When it comes to college football, I grew up in Big Ten country (Wisconsin) and now reside deep in the heart of SEC country (Florida). Needless to say, I spend a lot of the day on Saturday watching teams from those two conferences, especially the Wisconsin Badgers from the Big Ten and the Florida Gators from the SEC.
As if I didn’t get enough football from those two conferences on Saturday, I more often than not stay up late and watch teams from the Pac-12 conference as well. That was until recently.
Now I try to tune in and watch the action of teams in the Mountain West conference, most notably the New Mexico Lobos.
Why? Because one of my college buddies is the defensive coordinator of the Lobos. That would be Kevin Cosgrove, who first became a defensive coordinator back at the University of Wisconsin under head coach Barry Alvarez back in 1995.
Cosgrove’s first game as coordinator was the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl (now the Outback Bowl) in Tampa. I was there, along with a couple of other buddies, as we sat next to the coaches wives, as Wisconsin beat Duke 34-20.
After the game, my fondest memory was being at the team hotel (Westin Tampa Harbour Island) and smoking a victory cigar with a number of the coaches (including Alvarez and Cosgrove) overlooking the Hillsborough River from the balcony.
Cosgrove stayed on as defensive coordinator for the Badgers until 2003. He was part of the 1998 and 1999 Wisconsin teams that won back-to-back Big Ten titles and back-to-back Rose Bowls.
In 1998, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense under Cosgrove. In 1999, they were ranked 15th in the country in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
After leaving Wisconsin, Cosgrove also was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Minnesota and Akron, before joining Bob Davie’s staff at New Mexico.
The football program under Davie is on the upswing at New Mexico, as the Lobos went to a bowl game last year for the first time since 2007.
Landry first talked about an overall rundown of the Mountain West conference.
“For the folks not familiar with it [the conference], they break it into two divisions,” Landry said. “The Mountain area and the West area. The West has teams like San Diego State, Nevada, San Jose State, Fresno State, Hawaii and UNLV.
“The Mountain side is the stronger side. I will say this, I think San Diego State is the team I like the most out of the Mountain West. They’re in the West. They are really good. They have great linebackers.
“For New Mexico, I think they are pretty good. On the Mountain side, I think Boise, Air Force and the great job being done at Utah State by Matt Wells, I like them a little bit better.
“But I think New Mexico and Colorado State have a chance to be pretty good. Wyoming is still a ways away.”
Landry then focused his attention on New Mexico.
“I think they do a really good job,” Landry said. “They have a good defensive end over there in [Nik] D’Avanzo, who is a really good player. They always have some good players. Dakota Cox is a very good linebacker there.
“I’ve always wondered why consistency-wise [they haven’t won], because it’s such a beautiful place. I guess to me it’s more of a place you would retire and go play golf. Albuquerque is a beautiful city. Maybe it’s not attractive enough for kids. I think in that area recruiting-wise, they could do a real good job.
“It’s good program. They’ve done a good job. Kevin is an outstanding coach. Of course Bob Davie, former Notre Dame coach, it’s his fifth year now. They will be fun to watch.
“Relatively speaking, they’ve done a real good job in recruiting and they develop players well. I think Bob’s connections, bringing in a quality coach like Kevin over there, plus they have some experienced staff members that’s really helped them.
“Because normally what you get there are young, up-and-comers [coaches], but he’s [Davie] had some guys who have come in and have done a pretty good job. It’s give them some experience in recruiting and for player development.”
Landry also thinks that the Mountain West, along with the American Athletic, are the two best conferences in the country, outside of the Power 5 (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12).
New Mexico is doing what they can to show that they can play with the big boys as well, as they have scheduled non-conference games in the future with opponents like Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and USC.
For now, the goal is to improve on last year’s 7-6 record and perhaps win the Mountain side of their conference. The Lobos finished just a game out of winning the crown last year, as they defeated good opponents like Utah State, Boise State and Air Force.
In 2016, a divisional title, along with another bowl bid, would be another big stepping stone for Davie and his football program at New Mexico.