#52 San Diego State Football 2017 Preview

San Diego State Aztecs
Overall Rank: #52
#3 Mountain West
San Diego State backed their way into the Mountain West title game last season. After a 6-0 start to conference play, the Aztecs lost back-to-back games to Wyoming and Colorado State to finish the regular season at 6-2. They still won the West though and got their revenge against the Cowboys in the conference championship. That resulted in a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl where the Aztecs knocked off Houston 34-10. San Diego State will be eyeing another conference title this year.
2016 Record: 11-3, 6-2
2016 Bowl: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Houston (W 34-10)
Coach: Rocky Long (54-26 at San Diego State, 119-95 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Horton
Defensive Coordinator: Danny Gonzales
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Rashaad Penny, RB, 1,018 yards
Passing: Christian Chapman, QB, 1,994 yards
Receiving: Mikah Holder, WR, 581 yards
Tackles: Ronley Lakalaka, LB, 73
Sacks: Noble Hall, DE, 3.0, Sergio Phillips, DL, 3.0
Interceptions: Kameron Kelly, CB, 5
Other Key Returnees: RB Juwan Washington, TE David Wells, LB Parker Baldwin, K John Baron
Key Losses: RB Donnel Pumphrey, OL Nico Siragusa, OL Daniel Brunskill, DL Alex Barrett, DL Kyle Kelly, LB Calvin Munson, CB Damontae Kazee, S Malik Smith
Running back Donnel Pumphrey is gone after rushing for 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior season. The Aztecs will want to continue to work their offense through their running game, but losing Pumphrey is a big blow. However, the Aztecs were the first team in NCAA history to have a 2,000 yard rusher and a 1,000 yard rusher in the same season. Rashaad Penny was the 1,000 yard rusher and he is back to carry the load. Penny rushed for 1,018 yards and 11 scores on just 136 carries. That is an average of 7.5 yards per carry. Penny will have every opportunity to add a 2,000 yard rushing campaign to his resume. Juwan Washington will likely play Penny’s role of a year ago. The bigger issue is on the line though where a slew of experience needs to be replaced. The passing game is not particularly dangerous, but quarterback Christian Chapman is efficient, avoids mistakes and will take advantage of the opposing defense when they sneak too many players into the box to stop the run. Mikah Holder is the receiver that benefits the most from single coverage down field. He caught 27 passes for 581 yards and five touchdowns and is always a threat to stretch the field.
San Diego State’s defense has lived off creating turnovers. Last year the Aztecs boasted the fourth best turnover margin in the country. While there are some key departures, this group has more depth than Coach Rocky Long has had in a while on this side of the ball. The biggest issue could be on the line where Alex Barrett and Kyle Kelly need to be replaced. Those two accounted for 13.5 sacks last year. If the front three can get pressure on the quarterback again, the rest of the defense will continue to make big plays. Kameron Kelly will likely move to cornerback this year after picking off five passes as a safety in 2016. Ron Smith gained some valuable experience starting the last six games of the season and will man the other corner spot, but replacing Damontae Kazee will not be easy. Safeties Trey Lomax, Parker Baldwin and Trenton Thompson have plenty of talent and should turn into decent ball hawks who can make a few big plays of their own.
The Bottom Line:
This has the potential to be a special season for San Diego State. They should win the West division and they get Boise State at home and avoid Colorado State and Wyoming altogether. Early games at Arizona State and at home against Stanford could give this team a lot of national attention. Even with just one win in those two games, the Aztecs have a shot at reaching a New Year’s Six Bowl game. Of course, they have to get past the winner of the Mountain division in the conference title game and that should be the toughest game against a Mountain West opponent this season.
Projected Bowl: Arizona Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 262.9 (7th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 144.5 (119, 10)
Total Offense: 407.4 (68, 6)
Scoring Offense: 35.2 (29, 4)
Rushing Defense: 105.7 (6, 1)
Pass Defense: 209.7 (42, 6)
Total Defense: 315.4 (11, 1)
Scoring Defense: 20.2 (17, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (4, 1)
Sacks: 2.71 (26, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (57, 9)