New Mexico State Football News: Aggies Set to Square Off with #20 Liberty in C-USA Championship

By Bert Leeson

Aggies seek first conference title since 1978






LAS CRUCES, N.M. – For just the fourth time in program history and first since the undefeated season in 1960, the Aggies will enter a game riding an eight-game win streak as they compete in the Conference USA Championship game versus No. 20 Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., on Friday night.

Game Information
#RV NM State (10-3, 7-1 CUSA) vs. #20 Liberty (12-0, 8-0 CUSA)
Date: Friday, December 1, 2023
Time: 5:00 p.m. MT
TV: CBS Sports Networks

  • Rich Waltz (Play-by-Play)
  • Aaron Taylor (Color Analyst)
  • Amanda Guerra (Sideline)

Radio: The Aggie Radio Network, Powered by LEARFIELD

  • Jack Nixon (PxP)
  • Cory Lucas (Color Analyst)

8 – For the second time in program history, NM State has tallied double digit wins, joining the 1960 team who finished the season 11-0 as the only other Aggie team to accomplish this feat.
4 – A win in Friday’s CUSA title bout would give the Aggies their fourth conference championship in the history of the program.
19.7 – By holding opposing offenses to just 19.7 points per game, NM State finished the regular season as the number one scoring defense in CUSA and the 20th-ranked scoring defense in the country.
16 – With 186 rushing yards on Saturday versus Jax State, NM State extended its streak of games with 170 rushing yards or more to 16 games dating back to last season.
5 – With five home wins, this Aggie team is now in rare company as NM State has only won five home games in a season one other time since 1945.
18 – At 13.70 yards per completion, quarterback Diego Pavia ranks 18th in the nation in this category.


On Friday, the Aggies will take on fellow first-year CUSA member in Liberty who is currently ranked No. 20 in the AP poll and is one of just five remaining undefeated teams at the FBS level.

This marks the first time in history that the Aggie football program will play in a conference championship game and a win would give NM State its fourth conference title in program history and the first since 1978 when it was crowned champions of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Aggies also won the Border Conference in 1960 and were co-champs of the Border Conference in 1938.

The 2023 CUSA Football Championship is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 1, at 5 p.m. MT, in Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty will host inside Williams Stadium. Fans unable to make the trip to the Old Dominion can watch the game on CBS Sports Network.


In the CUSA Championship bout, NM State will face off with Liberty for the second time this season and will be looking for revenge after falling to the Flames 33-17 in Lynchburg on Sept. 9 when the two sides collided for each program’s inaugural CUSA competition.

In the first meeting, the Aggies got out to a hot start – scoring on its opening drive before coming away with a turnover on the Flames’ second drive of the game. Eventually, Liberty would take a six-point lead into the break. Unfortunately, the Aggies were unable to score any points in the second half – allowing Liberty to claim its second win of the season.

In the game, the Aggies were led on offense by Diego Pavia who threw for 150 yards and one touchdown while also adding a team-high 65 rushing yards. On the opposing side, Kaidon Salter completed 15 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Salter’s top target was CJ Daniels who racked up 129 receiving yards which was the most by any Aggie opponent until Saturday when Jax State wide receiver Perry Carter went for 134 yards.

Friday’s meeting will also mark the third time that the Aggies and Flames will collide in the span of 370 days with all three games taking place in Lynchburg. NM State also made the trip east late last year when they knocked off the Flames 49-14 thanks to a six-touchdown performance from Diego Pavia.


In the first three games of the season, Aggie opponents averaged 31.7 points per game. Since then, Nate Dreiling and Melvin Rice have the NM State defense clicking as the last ten opposing offenses are averaging 16.1 points per game. This includes performances against UTEP and Middle Tennessee in which they held the opposition to just seven points apiece. This also includes a nationally resounding showing against Auburn in which the Tigers scored only 10 points – joining Texas A&M and Georgia as the only other two programs to hold the Tigers to 10 or fewer points across the last two seasons.

