Boise 31, Aztecs 14

Posted: October 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Ugly.  Butt ugly.

Boise’s defensive line dominated the Aztec offensive line.

And, the Boise offensive line toyed with the Aztec defensive line.

They ran over us both ways.  Speaking of running, we could not establish any offensive momentum.  Sure, Christian Chapman threw for 240 yards on 12 completions, but that was the only bright spot.

Every punt and kickoff seemed to land at the 10-yard line.  The Aztecs were laying down looking up most of the night.  Getting clobbered will necessitate that posture.

Time to get well against Fresno State.  I anticipate a motivated, focused Aztec football team in a bad mood next Saturday night at the Murph.

6-1/2-1.  Go Aztecs.

 

 

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We remain undefeated.  We remain in first place in the West division.  Yet, I feel the need to complain, nay, bitch.

Why?

Because I’m spoiled by all the winning?  I don’t know.  All I do is pace in front of the tube as the game unfolds.  I scowl.  I frown.  I utter “Come on” quite often during the game.  I seem unreasonable.

Yet, I believe we could play a perfect game.  The Aztecs have the defensive talent to keep 0 on the board for all four quarters (just as the boys did during the third and fourth quarters against the Rebels).  Perhaps a shutout will shut me up.

As for the game, Quest Truxton actually returned punts.  He gained 54 yards on the 5 he returned.  A pleasant return to last year.  Run, Quest, run.  Speaking of running, Rashaad Penny (27/170), Juwan Washington (10/95) and Chase Jasmin (introducing himself during the fourth quarter with 5/29 and his first Aztec touchdown) proved the offensive line is getting better.

Mikah Holder had his best game to date with 9 catches for 144 yards and a whole lot of running after catching  the football.

Of note was Isaac Lessard starting in place of Nick Bawden at fullback.  Did Nick have a bad week of practice?  Joe Salcedo also started for the first time this year.  Let us color this development as “depth”.

Noble Hall, Sergio Phillips, Myles Cheatum, Dakota Turner and Damon Moore are cycling well through the three defensive linemen spots.  Not a bit of drop off among those five.  Well done.

I was pleased to see Jeff Horton insert second and third depth chart guys with 4:27 remaining.  Nothing beats road experience.

Bowl eligible already.  Who knew?

6-0/2-0.  Go, Aztecs.

 

 

This game was Catch-22.  Nothing made sense, but the outcome . . . because this game was Catch-22.

One team generates 429 total yards in 86 offensive plays while the other crawls to 263 total yards.  One team holds the ball for 34+ minutes.  The other 25:33.  One team is an impressive 8/17 on third downs.  The other a pathetic 1/14.  And, for further consideration, that team with 263 yards, 25 minutes of possession and 1/14 on third down punts the ball 10 times.  That team wins.  How?  Why?  Who cares?  We won.  But, we should have lost.

What saved us was 3 interceptions for 127 yards (almost half of what the Aztec offense, um, created) and 1 touchdown along with 4 sacks for 30 yards.  That is 157 yards of defense which is far more than half of what the guys with the football are supposed to do.  Do note, the defense kept NIU out of the end zone in the fourth quarter.  A great time to be effective.

We went from zero penalties against Air Force to a staggering 10/126.  The refs were not pro-Aztec.

Congrats to Dominic Gudino starting in place of Antonio Rosales at right guard.  Congrats to Andrew Aleki covering the NIU fumble in the first quarter that led to a Rashaad Pennuy touchdown the next play.  Congrats to Collin Andrews for joining Tim Wilson and Isiah Macklin in the redshirt-freshmen receiver rotation.

Dakota Turner returns as if he had never missed a snap.  Well done, Mr. Turner.  Jay Henderson had the game of his Aztec life.  And did we need that game.

35,717 in attendance.  Not bad when the opponent is a MAC team.  By the way, if Northern Illinois does not win the MAC, I will be most perplexed.  These guys are good.  A bowl game awaits.

