#40 San Diego FCS Football 2016 Preview

San Diego Toreros
Overall Rank: #40
#1 Pioneer
Thanks to an early October loss at Dayton by a score of 13-12, San Diego missed out on the playoffs. Other than that loss, the Toreros were flawless in Pioneer Football League action. Coach Dale Lindsey has done a great job during his three seasons at USD, but now it is time to start winning championships. And this group should be able to do just that.
2015 Record: 9-2, 7-1
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Dale Lindsey (26-8 at San Diego, 26-8 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tanner Engstrand
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Irvin
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jereke Armstrong, RB, 662 yards
Passing: Anthony Lawrence, QB, 2,392 yards
Receiving: Brian Riley, WR, 782 yards
Tackles: Colton Giorgi, S, 64
Sacks: Jonathan Petersen, DL, 8.0
Interceptions: Devyn Bryant, CB, 5
Other Key Returnees: RB Blake Martin, TE Ross Dwelley, WR Justin Priest, OL Miles McArdle, LB Alec Moreno, LB Nic Henson, DB Ray Clark, LB Max Michaels, CB Jamal Agnew
Key Losses: RB Dallas Kessman, FB Chris Campano, OL Pono Keni, OL Jeff Starr, DE Joe Nomellini, DL Taylor Bongiovanni
The San Diego defense allowed just 89.4 yards per game on the ground, which ranked fifth in the FCS. Establishing the run against the Toreros is not an easy task. Even Dayton, the team that beat USD, rushed for just 28 yards. Linemen Joe Nomellini and Taylor Bongiovanni were big parts of the run defense and will need to be replaced. Nomellini was a second-team All-PFL player last year. Jonathan Petersen was too and he is back to lead the pass rush after leading the team with 8.0 sacks and 16.0 tackles-for-loss. But Coach Lindsey does need to find some big bodies to fill in around Petersen or he will not be as effective this year. The linebackers are in good shape with the return of starters Alec Moreno, Max Michaels and Nic Henson. The pass defense was far less effective than the run defense last season, but that was partly due to the fact that San Diego was usually winning and the opposition had little choice but to throw the ball. That may be true again in 2016, but the unit is extremely experienced and ready to shut down any comeback attempts from PFL opponents. Safeties Colton Giorgi and Ray Clark were among the team’s top tacklers last season and are both are very good leaders in the secondary. Devin Bryant and Jamal Agnew are back to man the cornerback spots. Bryant led the team with five interceptions last season and Agnew added four to go along with his impressive 11 pass break-ups.
There is little reason to think the offense will take a step back this year. Quarterback Anthony Lawrence had a great freshman campaign, throwing for 2,392 yards and 23 touchdowns. Even more impressive was the fact that he completed 63.7 percent of his passes and threw just six interceptions. Those are great numbers for a freshman and he will only get better. Lawrence is coming off of a broken leg that he suffered in the season finale so he did miss some development time during the off-season. But he is ready to go and getting all of his favorite receiving targets back will help. Brian Riley is the big play threat and caught 44 passes for 782 yards and eight scores. Justin Priest will line up on the other side and tight end Ross Dwelley actually led the team with 54 receptions. Senior running back Jereke Armstrong is a dangerous receiving option out of the backfield, but he is a pretty good rusher too, tallying 662 yards and seven scores in 2015. The concern on offense is on the line where All-PFL honorees Pono Keni and Jeff Starr must be replaced.
The Bottom Line:
With the major losses coming on both lines, there is some cause for concern. That is how good teams have disappointing seasons. However, in the PFL, San Diego has enough talent to fill the holes and remain more than competitive. The Toreros will not have to wait long for revenge against Dayton. Their conference opener is against the Flyers on September 24th. Once again it could be that early tilt that decides the conference champion. Two weeks earlier, USD heads to Cal Poly in their key non-conference matchup. That game could tell us a lot about if this group is ready to be competitive in the playoffs. Without Jacksonville and Morehead State on the schedule, San Diego should not have too much trouble with the rest of their schedule barring injuries. The season finale at Campbell could be very interesting, especially if San Diego struggles against the run a little more this year.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 169.3 (50th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 241.5 (39, 5)
Total Offense: 410.8 (42, 3)
Scoring Offense: 31.0 (28, 1)
Rushing Defense: 89.4 (5, 1)
Pass Defense: 220.4 (70, 3)
Total Defense: 309.7 (18, 2)
Scoring Defense: 18.0 (10, 2)
Turnover Margin: -0.09 (68, 6)
Sacks: 2.36 (31, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 1.45 (34, 2)