Against Middle Tennessee, this stout defense proved to be essential to collecting the Aggies’ seventh win of the season as NM State earned its first win while scoring 13 or fewer points since Sept. 13, 1980 when it knocked off UTEP 6-3.

Even with the less-than-ideal start, the Aggie defense finished the regular season allowing just 19.7 points per game to rank first in the conference and finish the season as one of just 23 FBS teams to hold opponents to fewer than 20 points per game.


Led by Co-Defensive Coordinators Nate Dreiling and Melvin Rice, the Aggies defense against the run game has grown to become one of the most formidable in the nation – allowing just 126.4 rushing yards to rank 31st in the country and second among CUSA teams. This includes the Aggies’ most recent pair of performances in which it held two teams who entered the game averaging over 200 yards rushing to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.

Saturday’s performance against Jax State is also the sixth time this season and eighth time in the last 15 games that the Aggies’ opponent has failed to eclipse the century mark on the ground.


For the second consecutive season, the Aggies have earned the right to go bowling. After doing so by way of a sixth win in the final game of the season in 2022, the 2023 version of the Aggies clinched a postseason berth after winning seven of their first 10 games of the season.

Like the other 81 teams that will play in a bowl game this season, the Aggies will have to wait until Sunday, Dec. 3, to learn which bowl game they will be playing in. However, until then, Aggie fans can use countless projections to potentially guess where the Crimson and White will be playing its final game of the season.

Thus far, the Aggies have been commonly associated with the bowl game just 200 miles north as CBS Sports, Fox Sports and the Action Network each predict that NM State will find its way into the Isleta New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 16 in Albuquerque, N.M.. The Aggies have also seen their name appear as participants in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the Servpro First Responder Bowl in Dallas and the Famous Toastery Bowl Charlotte, N.C.

Bowl Projections

CBS Sports

Isleta New Mexico Bowl vs. Boise State (Dec. 16)

ESPN (Schlabach)

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl vs. Arkansas State (Dec. 16)

ESPN (Bonagura)

Servpro First Responder Bowl vs. Coastal Carolina (Dec. 26)

Fox Sports

Isleta New Mexico Bowl vs. Air Force (Dec. 16)

Action Network

Isleta New Mexico Bowl vs. Texas State (Dec. 16)

College Football News 

Famous Toastery Bowl vs. Eastern Michigan (Dec. 16)


Isleta New Mexico Bowl vs. Minnesota (Dec. 16)

Sporting News

Famous Toastery Bowl vs. Northern Illinois (Dec. 16)


If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again. Touting an 0-27 mark against SEC opponents heading into their game against Auburn, the Aggies waltzed into famed Jordan-Hare Stadium and came away with a 31-10 victory. This became the first time NM State knocked off a Power Five opponent since a 2012 road win over Minnesota. In that matchup with the Golden Gophers, the head coach on the opposing sideline was none other than current Aggie Head Coach Jerry Kill amid his second season at the helm of the Minnesota program.

With the win, the Aggies also become the only current Conference USA member with a win over an SEC program as LA Tech’s 13-13 tie versus Auburn in 1948 was previously the best result for a current CUSA affiliate against an SEC team.


One of the most storied venues in college football since its opening in 1939, Jordan-Hare Stadium has proven to be an incredibly difficult place to play. With the road win over Auburn, the Aggies became the first non-P5 program to win at Jordan-Hare since South Florida recorded a 26-23 overtime win in 2007.

Entering the game, Auburn was 346-93-7 for a .784 winning percentage to rank seventh nationally since the stadium’s gates first opened 84 years ago.


The Aggies have held an us-against-the-world mentality all season long and last Saturday was no different as they overcame the odds which labeled them as 25.5-point underdogs entering the game against Auburn. Despite the doubt, NM State was able to come away with a 21-point victory.

This is not the first time the Aggies’ have won while being heavy underdogs under Head Coach Jerry Kill.Last season, the Aggies went into Williams Stadium as 24-point underdogs against now-CUSA foe Liberty and, using a 6-touchdown performance from Diego Pavia, took home a 49-14 win back to Las Cruces.