5-0/1-0.  Go Aztecs.

 

And the heavens opened.

Rain, lightning, wind, pestilence.  I’m exaggerating about the pestilence.  A raging storm framing a slippery, fall down football game that started badly for San Diego State.  What did not go wrong?

Air Force ran straight at the Aztec defense.  Eight yards, six yards, nine yards.  Ugly.

The Aztec offense felt the need to contribute.  We offered, and Air Force gladly accepted, the following time of possession during our first four “drives”:

2:03.

1:51.

2:36.

1:56.

We registered zero first downs during the first quarter.  Zero.  The number between negative one and positive one.  Zero.

There was enough standing water on the field to attract several flocks of various fowl.  Sadly, ducks, geese, swans and coots could not stick the landing due to the high winds.

Just for fun, lightning strikes at 7:56.  And twice more resulting in a total delay of 88 or 89 or 90 minutes depending upon the source.

Upon resuming the game, lo and behold, the Aztecs, who prefer dry weather on cool nights, decided to play football while staring at a 9-0 shutout.  More people were on the field playing football than in the stands watching football.

Christian Chapman first play post-lightning was a strike to Kahale Warring.  We are stirring.  Rashaad Penny scores.  No more shutout.

Yet, the kind-hearted nature of the Aztecs continued to shine.  We refuse to take away a minimum of three Air Force fumbles.  Guests are never rude.  John Barron misses a field goal!  Christian Chapman loses a fumble (as preferred in the general scheme of football). Brandon Heicklen has a punt blocked, but runs down the naughty cadet before he can score.  That was big.

Rashaad Penny’s second score followed by David Wells td pass get the fourth quarter off to a great start until Air Force scores to go ahead, 24-21 with 6:16 remaining.  However, just as the David Wells td pass was a fine case of “right back at ya”, so too was Mr. Penny’s third touchdown with 5:39 left.

Trey Lomax seals the game with his interception at the :58 second mark.  Done.  28-24.  All without halftime.  If you watched/listened, quarters second, third and fourth were consecutive without a break.

Interesting numbers:  Air Force’s total yardage was 253.  Average gain per play 3.8.  Swamp Aztec defense was good enough.  Air Force was a combined 6/17 on third and fourth downs.

4-0/1-0.  Go Aztecs.  Swim Aztecs.  Row Aztecs.

A defensive gem.  This game was worthy of mud, broken teeth and twisted fingers.  The Aztec defense was exceptional.  Consider:

Stanford’s first three possessions were three and out.

The tree throws for a mere 64 yards on a bad 9/20 with 2 interceptions (thank you, Ron Smith and Kameron Kelly).

Stanford’s total offense at the end of the first quarter:  3 yards.

Stanford’s time of possession in the first quarter:  2:19.  Yeah, I know you can credit the Aztec offense as well.

Total tree offense at the half:  88 yards.

The Aztec defense stops Stanford inside the ten resulting in three points as opposed to seven at the end of the third quarter.

And, of course, the Kameron Kelly pick with 54 seconds remaining.

Final total yardage for Stanford:  238.

Proof enough.

Now for the Aztec offense.  First, Christian Chapman throwing in the pocket is as effective as using bare hands to remove a hot dish from the oven.  Christian needs to move to be successful.  No more pocket stuff.  21/29/0 and one touchdown was a solid performance.  Mikah Holder had his best game of the season.  7 catches for 85 yards and besting his twin brother makes for a fine evening.  Rashaad Penny running against a quality defense for 175 yards (5.5 yards per carry) is testament to his place as a top-ten running back.  The final drive post-electrical collapse is further proof of a team on course to have another fine year.  David Wells insisting on the end-zone and game winning touchdown will be a 2017 season favorite.

John Barron misses a field goal.  Who knew?

