New Mexico State Football is hoping to keep playing

New Mexico State quarterback Diego Pavia and his teammates continue to hope for a bowl appearance after Saturday’s 49-14 win over Liberty. Pavia was nominated for the weekly Peyton Manning Awards on Monday. (New Mexico State Athletics)

New Mexico State is feeling flushed after Saturday’s surprise 49-14 win at Liberty and hopes its 5-6 football season isn’t over yet.

NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said Monday that the school is pleading for bowl eligibility and also trying to add a game to the regular season schedule at home against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponents Valparaiso on Saturday.

For both to happen, the NCAA needs to get involved.

Usually, six wins and a .500 record are the minimums for bowl eligibility, but teams with 5-7 records are sometimes invited when there aren’t enough teams of 6-6 or better to fill all bowl slots.

Moccia’s appeal to the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee notes that the Aggies were not allowed to play one of their games — the Oct. 22 home game against San Jose State was canceled after a Spartans player was killed in a car accident near his campus had been – and that the Aggies have a better winning percentage at 5-6 and should skip the line ahead of 5-7 teams.

“There’s no book about a player dying, how to deal with that situation,” said Aggies freshman football coach Jerry Kill, referring to the Oct. 21 death of San Jose State’s Camdam McWright, the was riding an e-scooter when hit by a school bus. The Spartans decided that day not to travel to Las Cruces.

Still, Kill said, “I don’t think we should be punished for something that was out of everyone’s control. If we played it and won the game, we don’t have this conversation.”

CBS Sports reported after this weekend’s games that after accounting for all teams with at least six wins, there were seven bowl slots left. Only one team has a shot at their sixth win this week (5-6 Buffalo vs. 2-9 Akron on Friday).

So some teams with five wins would have to be invited to the bowl party. Typically, the hierarchy of such is determined by Academic Progress Rate (APR) results, which would not favor NMSU. But “5-6 is definitely better than 5-7,” Moccia said, comparing the Aggies’ record to a better batting average or free-throw ratio.

Moccia said NMSU has now contacted three Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools that could play this week — San Jose State (7-4), Virginia Tech (3-8, missed the Virginia game after three Cavalier players had been shot) and Vanderbilt (5-7, but since they played in Hawaii in the season opener they qualified for a 13th game). He said there were no takers, and he told the Journal Monday night he wasn’t sure SJSU would do a make-good game in the future. Kill called it “ironically funny” given the number of teams that wanted to play New Mexico State not too long ago.

Importantly, a win over Valparaiso without a scholarship would not gain NMSU Bowl eligibility. Because only a win against an FCS team in a year can count for that. New Mexico State has that — a 51-14 home win on Nov. 12 against Lamar.

Moccia said NMSU still wanted this game to honor its commitments to season ticket holders and sponsors and give Aggie seniors a proper send-off. Valparaiso (5-6), meanwhile, has already played 11 games, the maximum allowed for an FCS team, and would need a waiver from the NCAA to be allowed to play a 12th.

Kill said his staff would go to work Monday preparing for Valparaiso without knowing if the game will go ahead. NMSU had hoped to get a definitive response to Valpo’s waiver request Monday, but didn’t. A response on bowl status can wait until the end of this week.

The whole bowl eligibility question only became an issue after the Aggies’ stunning performance on Saturday against a Liberty team that was 24.5-point favored and finished 8-4. It came in connection with the leak that there was a mutual interest between Auburn and Liberty coach Hugh Freeze in the Tigers’ vacant coaching position.

It was announced on Monday that Freeze is indeed going to Auburn.

“People are like, ‘Well, (Liberty was) a little down,'” Kill said. “They came to play. We just played better.”

One of those who played better was Albuquerque quarterback Diego Pavia, who received praise from the ESPN College Football Final and was nominated for the Manning Award for Quarterback of the Week.

Pavia notched six touchdowns against Liberty and is the first Aggie to throw and run for more than 100 yards in a game since 2011.