Interestingly enough, current Auburn Head Coach Hugh Freeze was also at the helm of the heavily-favored Flames in 2022.


Running the ball and controlling time of possession has been a staple of the Aggie offense during the 2023 season and this has led to having one of the slowest offenses at the FBS level. Using games versus FBS opponents only, NM State is currently snapping the ball an average of every 30.5 seconds to rank 129th out of 133 teams. This has been a heavy emphasis during the Aggies’ eight-game win streak as they have led their opponent in time of possession in seven of the last eight matchups, including maintaining possession for a season-high total of 39 minutes and 42 seconds in the regular season finale versus Jax State.


No stranger to taking chances, Head Coach Jerry Kill has been methodical with his decisions to keep the offense on the field for fourth down. All season long, the Aggies have thrived on fourth down – converting on 10 of their 13 fourth down attempts to pace CUSA teams in fourth-down conversion percentage at 76.9%.

Including converting one of its two attempts on Saturday versus the Gamecocks, NM State has now converted at least one fourth down in three consecutive games and have done so in four of their last five games.


As Jerry Kill would say, “It’s a simple game, we just like to make it hard sometimes.” A primary focus for all offenses, including the Aggie offense, is to protect the ball. When that happens and the Aggies commit zero turnovers, NM State is a perfect 6-0 this season. This feat became even more impressive during the victory over Auburn, as the Tigers had forced a turnover in 19 straight games – the second-longest streak in the nation entering the weekend matchup.

Despite their best efforts, NM State turned the ball over a season-high four times on Saturday against Jax State yet still emerged victorious. This marked just the second time that the Aggies have committed four or more turnovers during the Jerry Kill era – having done so in the first game with Kill at the helm. Ahead of Saturday, FBS teams led by Jerry Kill had turned the ball over four or more times in just five out of 127 contests and, in those five games, Kill’s teams were 0-5.


With the Aggies’ upcoming appearance in the CUSA Championship game, NM State is guaranteed to play 15 games this season – a number that is two greater than any other Aggie team in program history.

In fact, the Aggies will play the most games of any FBS team during the 2023 college football season as only a small number of teams even have the possibility of reaching 15 games.

For the Aggies, the path to 15 games came via a 13-game regular season schedule made possible by playing at Hawai’i coupled with an appearance in both their conference championship game and a bowl game. The only other way a team can get to 15 games is by way of earning a spot in its conference championship game, then qualifying for the College Football Playoff and reaching the National Championship.

While the Aggies schedule may feel lengthy, it comes nowhere near the grueling slate that the Chicago Maroons played in 1894 when they competed in college football’s longest schedule – playing 22 contests while finishing the season with a 14-7-1 overall record.


NM State wide receiver Trent Hudson is amid one of the more impressive seasons for an Aggie wideout in recent history.

Hauling in an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, Hudson now has eight total receiving touchdowns this season – a mark that is good for third among CUSA pass catchers and 29th among all FBS receivers.

Hudson’s breakout season also makes him the first Aggie to catch at least eight touchdowns since eventual NFL Draft pick Jaleel Scott hauled in nine touchdown passes during the 2017 season.


Jerry Kill has widely become known as the “fix-it” head coach in college football as he has successfully turned around several programs he has taken over. Typically, it takes three seasons for the turnaround to fully take form. With Southern Illinois, he led the Salukis to a 10-2 record in year three after going 4-8 in year two. He then led Northern Illinois to a 10-3 record in year three after going 7-6 in the second year. Most recently, he led Minnesota to an 8-5 record after posting a 6-7 record in year two with the Gophers.

That rise to success has been expedited with NM State as the Aggies secured ten wins in a season for the first time since 1960, and will look to tie that historic 1960 NM State squad against No. 20 Liberty in the CUSA Championship Game.


With the Aggies’ Senior Day win over Jax State this Saturday, NM State has now rattled off five consecutive home wins, a feat that has been accomplished just once since 1945. In 2002, the Aggies finished the season 7-5, with a perfect 5-0 mark at home.