Brandon Heicklen needs to be much more consistent with his punts.  To date, his effort is as scattered as his punting.  Also, the offensive line struggled against the Stanford defense.  Mr. Chapman was often on the run on behalf of his own safety.  Clean up that mess now.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed Hunkie Cooper yelling at David Shaw for touching Aztec players as the two teams were leaving the field at the half.  Don’t touch Hunkie’s kids.  Speaking of kids, great to see the student section storm the field at game’s end.

As a side note to the city of San Diego, what more proof do you need to maintain the stadium other than the lights going off for 25 minutes?  Game interruption on national television is not helpful to either SDSU or the city of San Diego.  Seems minor league.  Invest in something new and spiffy while keeping the lights on.

3-0.  Go Aztecs.

 

 

 

A solid game with a spectacular performance by Rashaad Penny.  He does everything except drive the team bus to the stadium.  Mr. Penny will continue to play football after his senior year.

I applaud Jeff Horton’s insistence on running a majority of first-half plays to the left side, thus demanding Tyler Roemer, Daishawn Dixon and Keith Ismael become division one offensive linemen now rather than sometime in the future.  If those three do not perform to expectation, then we would have suffered the dread “three and out” disease.  Thankfully, not so.

The penalty parade must stop.  Now.  12 for 95, including two negated touchdowns in the first half, is ridiculous and beneath the quality of Aztec football.  No more offside calls on the defense.  As Graham Chapman said, “Wait for it.”

Five sacks of the ASU qb for a total of 35 yards placed a great deal of doubt on the Sun Devil offense.  Noble Hall, Sergio Phillips and Myles Cheatum may be the best defensive line in the MWC.  Nice to see Chibu Onyuekwu and Damon Moore receive playing time and contribute to the discomfort of the ASU running game (a mere 1.4 yards per carry and 44 yards total rushing).

John Barron was perfect from 29, 27 and 32 yards.  Change nothing.

2-0.

Go, Aztecs.

 

38-17, Aztecs over UC Davis

Posted: September 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

The score should have been 38-10, but that’s me in whiny mode.

The offensive line received a four-quarter work out.  Those five need all the snaps they can get prior to Arizona State next Saturday (may the game time temperature be less than 100 degrees).  Second and third level Aztecs (less the aforementioned linemen) received valuable game time experience in the fourth quarter.

On one hand, our youth is pause for concern, yet once this bevy of freshmen and redshirt freshmen learn the proverbial ropes, they may well create a bright future quickly.  But, I must admit that patience will be difficult.

Christian Chapman, Rashaad Penny and Kahale Warring were the highlights of the game.  By the way, Mr. Chapman’s end of the first half interception does not count given the Hail Mary circumstance resulting in said pick.

46,000+ in the seats is a nice start to the season.  Hopefully, the legion of former Charger fans will migrate to the Q (or whatever the structure is called) on a regular basis.

I find the Facebook broadcast interesting.  Another crack in the walls of satellite/cable providers.  How many students and less-than-30-year-old-people who enjoy SDSU football watched?  No fee potentially attracts those shut out from ESPN/C-CBS broadcasts of the past.  A development worth watching (no pun intended).

1-0.

 

 

Can we top 2016’s 11-3 (especially that dominating Las Vegas Bowl win over Houston)?

Probably not.  But, we will be the best team in the west division of the Mountain West despite having lost a substantial amount of defensive talent and face the always challenging task of replacing starting offensive linemen.

