Such a promising start. Two first downs during our first possession. Then, the old backward, not quite forward, pass does us in, but the Aztec defense kept the Wolfpack out of the end zone and they settled for a field goal. Our next possession featured a march downfield and a Lucas Johnson run for a touchdown. Not bad.

The remainder of the first half was Aztec touchdowns followed by Nevada field goals less their lone touchdown. 21-16 us at the half was feeling quite winnable.

Until our offensive line decided blocking was optional. You want proof? Here is the proof: 5 (!!!!!) consecutive three and outs during our first five possessions in the second half. Punt city. Zero push from our offensive line into and beyond the Nevada defensive line. Not a single Nevada linebacker required laundry service at game’s end. No stains here.

Among other second half shortcomings, consider (1) Lucas Johnson’s fall down sack (nobody touched him) early in the fourth quarter; (2) Carson Baker’s return, which resulted in the fifth consecutive 3-0. Mr. Baker’s body language featured all the energy of a snail on a cold day; (3) Nevada’s four down, first and goal that resulted in the go-ahead score (and final score) courtesy of a missing Aztec defense (who, by the way, allowed the Wolfpack a lovely line of 5/5 in the red zone and 4 whole yards in tackles for loss).

Hope reared its ugly head with Darren Hall’s interception (as a side note, Mr. Hall simply could not keep up with Romeo Doubs the entire afternoon). The Aztec offense lined up on the Nevada 26 with a minute plus remaining. Nine plays later, the game ended. Nine plays to find 26 yards plus one more. Nope. Not happening.

Final damning evidence of an offense flawed and missing: Both Bells (Greg and Chance) averaged less than 4 yards per carry. Jordan Byrd averaged 1 yard per carry. We were 2/11 on third downs. A performance worthy of a pair of crutches.

3-2. Go, Aztecs.

SDSU 34, Hawaii 10

Posted: November 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

Return to Aztec normal.

The TV broadcast was not available. I happily returned to the voice embrace of Ted Leitner. Dear Uncle Teddy. Any football broadcaster who uses the phrase, “What the bleep is going on?” deserves praise. Sure, I missed watching the spectacle of whomping Hawaii, but the listening pleasure is salve enough.

The first touchdown was a two play beauty featuring Jordan Byrd (61 yards/8.7 per rush) sprinting to the end zone. The second score, courtesy of Greg Bell (175 yards/8.4 per rush), took one play. Defensively, Kurt Mattix was firing one blitz after another resulting in a fumble (recovered by Hawaii) and impossible field advantage with a sack for -9 yards with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. Good times.

Thus the tone was set. Run, run, run, run coupled with jaw smashing defense. Segun Olubi’s interception returned for a score, and a 28-0 lead, reminds us that the scoring burden does not rest solely with the Aztec offense. Thank goodness, because Carson Baker was awful. 4/13/30? Yep. Disappointing, but true. Do recall with a 28-3 lead in the fourth quarter, we had a first and goal courtesy of a Hawaii fumble at their 10 yard line. Brady and Jeff decided to run once, run twice, run a third time before trotting out Matt Araiza to kick the field goal. Not a single pass. I believe Mr. Baker needs to rebuilt as quickly as possible. Yes, Lucas Johnson (51 yards rushing/11.8 per rush) provided direction the last 12 minutes of the game, but he did not attempt a single pass. ’tis not a recipe for a healthy offense. Quick! Name the sole wide receiver/tight end with a catch. Elijah Kothe. Further proof of required repair.

Returning to Mr. Mattix’s defense, please digest the following: Hawaii averaged 1.9 yards per rush, 6 yards per reception, less than 4 yards per play, 3/17 on third down and 8 punts. Almost forgot the 7 sacks for a total loss of 64 yards. You are welcome, Aztec offense.

3-1. Go, Aztecs.

