The life of an FBS independent can be nomadic. No one knows that better than New Mexico State.
Looking for games has taken the Aggies across the American West this season, and even halfway across the Pacific for a return game in a home-and-home with Hawaii.
But Saturday’s trip, in the opposite direction, should probably be illegal.
The one-win Aggies flew to Tuscaloosa, scored first against second-ranked Alabama, then spent the remaining 54 minutes as a sacrifice to the College Football Playoff gods.
The Crimson Tide pummeled 52-point underdog New Mexico State 59-3 Saturday afternoon, with the only drama centered on how healthy Alabama would emerge from the game.
Defensive back DeMarcco Hellams had to be helped off the field in the first half after a friendly-fire collision. He was soon spotted on an exercise bike, easing concerns about a long-time absence.
Backup running back Roydell Williams suffered an apparent leg injury in the first half and headed to the locker room for further examination.
Yet for most of the game, New Mexico State took the brunt of the physical abuse in an epic mismatch. How epic? The pregame point spread was the largest in college football in all of 2021.
Starting quarterback Bryce Young played the entire first half, as well as the first possession of the second half, and threw like he was throwing against air. But his second-half cameo ended with him being sandwiched by Aggies defenders, forcing a fumble that ended a promising drive.
He finished with video-game numbers: 21 of 23 passing for 270 yards and five touchdowns (his second quintuple of the season).
A week after LSU limited Alabama to 6 yards rushing, Brian Robinson rumbled for 99 yards and two TDs on nine carries. Even more impressive was the effort of his understudies. Third-team running back Trey Sanders (66 yards and one TD on 12 carries) and Demouy Kennedy, a linebacker just a few weeks ago before making the move to offense because of depth concerns, added another 17 yards on six rushes.
The bigger picture is that Alabama emerged from a late-season cupcake game with the ability to tune up for the stretch run. The bonus: game experience for reserves, which hasn’t been in abundance this year.
The Tide must beat Arkansas at home and Auburn on the road to punch an Atlanta ticket, where top-ranked Georgia awaits. But it has to navigate the remainder with a running game that looks like a MASH unit.
We can’t take much from Saturday’s why-are-the-playing this matchup except for a crisp Tide performance and a New Mexico State scheduler with a sadistic streak.
But even with the mismatch, Alabama’s metrics – including strength of schedule – remain the best of the contenders. But to return to the College Football Playoff, though, Alabama will have to simply do it the old-fashioned way — win out.
One misstep, and it’s likely the Tide’s defense of its national title is toast.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.