Offense

Let us begin with the aforementioned offensive line.  Antonio Rosales (sr., right guard), Ryan Pope (jr., right tackle) and Nick Gerhard (so., center) do bring experience.  And, yes, since the experience entering summer (I struggle to use the common term “fall” since August in San Diego is nothing like “fall”) camp is found on the right side, look for most of the offensive action to at least begin to the right side of scrimmage.  The left side is another story.  Tyler Roemer (redshirt fr.) and Keith Ismael (redshirt fr.) are the favorites to start at left tackle and left guard respectively.  The struggle for offensive line coach Mike Schmidt lies in teaching Mr. Roemer and Mr. Ishmael to embrace the radical change in game speed they are soon to receive.  I hope UC Davis is a perfect introduction to the change from practice pace to game pace.  However, Arizona State and Stanford will offer a true, and hopefully not too painful, introduction to the role of starting offensive linemen in division one football.  Joe Salcedo, returning from a missed 2016, currently shows as #3 on the depth chart at right tackle, may move to the other side of the line to provide experience.  What is both blessing and curse is of the fifteen players listed on the post-spring offensive line depth chart, seven are redshirt freshmen or true freshmen.  The blessing is a freshman starter is likely a four-year starter.  The curse lies in the learning.

The tight end position will be a position of strength.  David Wells (sr.) starts and will pair with a combination of Parker Houston (so.), Kahale Warring (so) and Darryl Richardson (sr.),

Mikah Holder and Quest Truxton return as starting seniors at the two wide receiver slots.  Mr. Holder offers the curious yet promising 2016 line of a mere 27 catches coupled with an eye-popping 21.5 yards per catch.  Last year’s game average of 44.7 yards hopefully doubles this year.  Mr. Truxton offers glue for hands and will enjoy most of the short routes.  Fred Trevillon is the only other experienced wide receiver on the depth chart.  Much like the offensive line, this group is heavy to freshmen and redshirt freshmen (four of the listed ten).  However, given the intensity of coach Hunkie Cooper, effort will never be a concern.

Rashaad’s Penny’s moment in the sun as the primary running back has at last arrived.  Watching Mr. Penny do the “excuse me, pardon me” through a group of defenders is a delight.  Given last year’s success (1,018 yards and 7.5 ypc) as the #2 running back, he may well surprise the unprepared.  I expect Mr. Penny to average well over 100 yards per game.  Juwan Washington (so.) ran for 490 yards (8.0 ypc) as the #3 running back and invites the obvious comparison to Donnel Pumphrey given size and ferocity.  This will be his year-in-waiting as the #2 back.  Chad Woolsey (so.), Tyler Wormhoudt (sr.) and Chase Jasmin (redshirt fr.) will compete for the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.

When Nick Bawden played quarterback, I would wince.  When Nick Bawden plays fullback, I smile.  Mr. Bawden is a man who enjoys contact.  He also can catch a football coming out of the backfield.  Isaac Lessard (so.) will be the #2 fullback and brings game experience.

Most quarterbacks who have a 61% completion ratio and 20 touchdowns compared to a measly 6 interceptions usually generate more than 2,000 yards, but Christian Chapman (jr.) fell 6 yards shy.  If he can keep the 5:2 td/pick ratio, 2017 should be a very productive year.  Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton and quarterbacks coach Blaine Morgan will encourage Mr. Chapman to stretch the field especially given Mikah Holder’s ability to depart quickly with football in hand.  Ryan Agnew (so.) and Chris Laviano (sr. transfer) provide back up.

John Barron (jr.) returns from an impressive 2016 performance (21/23 field goals).   If and when he misses a three-point opportunity, I’ll be stunned.  Color me spoiled.

Defense

Noble Hall (jr.) and Dakota Turner (sr.) will start at the defensive end spots while Sergio Phillips (sr.) moves to the nose guard/lone defensive tackle position.  This trio brings experience and a total of 108 tackles from 2016.  However, the second and third guys on the depth chart do not bring much game time exposure.  The front three is the one place where injury could wreak havoc on the remaining eight.

Ryan Dunn (sr.), Jay Henderson (sr.) and Ronley Lakalaka (jr) bring the same game time smarts to the linebacker spot as present at the defensive line.  Tyler Morris (sr.), Randy Ricks (sr.), Kyahva Trezino (so.) and Troy Cassidy (so.) make for a deep and talented group.