Spartans 28, Aztecs 17

Posted: November 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

Guess what happens when the o-line finds blocking to be optional? We lose. Sure, Caden McDonald knocked out the Spartan starting quarterback the fifth play of the game. I welcomed his replacement, Nick Nash (cool name), with full knowledge that the Aztec defense would torment him deep into the Carson night. Wrong. He did the tormenting. Who knew that a #2 qb finishing with a line of 16/25/169 would be the second coming of offensive glory. 169 yards in the air was all it took to keep our defense on the field and San Jose State in the end zone. Which team is supposed to lose: The on that gains a total of 298 yards (them) or the one with 392 total yards (us)? We were feeling generous.

Returning to our offensive line, one rushing attempt after another yielded little to nothing. Greg Bell finding, stumbling, falling forward for 111 yards was pure torture. Chance Bell fared worse averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Carson Baker was sacked not once, not twice, but three times. Further proof a lost job description courtesy of our o-line. Candidly, scoring 17 points was an achievement.

Jordan Byrd needs to retire as our punt returner. Please.

Tanner Kuljian was one of the few bright spots with 4 punts for an average of 45.8 yards. Jesse Matthew (6/139) and Daniel Bellinger (4/49) also deserve kudos.

2-1. Go, Aztecs.

An old fashioned butt kicking.

10-7 at the half was cause for hand wringing and cursing (plenty). Matt Araiza missed consecutive field goals! What the hell? Okay, the first miss was partially blocked, but c’mon, Superman never fails. Mr. Araiza proves to be human. How dare he. Regardless of Mr. Araiza’s misses, we were first half incompetent when attempting to deliver the football to the end zone.

Behold! The second half begins and the Aztec offense arrives with a blistering performance. 28 points are added to the score board. Greg Bell (161 yards, 7.1 per carry), Chance Bell (98, 9.8) and Jordan Byrd (1 carry for a 78 yard sprint touchdown. My, that will inflate the old yards per carry) enjoyed the hard work of the Aztec offensive line. Carson Baker improved on his UNLV performance with a line of 18/27/163 with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Kobe Smith (seemingly a good half foot taller than the Utah State cornerback assigned to stop him) had 6 receptions to lead the other seven who had at least 1 catch. Game’s end featured 570 yards of offense! Of course 71% of those yards were courtesy of the run. Dare I say, the offense has returned.

Utah State did little to nothing all night. Zeroes were notched for the first, third and fourth quarters. The Aggies registered small numbers in passing (112 yards) and rushing (103 yards). They were 3 and done on 6 separate occasions. Their punter was busy (7 punts) and weary. During the first and third quarters, USU did not move the ball to the 50 yard line meaning the Aztec defense was top notch consecutive games. Kurt Mattix calls an excellent game from the booth. May he be Rocky Long II.

As a side note, congrats to Tanner Kuljian on his first punt as an Aztec. 58 yards in the thin air of Logan, Utah. Lucas Johnson also stepped on the field for the first time during the last drive for the obligatory hand-off parade to end the game.

2-0. Go, Aztecs.

Not bad, not great. I can’t complain. We played football.

As usual during a C-CBS broadcast, the game in front of us (Wyoming/Nevada) goes into overtime. Knowing our history of joining-the-game-in-progress, I had my mac tuned to 1360. I found the voice of one Ted Leitner to be the equivalent of a photo perfect day at the beach. How I adore Ted. Man crush? Yes. I don’t care. Mock me. Uncle Teddy’s voice coupled with early Aztec success readied me for the eventual C-CBS broadcast featuring a 7-0 lead.

I found Carson Baker’s performance to be a collective “meh”. 12/25 with 1 touchdown and no interceptions was serviceable. I was surprised by his ability to scramble with intent, i.e., no lost yards and the ability to wing the ball to an open receiver for positive yards. The o-line did well allowing only 1 sack while providing plenty of push. The proof of said push was 287 yards rushing. The following yards per carry will dismiss any naysayers regarding an effective run game: Greg Bell (5.8), Kaegun Williams (8.4), Jordan Byred (13.3) and Chance Bell (5.7). Push, indeed. As for receiving, 6 guys caught 1 pass each. 3 guys caught 2 passes each. Thus, the “meh”. Of course, Matt Araiza was perfect for the night (2/2). However, regressing from 27 first half points to 7 second half points was unimpressive and borderline criminal given the inept UNLV defense. Shame, shame, shame.

