The Independents Preview: New Mexico State isn’t in a conference?

On Monday, college athletic programs across the nation swapped conferences to much jubilation.

There was the ACC announcement.

There was the American Conference debut.

There was Conference USA additions.

There was the Mountain West welcome.

Then there was New Mexico State. No big announcements and little to celebrate as the Aggies will spend the 2013 season in independent limbo. Things should look up a bit in 2014, as they will join the Sun Belt Conference, which has done its best to rebuild what little reputation it had.

In the wake of the Western Athletic Conference’s death roll, NMSU was on the outside looking in and the picture wasn’t looking too bright. So a Sun Belt invite for 2014 is just what first-year coach Doug Martin as he tries to improve a program that has been in disarray since the 1960s.

When the Aggies hired DeWayne Walker away from UCLA in 2009 there was some optimism, but he managed to go 10-40 in four seasons in Las Cruces. Walker, clearly seeing he didn’t have much of a future at New Mexico State, walked away for a shot as an assistant in the NFL.

Not a bad move.

The Aggies have embraced their one-year of independence by filling up the schedule with as many top programs as they could. This may equate to another 1-11 or 2-10 season, but it should allow NMSU to fill the coffers with some big paydays.

It’s also important that the Aggies’ brass give Martin the time and resources to build the program, otherwise the former Kent State coach will just be another name on a long list of failed experiments for NMSU.

Martin has his work cut out for him, though. The former NMSU and Boston College offensive coordinator must work some magic with a unit that returns seven starters and averaged 18.7 points a game.

The line is solid and quarterback Andrew Manley completed 207-for-384 passes for 2,764 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore.

The defense was even worse than the offense in 2012 as the unit allowed 39.4 points a game and 476.2 yards a game.

New Mexico State opens the season on an 11-game losing streak and breaking it early doesn’t look too promising. It all starts Aug. 31 with a trip to Austin, Texas, to take on the nationally ranked Longhorns.

Other notable games include home dates with Minnesota (Sept. 7), San Diego State (Sept. 28) and Boston College (Nov. 9). The Aggies will also take to the road to face UCLA (Sept. 21), rival New Mexico (Oct. 5), Louisiana (Nov. 2) and Florida Atlantic (Nov. 23).

The Aggies will actually close the season with a home game against fellow WAC-castoff Idaho on Nov. 30, which gives them seven home dates this season.