The back five complete a defense that benefits from prior success.  Ron Smith (so.), Trenton Thompson (so.), Parker Baldwin (jr.), Trey Lomax (sr.) and Kameron Kelly (sr.) will make opposing quarterbacks sweaty, clammy and uncomfortable.  Mr. Kelly, Mr. Smith and Mr. Baldwin shared 10 interceptions last year.  Increasing that number in 2017 is to be expected.  Kyree Woods (so.), Israel Cabrera (so.), Dwayne Parchment (so.) and Jeff Clay (so.) are capable substitutes.

Brandon Heicklen (so.) is a welcome late addition as punter.  He boomed the ball at Santa Monica C.C. two years ago averaging almost 44 yards per punt.  Last year he red shirted to “get better”.  Here’s to 45 yards per punt.

Schedule Results

Non-conference worst case is 2-2 with wins over UC Davis and Northern Illinois (both home games).  The Arizona State game is, thankfully, at night, so heat stroke becomes less likely.  Beating the Sun Devils is more likely than upsetting Stanford (truly a good football team and program).  Best case is 3-1.

The MWC schedule begins with Air Force at Colorado Springs in between the Stanford and Northern Illinois games.  Arriving unprepared to play Air Force is a sure loss.  Arrive prepared.  At UNLV is a win, though UNLV is much improved.  Boise returns to the Aztec schedule.  Playing Boise at the Q will be the game of the year.  Fresno State follows with a brand new coaching staff and defense that gave up 31 points per game last year.  At Hawaii follows.  Much like UNLV, Hawaii is a much better football team than two years ago.  Nonetheless, another SDSU win.  San Jose State at San Jose is another Aztec win featuring a new Spartan coaching staff.  Speaking of new coaching staffs, Nevada visits the Q following the first bye week for SDSU.  New Mexico arrives on November 24th to end MWC play.  Best MWC case 7-1.  Worst case 5-3.

Look forward to another MWC championship game, bowl game, exceptional football and larger crowds at the Q.

 

 

With the avalanche of trade activity in front, now is a good time to summarize the handful of trades over the last few days.

The Jose Quitana deal was all Cubs.  Do not underestimate Theo Epstein.  Mr. Quintana struggled this year without the company of Chris Sale, but who wouldn’t?  Lefty starters are wonderful.  Especially the type that throw a minimum of 200+ innings the last four years.  In return the White Sox went two for four.  The two are Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez.  Mr. Cease has a three-year total of 2.54 era and 1.20 whip.  He is bound for a promotion to A+ ball and more than likely wears a White Sox uniform in 2020.  Mr Jimenez has power (32 homers, 179 rbi in four years of play), plus he hits for average .293/.340.  He is due to play AA ball before the end of the year.  The other two, Bryant Flete and Matt Rose, are inconsistent at best.

Why the Yankees chose Garrett Cooper given the plethora of quality first basemen (Tyler Austin, Billy Fleming and Chris Gittens) in their system is a question without answer.  Mr. Cooper is a 26-year-old AAA first baseman who couldn’t land a job in Milwaukee with very little competition within the Brewers development system.  Commentators who are quick to praise his power numbers must pause for the effect of playing baseball in Colorado Springs, Colorado . . . elevation 6,035 feet.  Milwaukee receives Tyler Webb who rated as the Yankees #4 reliever in system in my 2016 review.  Mr. Webb is of the left-handed variety and should receive plenty of opportunity in Milwaukee.  Advantage Brewers.

Why did Billy Beane aim the equivalent of a cannon at his bullpen by trading Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals or any other team for that matter?  The A’s go from bad to worse.  The Nats strengthen their bullpen.  Both Mr. Doolittle and Mr. Madson are former closers.  Both can log innings.  Neither complains about their respective relief role.  Of the three players obtained by Oakland, Jesus Lazardo is 19 and in rookie ball.   Do explain the long-term forecasting involved in choosing a teenager in rookie ball?  Sheldon Neuse is in year two and playing A ball.  He does show hints of power (10/62 and 24 doubles in total).  Blake Treinen hopes to regain his form from 2014 to 2016  since this year was a disaster (5.73/1.62).  Advantage Nationals.

