a schedule that might yield a handful of wins. The mark of a good coach is improvement throughout the course of the season and in game adjustments and the Aggies did just that despite a 0-4 start.
NM State finished the regular season 6-2 and won the team’s second bowl game since 1960 with a victory over Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Aggie’s 2022 bowl run just the tip of the iceberg
So what’s next for Kill and the Aggies, who exceeded expectations in his first season in Las Cruces?
“We are going to continue to improve,” said Kill, who won his first bowl game as a head coach last month. “It’s a whole different team next year. Can they have the same type of culture? You just don’t know.
“We are way ahead, but at the same time, it’s not way ahead. There are a lot of kinks in the armor that have to be fixed. Conference USA should feel a lot better about New Mexico State right now coming into the conference, which I feel is important.”
Kill has instilled a team culture and style of play that should remain, but just from a talent standpoint, the Aggies will have better rosters in future seasons.
That’s not to say there weren’t standout performances in 2022, but Kill and his staff had less than a month after taking the job to put together a signing class.
With a full year to recruit, NM State signed 30 players during the early signing period in December and will add between 15-20 players during the regular signing period in February.
The school also announced that Kill signed his five-year contract last week and a number of facility improvements are in the works.
The school has already secured funding for a lockerroom facility and field turf for Aggie Memorial Stadium. The field turf project funds came from last year’s capital funding from the state.
NM State athletics director Mario Moccia said the school hopes to secure funding during the upcoming session for a scoreboard at AMS and he hopes a turf practice field will be added as soon as next season as the Aggies practiced in the stadium all season.
Conference USA has revenue streams that have not been available to NM State as an independent program through College Football Playoff payouts and television exposure.
The Aggies will also be competing for a conference championship and have proven that they have the talent to compete in the league this season with a close loss to rival UTEP and a dominant road victory at future member Liberty, which will enter the league in 2023 as one of the better programs in the league.
The league also currently has seven bowl game ties through 2025 that were not previously available to the Aggies.
The Quick Lane Bowl was just the fifth bowl game in the history of the football program. But after one season’s unlikely bowl game run, expectations have already changed.
“I think the new expectations is you go to a bowl game every year at New Mexico State with Jerry Kill,” NM State athletics director Mario Moccia said.
Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.