During the win streak, the Aggies have outscored opponents 152-75. NM State’s offense has averaged 413.5 yards of offense per game while holding opposing teams to just 346 yards per game. On the ground, the Aggies have limited opponents to just 114 rushing yards per game while averaging 207.1 rushing yards themselves.

This is also the second consecutive season that the Aggies finish with four or more home wins – the first time that NM State has done so since 1966-67.


Since Jerry Kill took over the Aggies, the month of October has been friendly to the men in crimson and white and that trend has only continued this season.

After closing the month with a 27-24 win over LA Tech, the Aggies finished this October with a 4-0 record and moved to 6-1 in the 10th month of the year across the last two seasons. With the win over LA Tech, the Aggies surpassed their number of October wins during the previous regime which spanned nine seasons.

In this year’s October span, the Aggies put up some staggering statistics that rivaled that of the best in the nation.

• T-5th in rushing yards per attempt (6.0 yards per rush)

• 6th in opponent 3rd-down conversion percentage (22.9%)

• 10th in scoring defense (15.3 ppg)

• 19th in yards per play (6.6 yds)

• T-19th in rushing offense (210 ypg)

• T-19th in rushing defense (106.8 ypg)

Additionally, in the month of October, the Aggies were one of only five teams inside the top 20 in both rushing offense and defense.

During this stretch, the Aggies were also among the top two teams in CUSA in 12 different categories – total defense (1st, 359.8 ypg), touchdowns allowed (1st, 8), scoring defense (1st, 15.25), yards per play (1st, 6.6), rush yards per attempt (1st, 6.0), rushing defense (t-1st, 106.75), rush yards per carry allowed (1st, 3.5), turnover margin (1st, +3), opponent 3rd down conversion percentage (1st, 22.9%), touchdowns scored (2nd, 14), total offensive yards per game (2nd, 415.75), rush yards per game (2nd, 210).


Despite often leaning on the arm of Diego Pavia who ranks 23rd in the nation in passing touchdowns (23), this year’s Aggie squad has also been dominant in the trenches as they have outgained their opponents in rushing yards in all but one game this season.

At 204.7 rushing yards per game, the Aggies are ranked 11th in the nation at the FBS level and are joined by Liberty as the only CUSA teams to average more than 200 rushing yards per game this season. Liberty’s average of 295.4 yards per game is tops in the nation.

The Aggies have also now rushed for over 170 yards in 16 consecutive games and eclipsed the 180 yard mark in each of their last six contests.


With a win on Saturday, NM State pushed its win streak to eight games – something that it had not accomplished since the historic 1960 season when the Aggies finished the season with a perfect 11-0 record. This is also just the fourth time in program history that the Aggies rattle off eight wins in a row.

On Saturday, NM State also joined the 1960 squad as the only two Aggie teams in program history to record double digit wins.


In his first season with the Aggies, quarterback Eli Stowers has quickly become one of the Aggies’ top weapons and has done so from almost everywhere on the field.

The Denton, Texas, native made his first appearance at the tight end position against FIU on Oct. 4 and has since appeared at tight end, wide receiver, running back and even safety for one play.

In five of the last seven games, Stowers has led the Aggie offense in receptions, receiving yards or both after beginning the season as the Aggies’ primary backup at the quarterback position. Against Auburn, Stowers also tallied a receiving touchdown for the second straight week after catching his first touchdown pass against Western Kentucky on Nov. 11.

On the season, Stowers ranks second on the team in receptions (32) and third in receiving yards (346). Stowers also has one touchdown pass this year as he hooked up with Jordin Parker for a 63 completion on Sept. 2 against Western Illinois.


The win over UTEP in El Paso coupled with the win over New Mexico in Albuquerque earlier in the season helped NM State accomplish something it hadn’t done since 1923.

The pair of victories marked the first time that the Aggies knocked off both of their rivals on the road in the same season in 100 years. However, the 2023 season is just the first time since 1999 that the two tilts came on the road as most years the Aggies host either the Lobos or the Miners.