Returning to Brian Cashman’s brain function, at least the Todd Frazier deal is passable, but I do not find completely sensible the resulting move of Chase Headley to first so that Mr. Frazier can play a suspect third.  Mr. Frazier does offer the chance of dingers almost every at bat, but his obp is dreadful.  However, the NYY bullpen receives a healthy dose of help with David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.  Mr. Robertson has closed the last four years and does provide options if Aroldis Chapman continues to struggle with his control and Joe Girardi’s confidence.  Mr. Kahnle does suffer from the good year/bad year complex, but 2017 is currently a good year.  The White Sox did well in return.  Yes, Tyler Clippard struggled of late, but his lifetime numbers are solid.  Why baseball mavens rate Blake Rutherford highly is without merit.  Mr. Rutherford is only in A ball and has a difficult journey in front of him.  If he continues to produce in AA, then we can talk.  Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo were both good choices.  Mr. Clarkin is a lefty starter with cumulative era and whip of 3.20/1.29.  Year four of development and in A+ ball is ideal progression.  Mr. Polo has speed (157 stolen bases total) and is in AA ball.  He is 22 and ready for a September call to Chicago.  Advantage NYY (with a nod to of approval to the White Sox).

J.D. Martinez (suffers a hand injury during his first game with the Snakes) is an underrated ball player.  All of 29 and hitting above .300 three of his last four years, he is a productive ball player.  Detroit made a strange choice in return.  All three minor leaguers (Dawel Lugo, Serio Alcantara, and Jose King) are 2b/ss.  None of the three post exceptional offensive numbers.  Mr. King is in rookie ball.  Mr. Alacantara bounces around A- to A+ ball without effect.  Mr. Lugo is in AA ball and strikes out far too often.  I imagine this is a panic move to develop middle infield talent given the imminent departure of Ian Kinsler and likely departure of Jose Iglesias.  Advantage Arizona.

 

 

 

Mountain Division

First:  Boise State

No kidding?  May as well predict heat during August.

Brett Rypien returns as the starting quarterback.  Mr. Rypien is talented beyond his years and experience.  Boise loses their top rusher from 2016, but return the next four.  Alexander Mattison looks to be the best of the lot.  Granted, Boise will throw, but the ground game is ready and deep.  Speaking of throwing, the Broncos lose their #1 and #3 receivers, but return four receivers with double-digit receptions.  Cedrick Wilson and Chaz Anderson should get most of the downfield looks from Mr. Rypien.  Boise’s offense averaged almost 475 yards per game.  Do not expect much change this year.

Defensively, an impressive 17 of the 20 top tacklers return.  Ben Weaver (#1 tackler) and Darren Lee (3# tackler) lead an experienced group.

Second:  Colorado State

The difference between the Rams, Wyoming and Air Force is thin.  Injury, last-minute mistakes and freaky weather (we are discussing the Mountain Division of the MWC.  After the first week in October, most anything can fall from the sky) may well fall to the wayward side of talent in deciding second place.

Nick Stevens improved tremendously last year.  19 touchdowns coupled with only 5 interceptions.  Well done.  CSU also returns their #2 quarterback as well which lends comfort to a worst case scenario.   The Rams return their top two rushers in the formidable duo of Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews.   2016’s top two receivers, Michael Gallup and Olabisi Johnson, will help Mr. Stevens stretch the field.  When clicking, Colorado State will put points galore on the board.  Opponents preparing for this offense will find plenty of challenge.

