By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Associate Editor
Copyright Enchantment Sports
University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie may want to channel his inner Dennis Franchione in 2018 as fall camp now is in full swing.
It’s been 25 years since Franchione became the first Lobo coach since Roy Johnson in the 1920s to post a winning record the year after he coached UNM to a three-win season.
He guided the Lobos to a 3-8 season during his rookie campaign in 1992 and followed that up with a 6-5 mark in 1993.
Since 1920, UNM has had 13 three-win campaigns. The program has posted winning records three times the following season.
Johnson’s 1923 Lobos went 3-5 but rebounded to go 5-1 in 1924. The Lobos had another three-win season in 1933 — going 3-4-1 under coach Charles Riley. Riley exited, and Gwinn Henry took over in 1934, leading UNM to an 8-1 mark.
If it brings any comfort to Lobo fans, which it probably won’t, the team did improve its win total in seven of the previous 12 follow-up seasons. Four or five wins likely won’t appease UNM football fans who were staying away when Davie had built a nine-win squad in 2016.
Two years ago, the program and coach Bob Davie should’ve been on top of the world, having completely erased the failed Locksley era with a 9-4 record and a 23-20 victory over UTSA in the New Mexico Bowl — the team’s first bowl win since the 2007 New Mexico Bowl against a Colin Kaepernick-led Nevada team.
The team led the nation in rushing and set a school record for rushing, total offense and scoring. It seemed Lobo Football might actually have some momentum.
But something was amiss. The 2016 regular season had the lowest attendance of any Lobo football team in the previous 25 years with an average of just 18,708 per game.
Franchione left after his 9-4 Lobo season in 1997, in part because only approximately 30,000 people showed up for the UNM’s 51-10 win over Tulsa that sewed up the Western Athletic Conference Mountain Division title.
Of course, coach Rocky Long’s Lobos went 9-4 in 2007, and the attendance of 29,751 was nearly 8,600 fewer than the program record of 38,341 in 2005.
UNM would love to have either of those averages today — especially the men’s soccer team.
For Davie to regain fan support, he has to hope that new offensive coordinator Calvin Magee can do something that hasn’t been done before in the annals of college football:
Make a triple-option offense adept at throwing the football by marrying that scheme with elements of the spread option — an offense that failed spectacularly under the aforementioned Locksley.
As the team began full contact on Tuesday, the biggest question facing the team is whom Magee will entrust to guide this hybrid offense. Sophomore quarterback Tevaka Tuioti was good enough to wrest the starting job away from fifth-year senior Lamar Jordan last season.
Can he hold off senior (and former Arizona State transfer) Coltin Gerhart and junior and (and former Tennessee transfer) Shariron Jones?
Can Tyrone Owens get his 2016 groove back when he rushed for 1,097 yards and was fourth in the nation in yards per carry at 8.0.?
Can Magee spark the passing attack with wide receivers Delane Hart-Johnson and Jay Griffin IV while keeping the trademark punch for which the UNM run game is known?
“I think he (Magee) brings a freshness and a newness, and you can feel that in the energy of it,” Davie said earlier during fall camp. “And there’s a lot of open positions. The combination of those two things – it almost feels like a game, that type of urgency.”
Defensively, the Lobos’ priority is trying to figure out how to force more turnovers. It has caused 13 in each of the last two seasons after forcing nearly double that amount (25) in 2015.
But the team has steadily improved in yards per game allowed, and it’ll be up to veteran linebacker Alex Hart and defensive end Cody Baker to keep the defense on that upward arc.
The learning curve shoots up as the hitting starts.
But the one other thing that August brings is enthusiasm. UNM will be anxious to stop talking about 2017 and start looking forward to the season opener against Incarnate Word on Sept. 1.
The task for Davie is to not only keep that enthusiasm alive into the season but also find a way to sustain that enthusiasm when October rolls around and thoughts of Lobo basketball start to thaw.
Or else it won’t matter what – or whose energy Davie channels as he enters his seventh season.
Franchione lasted only six at UNM. And a last scary prospect facing Davie is the fact that only five head coaches (including Davie) have had a nine-win season at UNM.
Two (Franchione and Joe Morrison, who went 10-1 in 1982), left their high-mark season. The other two (Long and Bill Weeks) never recorded another winning season after their nine-win campaigns.