For the first time since 2017, NM State tallied a win in Albuquerque as they defeated the Lobos 27-17 on Sept. 16. This also marked the second consecutive win over the Lobos and makes Jerry Kill the first Aggie coach since Dewayne Walker to begin his career with a perfect 2-0 record against the Aggies’ in-state rival.

In the win, the Aggies were led offensively by Albuquerque native Diego Pavia who finished the night with 203 passing yards, two throwing touchdowns and 99 rushing yards. The 99-yard rushing total marked the most by any Aggie at that point in the season.


Since his arrival in 2019, Ethan Albertson has established himself among the top kickers in the country. Earlier this season, Albertson received recognition for his performance against New Mexico as he was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week.

Two weeks ago, Albertson garnered his second CUSA Special Teams Player of the Week honor of the season after going a perfect 5-5 on kicks against Western Kentucky, including a 40-yard field goal.

On Monday, Albertson earned his third CUSA Special Teams Player of the Week selection after going 4-4, including a 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired against Jax State.

Amid his senior season, the San Diego native ranks inside the top ten in NM State history for field goals made (2nd, 44), field goals attempted (3rd, 58), field goal percentage (1st, 75.8%), extra points made (4th, 104), extra points attempted (4th, 108) and extra point percentage (4th, 96.3%).


After an impressive first season in the Crimson and White, quarterback Diego Pavia already finds himself among the Aggie greats. He currently ranks 10th all-time in program history in career passing yards (4,177) and third in career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,314). Against LA Tech, Pavia also became just the second quarterback in program history to surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in an Aggie uniform. With just 133 more rushing yards, Pavia will also become the all-time leader in rushing yards by an Aggie quarterback, surpassing K.C. Enzminger (1,360) and Paul Dombrowski (1,446).


Between Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck and Wide Receivers Coach Tony Sanchez, the Aggies have formed an offensive attack that produces big play after big play in the passing game.

Currently, the Aggies rank 18th in the nation in passing yards per completion – averaging just under 14 yards per reception (13.9).

Thus far, the Aggies have compiled 27 passing plays of 25 yards or more in thirteen games. This also includes 12 passing plays of 40 yards or longer (40, 40, 42, 42, 44, 49, 52, 63, 75, 75, 78, 80). This all begins in the backfield with Diego Pavia who now ranks 18th among FBS quarterbacks in yards per completion at 13.70.


On Sept. 9, the hand of Gabe Peterson helped NM State’s special teams unit came up with a blocked point after attempt for the first time since Dion Henrique did so at Florida on Sept. 5, 2015.

The big paw of Peterson did it again on Oct. 24 when he swatted away a PAT attempt against LA Tech.

With the pair of blocks, he is one of only 13 players in college football with two or more blocked kicks and the only athlete with two blocked PATs.


Jordin Parker has put together one of the most unique seasons in all of college football as he has now caught three touchdown passes on just four receptions on the season.

His stat line gets even stranger when you look at his total receiving yards this year. Following his sixth catch against Jax State, Parker ranks fifth on the team in receiving yards with 235. That is good for an astonishing 39.2 yards per reception.


With 17 wins under his belt at NM State, Jerry Kill is the tenth-winningest active coach in FBS football.

Of note, three of the top 10 coaches on the active wins list lead CUSA programs as K.C. Keeler (ranked 4th) leads Sam Houston while Jax State Head Coach Rich Rodriguez is ranked 9th in wins among active coaches.

Aside from Keeler and Rodriguez, Kill trails just Nick Saban (Alabama), Mack Brown (North Carolina), Brian Kelly (LSU), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), Willie Fritz (Tulane), Chris Creighton (Eastern Michigan), and Terry Bowden (Louisiana – Monroe).


When HC Jerry Kill replaced Doug Martin, the Aggies cleaned house for the remainder of the coaching staff as well. In fact, just one staff member was retained from the 2021 team – Defensive Graduate Assistant Quinn Thomas.