The Aztec defense was camped in the Rebel backfield three of four quarters (Mr. Mattix needs to emphasize that FOUR quarters of effort are required). Mr. Mattix mixed well one and two linebackers to the front three the entire evening. The three Rebel qbs were frantic most of the evening. They averaged less than 4 yards per completion. The UNLV rushing efforts was held to 2.3 yards per rush. Their offense averaged less than 3 yards per play. 1/15 on third downs was most satisfying. The SDSU defense allowed the UNLV offense to visit the red zone a mere 3 times. Trenton Thompson, Jonah Tavai and Kahi Neves were especially impressive.

Next week is Utah State at Logan. If we play four quarters of focused football, we win.

1-0.

Go, Aztecs.

Hello.

The MWC is proceeding with football. Eight games worth. Or there about depending on the school and non-con games secured. Yes, I find doubtful the chance to play eight games without cancellation of at least one, if not two, as we enter flu season coupled with our pandemic. Yet, I must pontificate (I’m an Aztec football junkie) on the SDSU schedule.

UNLV at home (home is Carson this year and 2021) is a win, but by no means a gimme. The new Rebel coach, Marcus Arroyo, is a former U of Ducks offensive co-coordinator. UNLV will stretch the field. Our defensive back five will be busy defending the pass and I expect many a deflection, tip and interception to the detriment of UNLV.

Utah State at Logan on Halloween. A sign? No, just another disappointing future memory for the majority of trick or treaters denied candy by weather and virus. A difficult road game, but the Aztec offense proves too much for the Aggies.

San Jose State football moved to Humboldt State for practice purposes. Practicing 300+ miles from home is chock-full of start, stop, start, stop depending on what is provided, forgotten and misplaced. The last development the improving Spartans need is a disjointed effort to prepare for the season. The Aztecs overwhelm San Jose State in a painful to watch romp (painful for the good people of San Jose).

Hawaii follows the Spartans. The same result. As mentioned in my summer post, Todd Graham is not the right guy for the job in paradise. The Hawaii defense is torched in Carson.

The Wolf Pack at Reno goes to the final possession. Reno in late November features some sort of challenging weather. Take your combination of wind, rain, snow, freezing temparture and/or hail. While watching the game on the tube/phone, wear a jacket and hat. Pretend empathy.

Fresno State at Fresno without 40,000 screaming, beer fueled fans will be an advantage to SDSU. Game six for both teams will shine the glare on a Bulldog squad lurching, struggling and waiting for 2021. The Aztec defense pummels the Fresno State offense.

Colorado State . . . oh, the missteps leading to the season. First, as I stated in my MWC preview, hiring Steve Addazio was a dumbass decision. Second, the “investigation” conducted by the university into various claims of racism and violations of established state/county C-19 health codes launches the Rams into a murky, disappointing, um, shit show, no, no, dumpster fire of a season. The only trip and slip variable for the Aztecs is December 5th in Fort Collins. As Reno (and so many other MWC locations), the weather will play havoc on sensible play calling, but the Aztecs prevail.

Finally, Provo. Why? Yeah, I know finding available teams in 2020 is north of difficult, but why these guys? Why not any other team west of the Rockies? Yeah, yeah, bowl game eligibility consideration of schedule, blah, blah, blah. I should not blah reality, but I remain flummoxed by J.D. Wicker’s decision. Regardless, we beat these guys and the refs.

Best case: 7-1. Worst case: 5-3.

Go, Aztecs.

SDSU Football, 2020: Update

Posted: September 20, 2020 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

We have movement. North. A joke. C’mon.

