Sunday, July 9, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: San Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State, long a basic doormat in the old WAC, has found a new life under head coach Rocky Long, and for two years now has established themselves as a dominant power in the extremely weak Mountain West West Division. With Donnel Pumphrey working up record rushing numbers, the Aztecs pounded the football to impressive seasons, and last season won the MWC conference championship. Pumphrey is gone, but there are more than enough tools coming back to ensure that SDSU can win the West once again, but are they good enough to take the overall crown, and push for more?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Even with Pumphrey being gone, the Aztec running game is in excellent hands with the return of Rashaad Penny, who rushed for 1018 yards as the primary "backup" last season. Penny is an explosive back, always capable of breaking the long run, as he averaged 7.49 yards per carry last fall while scoring 11 times. Talented sophomore Juwan Washington also showed major promise by averaging just over eight yards per carry last fall, and should help give the Aztecs another top flight one-two punch in the run game.
Christian Chapman returns for his third season as a starting QB for the Aztecs, and has proven to be an adept game manager in the run first offense for this offense. He passed for 1994 yards and 20 scores last fall, while tossing just six INTs. He completed 61% of his passing attempts, and he does what is asked of by the offensive flow, and more importantly, he rarely makes dumb mistakes with the football.
WR Mikah Holder and TE David Wells both return this fall as well after finishing one and two in total receiving for the Aztecs. They combined for 52 receptions last fall for 875 yards and nine scores.
John Barron II hit 21/23 FG attempts in what was an almost automatic season for him. He returns to carry the load at PK.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The line lost a ton of talent after last season, and returns only one starter in RG Antonio Rosales. Long did not go the route of other MWC teams in search of line help, and avoided the JC circuit to better develop the talent that he had on hand, which may pay big dividends down the line. Tyler Roemer (LT) and Keith Ismael (LG) will man the left side of the line and are both freshmen. Nick Gerhard (C) is just a sophomore. Ryan Pope will be the most experienced new starter at RT, and is a junior.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Aztecs play in a 3-3-5 defense, and as such, the secondary will return the most experience of any unit on that side of the field. Three starters return in CB Ron Smith, S Parker Baldwin, and FS Trey Lomax. Smith played in all 14 games and finished with four PBUs as he was forced onto the field as a freshman due to injuries. He also finished with three INTs. Baldwin finished with seven PBUs and a pair of INTs. Lomax finished with 33 tackles on the season. Kameron Kelly was one of those players who saw time last season, and returns as a starting CB this fall, even though he could move to Safety in fall camp. He finished second on the team with five INTs last season. Trenton Thompson, who saw some time as a freshman last fall, may end up starting at Safety as well.
Ryan Dunn and Ronley Lakalaka will both start at OLB this fall. Lakalaka finished second on the team with 73 tackles last season. Dunn started late, but played in 12 games, and finished with 24 tackles.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The Aztecs lost a ton of production and pressure with the departures of Alex Barrett and Kyle Kelly on the line, and Calvin Munson at MLB. With those departures, 31.5 TFLs from last season come off the board, leaving the Aztecs to look for a new group of pressure providers in fall camp this season. Noble Hall, who finished with six TFLs, will return at DE, while a pair of seniors, Sergio Phillips (NT) and Dakota Turner (DE) will step into starting roles in camp.
Jay Henderson, another senior, will try to replace Munson at MLB.
The Punting job is open heading into camp as well. Freshman Neil Boudreau will step in to try to take on a job that has been held by a long line of successful Aztec kickers.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 UC-Davis, 9/9 at Arizona State, 9/16 Stanford,  9/23 at Air Force, 9/30 Northern Illinois, 10/7 at UNLV, 10/14 Boise State, 10/21 Fresno State, 10/28 at Hawaii, 11/4 at San Jose State, 11/18 Nevada, 11/24 New Mexico
Final Overview
The only glaring issue, for me, this season is on the offensive line. If Rocky Long's gamble pays off, that of not trading in his future by allowing young players to take over, this team could more than easily take the West again, but could also be in line for a larger conference title. The window for Aztec title runs is still wide open, and if the line gels in camp, and everything falls together early, this season could be at least as good as last, and maybe a touch better. The schedule should not intimidate anyone, as the Aztecs, like against Cal last season, should be favored outright against Arizona State, even on the road. I even like their chances for an upset win over Stanford in San Diego, but would not go so far as to favor them there. I can easily see another ten win season on the horizon for this team, with an easy West division title. Despite their losses, the Aztecs still look just fine.

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