Lobos: Running backs

New Mexico running backs Bobby Cole, diving, and Nate Jones, behind Cole, have emerged as the primary threats out of the backfield. Cole leads the team in rushing, while Jones, a true freshman, is averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

Coming out of Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, Calif., Bobby Cole was ready to pack his bags and hit the road for the only college football team that expressed any interest in him. He had no Division I offers, and his only feeler came from Boise State, which invited him to try out as a walk-on.

At the last second, the University of New Mexico dangled a scholarship.

Hello, Albuquerque. Hello, opportunity.

Three long years later, he’s the leading rusher on a Lobo team headed to Air Force on Friday night looking to snap a 12-game losing streak and an 18-game skid in Mountain West Conference play. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with a national broadcast on FS1.

“I never thought I’d be in New Mexico, but these things just kind of have a way of happening that you don’t really plan for,” Cole said.

A 5-foot-9, 211-pound redshirt junior, Cole has already surpassed his numbers from last year with a team-high 226 yards and a touchdown in three games. He had 189 yards in a dozen appearances as a sophomore.

He and true freshman Nate Jones, a 5-11, 205-pound prospect from Bellflower, Calif., have taken the lead in what looked like a crowded field at running back. Jones has 107 yards with a score in his last two games.

“Me, I’m that power guy, I like contact and run straight downhill,” Cole said. “We have a lot of great options at [running] back but you look at what [Jones] can do, we can do things to help this team.”

Jones came to UNM as one of head coach Danny Gonzales’ first recruits. Praised out of high school, he has shown flashes of speed and agility when running outside the tackles. Gonzales said Jones is barely scratching the surface for what he can do.

“The college game is so much faster than what a typical high school player is used to, but some of these guys come here with the skill set to play right away, and Nate is definitely one of those guys,” Gonzales said.

Jones came to UNM with the idea of turning the Lobos into a winner — not just in the Mountain West, but on a national level. It’s one reason why he bristled at a question from the media about the Lobos being a mid-major program still finding its way.

“He asked me what that was all about, and I told him that’s [the media’s] opinion, but it’s my belief that by the time we’re done here, we’ll be ready to compete with anybody, anywhere,” Gonzales said.

LOBOS NOTESBasketball: UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez made it official Thursday, saying the Lobos men’s basketball team will open practice Friday at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. It’s a junior college 30 miles west of Lubbock.

The UNM women will practice and train at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, which is just south of Amarillo and roughly 135 miles to the north of Levelland.

As of Thursday, Lubbock County had reported 27,660 positive cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, more than 8,000 more than Bernalillo County, which has a population more than twice that of Lubbock County. Although the risk of appears to be far greater in the Texas Panhandle than it is in Albuquerque, the public health guidelines aren’t as strict there as they are in New Mexico, which is why UNM felt the need to move its teams to Texas.

The Lobo men had held just three practices since the NCAA allowed teams to commence preseason workouts in mid-October.

Women’s hoops: UNM was picked to finish in the middle of the MWC race, according to the league’s preseason poll released Thursday. The Lobos got 145 points in a panel of 26 voters, placing a comfortable sixth behind overwhelming preseason favorite Fresno State. San Jose State was second, followed by Boise State, San Diego State and Wyoming.

Four of the five players on the preseason all-conference team are from California schools while UNM’s LaTascya Duff was picked as the newcomer of the year. A junior college transfer from Shelton State (Ala.), she averaged 17 points a game last season.

Statcast: Of note about Friday’s UNM-Air Force game is the wild differences in the passing department. The Lobos rank dead last in the country against the pass, allowing 410 yards a game. The Falcons rank second to last in passing offense, chucking it just 67 yards per contest.

MWC football: The Mountain West has canceled three games this weekend over coronavirus outbreaks; UNLV at Colorado State, San Jose State at Fresno State, and Utah State at Wyoming. The Lobos are scheduled to travel to Utah State on Thanksgiving Day, but that date is in doubt after an outbreak in the Aggies’ program.

Cole’s alma mater: Bobby Cole’s former high school, Sierra Canyon, became a household name last year when the sons of NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade enrolled there. Bronny James and Zaire Wade led the Trailblazers to a 30-4 record last season.

The previous year’s team at Sierra Canyon won a state title with Scottie Pippen Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr. on the roster.

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