Several items to address. First, the demolition of the Murph/Q/SDCCU stadium sooner rather than later is a benefit given the late start to the entire SDSU Mission Valley project. April, 2020 was the original escrow closing date. The reality of San Diego real estate development pushed that date to early August, 2020. Precious time was lost. Removing thousands of tons of concrete demands no delay. Yet, here we stand. Working around the circular monster of the stadium would have created a difficult work space for all contractors involved. Removing said beast creates a literal and physical open area for bulldozers, backhoes, trucks, cranes and the rest to move in a direct line rather than the “oops, pardon me, excuse me” routine of running north and south of the stadium.

The choice of Carson and Dignity Health Sports Park was the nearest suitable facility available. Let me quickly disperse the idiots who claim this choice to be anything but logical. The Aztecs are not the Chargers. Drop that analogy/comparison. ’tis nonsense. Cal State campuses do not move. Cal State universities are California tax funded (somewhat) entities rooted in legislative law. Comparing SDSU with an NFL franchise indicates that the moron making the argument may as well compare a mom and pop taco stand with Taco Bell. Continuing withe idea that remaining somewhere, or anywhere, in San Diego offers a better outcome than 100 miles north. Where? Name the juco football stadium that matches the physical display of a professional soccer and part-time football stadium? You mention the USD football stadium? USD offers a competing football calendar. Plus, I do not recall any kind offer made. Consider the reality that during this time of C-19, butts in the seats are a non-starter. If you do not believe me, turn on the tube and watch MLB, NBA, NHL or NFL. Hmm. Cardboard cutouts. Large stuffed animals. The occasional human. Yep, that’s the crowd. Assume SDCCU stands. Who sits in the upper deck? A toughie. Um, nobody. The remaining two decks seat and separate those willing to attend Aztec home games. We averaged 29,000 +/- attendance in 2019. Cut that by half or more. At best. Spread 14,500 people in the cave. C-CBS and ESPN will not be impressed. Do note that 14,500 fans is a best case, thus unlikely, result. Dignity Health Care Park has a maximum occupancy of 27,000, which offers plenty of room for the Aztec faithful allowed and/or willing to attend a football game during a pandemic. The curious and bored of greater Los Angeles can drop by, watch the game and enjoy a scoreboard worthy of a division one football team rather than a scoreboard that offers home/visitor and time remaining with a few burned out light bulbs. Moths not included.

Money. Yes, SDSU saves a bundle. Do compare the cost of busing north 100 miles a maximum of five trips (ten if we play consecutive seasons) with an annual minimum bill of $5 million dollars (the city of San Diego averaged a million a month) for the upkeep of SDCCU. Who wants the chance of crumbling concrete to fall during a game (or at anytime)? The escalator malfunctions during a game. Can you hear the bitching and moaning from the same crowd bitching and moaning about the move to Carson? The lights blew out a few years ago during game time. Embarrassing. You want to roll the dice on a crumbling interior infrastructure, again? Moving to Carson for one year avoids all the aforementioned.

Speaking of one year, the bleaters need to let that calendar rest for a moment. Maybe an hour. Some people are slow. What exactly do Aztec fans miss? Refer to the seating scenario above. How many Aztec fans scoot home at halftime. A great many. Given the pandemic, I dare to count the number of Aztec fans who will not board the trolley to travel to the stadium. If two “seasons” of football are played inside twelve months at a non-San Diego location, what weight does that carry? The fact that we can possibly play football is enough satisfaction. Until the new stadium is complete, anywhere makes a fine short-term rental (without the 24/7 party).

Do remember, the new stadium (speaking in strictly football terms) is the goal. Placing any obstacle in the way of constructing the stadium and all associated with said construction is puzzling at best and obviously halfwitted. Getting the hell out of the way is the best choice. The end result is a stadium that media and fans will rave about. Best stadium on the West Coast. Best stadium you will not find in the PAC-12. SDSU will be the shining site star of college football. Imagine the development in sudden consideration of San Diego county and southern California kids who would otherwise refuse the Aztec coaching staff. Long term is the best outlook.