However, from 2022 to 2023, all 10 assistant coaches will make the return. This makes Kill’s staff one of just seven schools in the country to bring back its entire staff – joined by Colorado State, Louisiana, Kansas, USC, Iowa and Pitt.


As the Aggies enter the heart of their conference schedule, some of NM State’s numbers stack up against the best of the best in the new league.

Currently, the Aggies have three individuals who rank inside the top five in the conference in a total of 19 statistical categories.

Diego Pavia

Pass Efficiency (2nd, 150.1)

Passing TDs (3rd, 23)

Passing Yards (3rd, 2,727)

Passing Yards per Completion (2nd, 13.70)

Points Responsible For (3rd, 168)

Points Responsible For Per Game (4th, 12.9)

Total Offense per Game (4th, 271.8)

Yards per Pass Attempt (2nd, 8.39)

Rushing Yards (4th, 806)

Rushing Yards Per Game (4th, 62.0)

Rush Yards per Carry (3rd, 5.27)

Rushing TDs (5th, 5)

Completion Pct. (4th, 61.2%)

Completions Per Game (5th, 15.31)

Ethan Albertson

Field Goal Pct. (2nd, 78.3%)

Field Goals Per Game (1st, 1.38)

Total Points Scored (1st, 97)

Trent Hudson

Receiving TDs (3rd, 8)

Total TDs (5th, 8)


In her second season as the NM State equipment manager, Paulina Mihelich becomes one of just four lead equipment managers across the FBS level.

Under Mihelich, the Aggies join Nevada, New Mexico, and Temple as the lone schools to be powered by women.

With Rachel Phillips also serving as the Aggies’ Director of Football Operations, NM State and Temple are the only two programs that feature women at both the head equipment manager and DFO positions.

Phillips is one of just eight female DFOs around the country, joining women at Temple, Notre Dame, TCU, Kansas State, Maryland, Bowling Green, and FAU.

Also returning is Associate Athletic Trainer Sam Graff. With Graff leading the way for the Aggies, NM State is one of 12 schools at the FBS level with a female lead athletic trainer for football – Rice, Georgia Southern, Bowling Green, Troy, Kansas State, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, Iowa, Virginia, BYU, and UCF are the other 11.

The Aggies also added Kaylee Nilsson to the staff as a Graduate Assistant Nutritionist. In her role, Nilsson keeps NM State at optimal nutrition levels for training, competition, recovery, hydration, immunity, travel, and more.


The Aggies will square off with the Flames for the second time this season as they look to earn the programs fourth conference title in program history. This will mark the seventh time that the two schools meet on the gridiron and the Aggies will be looking for their third victory over the Flames.

Liberty is led by first-year head coach, Jamey Chadwell who has led the program to a perfect 12-0 record through the regular season.

As a team, the Flames have been solid in all aspects of the game, but they have been even more exceptional in the run game as they currently rank first in the nation in rushing yards per game – averaging nearly 300 yards on the ground. Liberty’s defense has also been dominant and has been led by its secondary which ranks first in the nation in interceptions.

Offensively, the Flames will be led by CUSA Player of the Year candidate Kaidon Salter who averages 202.6 yards per game through the air while also rushing for 74.9 yards per game. The run game is also bolstered by Quinton Cooley who is one of only 16 players to average over 100 rushing yards per game at the FBS level.

Defensively, linebacker Tyren Dupree serves as the Flames’ leading tackler with 107 tackles on the season, including eight of which came behind the line of scrimmage


NM State broadcaster Jack Nixon returns for his 44th year of broadcasting Aggie athletics for the NM State radio network. A legend on the Aggie airwaves, Nixon has broadcast over 400 Aggie football contests and over 1,000 Aggie men’s basketball games.  An NM State Hall of Fame selection, Nixon will handle of the radio duties with former Aggie Cory Lucas, who joined the broadcaster ahead of the 2017 season.

The long-standing voice of the Aggies will call his 500th football game on Friday night when NM State takes on Liberty for the CUSA Championship.

##NM State##