Can CSU’s defense keep a fourth quarter lead in 2017?  14 of the 20 top tacklers return that includes 8 of the top 10.  The Rams defense gave up 30.1 points per game last year.  If they do no worse in 2017, second place becomes more likely.

Third:  Wyoming

The Cowboys surprised everybody in 2016.  Josh Allen was the conference’s next best quarterback after Brett Rypien.  If Mr. Allen reduces last year’s 15 interceptions to at least 9 in 2017, he may post the best conference qb numbers.  Sadly, Wyoming loses their top three receivers from 2016.  C.J. Johnson is the only returning receiver with substantial experience.  This poses a potential early season problem for the Cowboys offense and Mr. Allen.  If the new group of receivers runs routes and catches the football, no problem.  If not, Wyoming fans may as well wear a parka on a seventy degree day to experience Mr. Allen’s discomfort.  Shaun Wick will lead the running game.  Much like the receivers, Mr. Wick’s colleagues need to be effective or what should be an explosive offense will fall far shy of last year’s 436 yards per game.

8 of the top 10 tacklers return (17 of the top 20 overall).  Yet, last year’s group gave up more yards (453) per game than their offense generated.  Ouch.

Fourth:  Air Force

A challenging year awaits the Falcons.  They begin the 2017 season losing 4 of their top 6 rushers, starting quarterback and top receiver from last year.  The good news is Arion Worthman brings 2016 experience to the quarterback position along with Tim McVey leading the usual endless running game (the top six rushers for Air Force had a combined 716 carries in 2016).  Air Force fans who might be quick to point out the #2, #3 and #4 receivers return will be reminded to examine their respective catches of 8, 8 and 6.  Regardless, Air Force runs the ball first and foremost.  Charge.

If you thought the offense faced a challenge, the defense will need to replenish the troops, so to speak, quickly.  Only 6 of the top 20 tacklers return.  Retaining last year’s stingy 26 points per game and measly 3.4 yards per rush is almost impossible.

Fifth:  New Mexico

Much of the 2016 offense returns.  Lamar Jordan should get the majority of qb reps this year.  The Lobos lose their #1 rusher from 2016, but return #2 through #5.  Tyrone Owens averaged a stunning 8 ypc last year while Diquon Woodhouse averaged 8.6 ypc on only 27 rushes.  Almost as much depth at the receiver spot returns with the #1 (Q Drennan and his eye-popping 25.8 ypc), #3 and #4 receivers returning.  At the very least, Mr. Jordan will have options.

The UNM defense faces a reality almost as difficult as Air Force.  Only 10 of the top 20 tacklers return.  This includes a loss of 8 of the first 10.  Will the Lobos defense hold onto single digit leads with two minutes remaining?  Will they keep the opposition under 400 yards per game as last year?  Lots of nail-biting awaits.

Sixth:  Utah State

Lackluster describes the 2016 USU season.  At times disinterest seemed to apply as well.  Yawn.  Damn, this is only the third quarter?

Kent Myers returns as the staring qb.  How a qb throws for almost 2,400 yards, yet no more than 10 touchdowns is a long explanation.  Tony Lindsey returns as last year’s #1 rusher.  Much like Mr. Myers, Mr. Lindsey averaged 5.2 ypc, but a paltry game average of 63.6 yards.  How?  Ron’quavion Tarver and Rayshad Lewis should repeat as the #1 and #2 receivers in 2017.

The defense loses 4 of their top 5 tacklers from 2016 and return only 11 of the top 20. Utah State offered the opposition almost 30 points per game last year.  This year will be close to 35.  I sense a coaching staff change.

West Division

First:  San Diego State

If the rest of the West was stronger, SDSU finishing first would be less likely especially given the new faces on defense, but the rest of the West offers little resistance.

Christian Chapman returns as the starting qb.  20 touchdowns and only 6 picks should generate more than 1,994 yards.  Maybe this year.  Donnel Pumphrey is now in Philly.  Rashaad Penny moves to the #1 back with Juwan Washington assuming the supporting role.  Returning receivers Mikah Holder and Quest Truxton along with tight end David Wells must improve on last year’s efforts or maintaining last year’s 35 points per game will be unlikely.