Finally, during the Brady Hoke media meet, I heard somebody by the name of Mark ask Mr. Hoke about the players becoming “political pawns” in the decision not to play football as scheduled. I’m guessing Mark is Mark Zeigler of the Tribune. Mr. Zeigler needs to keep his politics out of SDSU football. Coloring a health and financial decision as a politically based demon is the thought of an oaf with too much time on his hands who views conspiracy websites with increasing frequency. Do shut up, Mr. Zeigler.

As always, go Aztecs.

Let me begin with these words:  The 2020 season is highly unlikely to be completed.  Not just Aztec football, but all college football.  C-19 is increasing in severity (I’m a hospitalization rate guy.  Sure the infection rate is important, but the better telltale sign is how many people are hospitalized due to C-19 infection) as of today (July 8, 2020) and has been for the last half of June.  The Aztec football schedule as presented is likely altered.  Thus life during the C-19 era.  Enough of this cheery note.  Let us take a gander at the 2020 SDSU football team.

The coaching staff underwent significant change.  This makes me feel a tad unsettled.  However, less so than normal given the familiar face of Brady Hoke returning to the head coaching position.  Reportedly, Brady gave a promise/pledge/cross my heart to both Adela de la Torre and John David Wicker that he will remain at the Mesa for the duration of his current contract.  No more Michigan or any other school knocking on his door (that’s not happening anyway) due to the success of the Aztecs.  Jeff Hecklinski becomes the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.  Mr. Hecklinski brings the “fresh look” on behalf of the offensive players stuck in the #2, #3, and #4 spots on the depth chart.  I choose to believe that Mr. Hecklinski will throw the ball a great deal more than Aztec fans have witnessed the last three years.  I expect a minimum of 25 tosses per game.  Not that the running game will be the second act to the passing game, simply the offense will be balanced.  Jeff Horton is no longer the offensive coordinator (thank, God).  He will stay busy with the running backs.  Savai’i Eselu will coach the tight ends.  Defensively, Kurt Mattix assumes Rocky Long’s role as defensive coordinator.  Good luck.  He may as well be the guy who follows Mike Trout when the time comes.  Mr. Mattix claims he will keep the essence of Rocky’s 3-3-5 defense.  I hope so.  Mr. Mattix will also oversee the linebackers.  Kyle Hoke (yes, related to Brady) is the new safeties coach.  Jordan Thomas assumes Brady’s old role of handling the defensive line.  Lots of change.

Offense

Quarterback:  A spirited competition awaits for the starting quarterback spot between  Carson Baker (so.) and transfer Lucas Johnson (jr.).  Mr. Baker started and won the BYU game and did quite well.  He has an arm.  Forty and fifty yard ropes while under pressure are the rule for Mr. Baker.  Mr. Johnson rarely played at Georgia Tech (he was originally a SDSU recruit out of high school.  We all make mistakes, Mr. Johnson).  He is the traditional dual threat quarterback.  Unlike most dual threat quarterbacks, he can actually throw the ball downfield.  At the very least, Coach Heck (the aforementioned Mr. Hecklinski) has options.  The third spot will be a toss up between Jordon Brookshire (jr.) and Matt Salazar (jr.).

Running Backs:  Mr. Horton will have an impressive rotation of backs.  Four returning backs had carries of 89, 79, 78 and 30, which translates into proven game experience.  The Nebraska transfer Greg Bell (sr.), who did not play last year due to injury, enhances a sound rotation of able running backs.  I anticipate Greg Bell to make a starting duo of Bells with Chance Bell (jr., 4.3 yards per rush).  Let the nicknaming begin!  Chase Jasmin (sr., 4.6 ypr) will be part of this active swirl of running backs that includes Jordan Byrd (jr., 4.6 ypr) and Kaegun Williams (jr., 3.7 ypr).

