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March 23, 2010

New Mexico has nowhere to go but up

After a 1-11 debut, things only can get better for New Mexico under Mike Locksley.

No one expected Locksley, who had been Illinois' offensive coordinator, to oversee such a dismal season - the school's worst since going 0-11 in 1987. Making matters worse was an off-field confrontation with an assistant that drew headlines.

But Locksley is undaunted. He continues to recruit well despite dealing with scholarship limitations that were part of NCAA sanctions slapped on the program under the previous regime. Still, this is a pivotal season for Locksley, who needs to show he has things on track.

Here's a look at the Lobos as they prepare for spring practice.

NEW MEXICO AT-A-GLANCE
Mike Locksley struggled in his first season as coach at New Mexico, finishing 1-11.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mike Locksley
Last season: 1-11 overall, 1-7 in the Mountain West.
Spring dates: March 23-April 17.
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (5): T Byron Bell, RB Demond Dennis, WR Ty Kirk, TE Lucas Reed, RB James Wright.
Defense (6): CB Nathan Enriquez, T Peter Gardner, CB Anthony Hooks, E Jaymar Latchison, LB Carmen Messina, E Johnathan Rainey.
Special teams (1): K James Aho.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

The Lobos will have a strong corps of running backs and what should be an excellent defensive line. Dennis is a speed back who could be an explosive weapon. DEs Rainey and Latchison are quick and athletic off the edge. They will combine with Gardner, two tackle transfers from Illinois and four-star freshman tackle Calvin Smith to help form what could be the top defensive line in the Mountain West.

HELP IS NEEDED

The secondary could be eaten alive. With S Ian Clark gone, the top player in the defensive backfield is Hooks. But he's average at best. There is a desperate need for safeties, and it doesn't look like any newcomers will offer immediate help. With Donovan Porterie gone, the quarterback spot is a question. And only one full-time starter returns on the offensive line.

GUYS TO WATCH

DTs Reggie Ellis and Ugo Uzodinma: Both are sophomore transfers from Illinois, where Locksley had been offensive coordinator. Ellis was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, while Uzodinma is one of the most impressive specimens the Lobos have had on the defensive line.

C Dillon Farrell: Farrell, a redshirt freshman, is the heir apparent to all-league C Erik Cook, who was a senior. The rapid development of Farrell, who travelled with the team last season, could be one of the keys to the Lobos' offensive success.

QB B.R. Holbrook: Holbrook, a sophomore, pushed Porterie for playing time early last fall before a bout of mononucleosis sidelined him for a month. Holbrook has displayed a strong arm and mobility in his limited action. In the fall, he'll have to fight off true freshmen Tarean Austin and Darian "Stump" Godfrey. Austin is from Florida and Godfrey was an all-state player in Texas.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

WR Chris Hernandez: Hernandez, a senior, has the potential to be one of the top wide receivers in the Mountain West, but he has lacked consistency. If Hernandez can polish his attention to detail, he could be a dynamic weapon and emerge in his final season the same way Daryl Jones did last fall as a senior.

THE BUZZ

For New Mexico to have a turnaround, work must be done on both sides of the ball. The Lobos had the worst scoring offense (16.3) and worst scoring defense (35.9) in the Mountain West in 2009. The big key on offense will be finding a quarterback, while the defense must find a way to fix what was the worst pass defense in the league (253.7 ypg).

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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