The defense loses 5 of the top 10 tacklers.  Only 11 of the top 20 return.  But, Rocky Long is not only one of the best head coaches in the NCAA, but also one of the best defensive coordinators, thus a brief learning curve awaits the newbies.

Second:  Hawaii

I’m not joking.  The Rainbow is shining bright.  Head coach Nick Rolovich and staff created much improvement during 2016.  Rainbow fans have a reason to once again watch football.

Dru Brown returns as the starting quarterback.  He threw for almost 2,500 yards last year.  While Hawaii loses their #1 (and #4) receiver from last  year, John Ursua and Dylan Collie return for more catches than last year.  Diocemy Saint Juste, last year’s #1 rusher, leads an otherwise inexperienced rushing crew.  But, whereas Air Force runs when in doubt, Hawaii will take to the air.  Points will be scored.

Points will also be scored against the Rainbow defense.  Opposing teams averaged 462 yards during 2016.  2017 features only 12 of the top 20 tacklers returning.  Losing 5 of the top 10 will pose a challenge.

Third:  San Jose State

New coaching staffs usually indicate a year of clumsy learning, disappointment and doubt.  Welcome to 2017, Spartans.

Enough returns on the offense to create the hope that points can be scored.  Josh Love, last year’s #2 qb, is most likely this year’s starting qb.  Malik Roberson and Zamore Zigler both averaged over 5 ypc last year.  Justin Holmes and Tre Hartley were 2016’s #2 and #3 receivers.  They provide Mr. Love with experienced targets.

13 of the top 20 tacklers return.  Last year the Spartans gave up 433 yards per game and 35 points.  The good news is, improvement is possible.

Fourth:  UNLV

If they had more returning defensive players, I would have placed the Rebels third.  Alas, not so.

Tony Sanchez has done a lot in little time as head coach.  A bad case of unrealistic expectations is ill-advised on behalf of alumni and administration.  Coach Sanchez is “the guy”.  Remain patient.

Johnny Stanton and Kurt Palandech shared the starting qb spot last year and may well do so again this year.  Charles Williams and Lexington Thomas return as a powerful running duo.  4 of their top 5 receivers return for 2017 including Devonte Boyd who averaged almost 75 ypg.

Last year UNLV’s defense gave up 430 ypg.  This year may they be so lucky.  They lose their top 6 tacklers (and 7 of the top 8) from 2016.  Ouch.  Only 8 of the top 20 return.  Good luck during the fourth quarter.

Fifth:  Nevada

Have I mentioned my aversion to new coaching staffs?

Ty Gangli gets the starting qb job in 2017.  James Butler and Jaxson Kincaide were last year’s top two rushers and should repeat as such this year.  Wyatt Demps leads an inexperienced receiving corps.  This group must improve as the season progresses or Mr. Gangli’s 8 td and 6 picks will not improve in 2017.

The good news for Wolfpack fans is 8 of the top 10 tacklers return and 15 of the top 20.  The 456 ypg allowed should lessen this year.  As should the 6.1 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per catch.

Sixth:  Fresno State

The usual caution about the new coaching staff and begin.

A lot returns from 2016.  The uncomfortable fact of not quite 18 points per game returns as well.  Chason Virgil barely averaged a 51% completion rate last year.  Much needs to improve.  Dontel James averaged less than 3.5 ypc last year.  Much needs to improve.  Mr. Virgil will have 3 of his top 4 receivers return as well.  Plainly speaking, if this group could not average 20 points per game last year, why this year?

The top 2 tacklers and 3 of the top 5 do not return.  But, 13 of the top 20 do return.  This group was part of last year’s 31 points allowed per game.  Tough times in Fresno.