Fullback:  I expect to see the fullbacks, when on the field, slotted for downfield blocking or the surprise catch a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage.  Gone are the days of the bruiser who partnered with the running back for battering purposes at the snap.  Grady Vazquez (sr.), Connor McBride (jr.),  Andrew Alves (so.) and Charlie Rogers (r-fr.) form the depth chart in the order presented.

Wide Receivers:  Lots of talent returning.  Lots.  Coach Hunkie Cooper will enjoy year two of palatable success.  Kobe Smith (jr., 58 catches, 12 yards per catch) and Jesse Matthews (so., 48 catches, 13 ypc) start on opposite sides of the tackles.  Elijah Kothe (jr., 17 catches, 11 ypc), Ethan Dedeaux (jr., 7 catches, but an impressive 17 ypc), Isaiah Richardson (jr., 9 catches, 13 ypc) and BJ Busbee (jr., 13 catches, 8 ypc) back-up Mr. Smith and Mr. Matthews.  Given my WAG (wild ass guess) about Coach Heck’s desire to involve a ball in flight on a regular basis, this group should experience notable increases in both catches and yards per catch.  Visiting the end zone on a regular basis is also on the agenda.

Tight Ends:  I do not foresee a double tight end formation as often as the past.  Daniel Bellinger (jr., 15 catches, 13 ypc) gets the majority of field time.  Transfer Nolan Givan (sr.) doubles with or subs Mr. Bellinger.  Alex Wilson (jr.) is the remaining tight end on the spring roster meaning rare opportunity for true freshmen Aaron Greene and Jay Rudolph to impress during practice.  Take advantage, gentlemen.

Offensive Line:  Last year’s performance was better than 2018’s.  I trust 2020’s will be better than 2019’s.  Coach Mike Schmidt has returning, experienced players that should (a dangerous word.  Should get out of bed.  Should put down the donut) create an able line of protection for all involved.  William Dunkle (so., rg), Zachary Thomas (sr., rt) and Keith Spalding (sr., lt) are returning starters.  Dominic Guidino (sr.) earns a start at the center spot.  Jacob Capra (sr.) does the same at left guard.  Plenty of competition awaits the group forming the second tier:  Desmond Bessent (jr.), Joey Capra (r-fr.), Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (r-fr.), Chris Martinez (jr.), Kyle Trombley (r-fr.), and Alama Uluave (jr.).

Defense

I enjoyed the Days of Rocky.  Great times.  I am spoiled and have great expectations. Do you hear me, Coach Mattix?

Defensive Line:  Cameron Thomas (so., 49 tackles) and Keyshawn Banks (jr., 43 tackles) are looking for the third starter on the line.  I’m guessing Connor Mitchell (jr.).  He played often enough to notice last year.  Jonah Tavai (jr.), Sefo Mailangi (sr.) and Jalil Lecky (sr.) form the second level.

Linebackers:  Andrew Aleki (sr., 35 tackles) is the only returning linebacker with substantial total tackles in 2019.  The much ballyhooed (love that word) Michael Shawcraft (so.,) starts in 2020.  Choose from Seydrick Lakalaka (jr.), Kaelin Himphill (sr.), Caden McDonald (jr.), and Clifton Styles (so.) to complete the trio of starters.

Defensive Backs:  I group the corners, safties, warriors together.  Why?  Easier for me.  Dwayne Johnson Jr. (sr., 92 tackles), Tariq Thompson (sr., 55 tackles), Darren Hall (jr., 49 tackles), Trenton Thompson (sr., 44 tackles), Tayler Hawkins (sr., 30 tackles) occupy all five of the 2020 starting spots.  Four seniors and a junior bring a tremendous amount of experience, skill and talent.  Opposing quarterbacks can look forward to general confusion and doubt when putting a ball in the air against the Aztec defense.  Most likely next in line:  Cedarious Barfield (so.,), Patrick Morris (so.) and Rashad Scott (jr.).

Kicking Game

Matt Araiza (so.) begins year two as king of field goals and extra points.  Plus, he booms the ball into the end zone during kickoffs.  He can punt as well, but I’m guessing special teams coach Doug Deakin seeks another leg for that duty.  Tanner Kuljian (sr., graduate transfer) gets first shot at the punting job.  He averaged 43 yards in 2018 and 40 yards last year.  Turner Bernard (sr.) is the long snapper.

2020 Prediction

First, if we play all scheduled games, I will be the most surprised fan in Aztec land.  Assuming the impossible happens, the first three games (Sacramento State, @Toledo, UCLA) result in 2-1.  MWC begins on September 26th at Nevada, followed by UNLV, @Utah State, @ Wyoming, San Jose State and Colorado State.  BYU interupts conference play.  We finish @ Fresno State and home against Hawaii.  Both Nevada schools are Aztec wins.  Same with Utah State.  Wyoming (October 17th is better than November given the wild weather that can roar through Laramie at anytime during autumn) is a toss up.  We beat both the Spartans and Rams.  BYU (there) . . .  who knows?  I despise playing those guys.  We beat Fresno.  And Hawaii.  In my perfect world, SDSU goes 10-2 best case.  8-4 worst case.  Mountain West play ranges from 7-1 to 5-3.

Sadly, as I post this masterpiece, I read that the PAC-12 cancelled all non-con games, thus our game against UCLA is no more.

 

 

Yes, I’m betting college football (including the Mountain West) is nationwide no later than mid-September.  Is this development wise considering the elastic ability of covid-19 to appear, disappear and reappear?  Probably not.  However, money calls and television contracts are the primary source of said money.  More on this likely outcome will appear at the bottom of my MWC 2020 preview.  You lucky bastards.

Mountain

1 – Boise State.  Loaded, yet again.

Offense:  The only significant loss for the 2020 season is the graduation of their #1, #3 and #4 receivers from 2019.  However, John Bates and Octavius Evans gladly take two of those three spots.  Their top two rushers (George Holani and Robert Mahone) return along with the talented quarterback duo of Hank Bachmeier and Chase Cord.  Boise averaged 35 points a game last year.  I expect no less in 2020.

Defense:  The Broncos’ run defense gave away a mere 3.5 yards per carry last year.  Their defense features 13 of their top 20 tacklers returning.  Not terribly deep, yet not terribly shallow.  They give up a couple more points per game than last year (22), but the offense is potent enough to withstand any defensive collapse.

2 – Wyoming.  Ever improving Wyoming.  Craig Bohl and staff are exemplary in their collective coaching approach and recruiting efforts (offering Laramie as an autumn/winter destination requires a smile, supply of winter clothing and perseverance galore).

Offense:  Much like Boise State, the quarterback spot features not one, but two experienced players.  Granted, neither Sean Chambers or Levi Williams is set to become MWC player of the year.  Both Mr. Chambers and Mr. Williams need to work on completion rates given their respective 2019 rates of 43% and 49%.  Losing their top 3 receivers does not help.  The running game will dominate the 2020 Cowboy efforts.  Xazavian Valladay (5.2 ypc) and Trey Smith (5.2 ypc) will run to their hearts delight and exhaustion.  Brett Brenton (5.9 ypc) will increase his number of carries as well.

Defense:  If Boise’s 3.5 ypc defensive stat impressed, may I present the Cowboys exponentially stingy 2.9 ypc.  Plus, the Wyoming defense allowed an impressive average of 18 points per game.  14 of the first 20 tacklers return, however the top 3 from last year graduated.  Much like the Broncos, Wyoming gives away a couple more points on average in 2020.

3 – Air Force:  Run, run, run, run, run, run.  When nobody is looking, throw a completed pass ten yards behind the stunned safety.  And repeat.

Offense.  The top 5 rushers return.  Since we are discussing Air Force, of course their #1 rusher is the returning starting quarterback, Donald Hammond, III.  The experienced Mr. Hammond makes the triple option all the more effective in 2020.  The offense loses their top 3 receivers, but who cares?

Defense:  2019’s defense allowed 20 points per game.  They lose 6 of their top 10 tacklers.  Those 6 accounted for 46% of total tackles.  Quite the gap to fill in 2020, thus my reason for placing the Falcons behind the Cowboys.

4 – Colorado State.  Hiring Steve Addazio was a big mistake.  Big.  Mr. Addazio in 7 seasons at Boston College patched together a 44-44 record.  His bunker/us-against-the-world mentality will quickly wear thin at Fort Collins.  If he survives his contact, I’ll be surprised.

Offense:  The good news for Rams fans is the return of starting quarterback Patrick O’Brien.  Mr. O’Brien played well in 2019.  He completed 62% of his passes and threw for more than 2,800 yards.  Not bad.  (However, if Mr. O’Brien suffers any significant injury in 2020, CSU lists only two other quarterbacks on the roster).  Mr. O’Brien will have plenty of offensive options in 2020 as the #2 and #3 rushers return along with his top 4 receivers.  Of the 4, watch and enjoy the continued development of senior Warren Jackson.  Last year’s 77 catches approaches 90 in 2020.  Given all of this returning talent, you ask yourself, “Why a predicted fourth place finish?”  Colorado State hired Steve Addazio.  Oh, yeah.

Defense:  The Rams lose their #1 tackler from 2020 along with #5, #6 and #7.  The defense allowed 31 points per game last year.  That number increases in 2020.  Also, their opponents converted 68% of fourth down opportunities.  Look for opponents to continue to take the fourth down chance.

5 – Utah State.  No Jordan Love means a tremendous, jaw dropping lack of offense in 2020.

Offense:  If Henry Colombi struggles at the quarterback position, the Aggies likely begin a quick descent into a long, difficult season.  The #2 and #3 receivers return along with the #2 rusher.  Jaylen Warren needs company in the backfield to form an effective running game in 2020.

Defense:  The Aggies return only 11 of their top 20 tacklers.  Their 2019 defensive efforts resulted in an inept 29 rushing touchdowns for opponents.  Couple that misfire with allowing 441 yards per game.  Oy vey.  Much to fix in 2020.

6 – New Mexico.  Hiring Danny Gonzales was a smart decision.  Mr. Gonzales convincing Rocky Long to return to UNM as defensive coordinator was an equally smart move.  Granted, the Lobos were a maladjusted football team the last two years and much is in need of repair, so be patient with the coaching staff as they implement “new culture” in Albuquerque.

Offense:  Tevaka Tuioti and two experienced backups return to the quarterback spot.  The #2 rusher returns along with 5 of the top 6 receivers.  Expect UNM to toss the ball 30+ times per game in 2020.  Any opponent with a lousy defensive backfield is a potential upset victim.

Defense:  Rocky returns to a flaming dumpster fire of a Lobo defense.  Last year’s squad gave up 486 yards per game, 37 points per game, 15 yards per completion and allowed opponents to convert 67% of fourth downs.  If you thought all the above was cringe worthy, throw in 34 td passes allowed.  Yeah, that was a pun.  Only 12 of the top 20 tacklers return, but that low return rate is a favor to Rocky.

West

1 – San Diego State:  A “new” head coach in Brady Hoke (his second appointment as head coach to the Mesa) coupled with Jeff Horton no longer the offensive coordinator brings necessary change on the offensive side of the ball.

Offense:  Either Carson Baker or Lucas Johnson (Georgia Tech transfer) wins the quarterback job.  If Mr. Baker wins the job, the Aztecs throw more than they run.  If Mr. Johnson wins the quarterback job, the Aztecs run more than they throw.  The running game, after two years of a slow fade, improves with the return of the #2, #3 and #4 rushers.  2020 receivers are deep with the return of the first 4.

Defense:  Even though the Aztecs lose their #1 tackler from 2019, 15 of the top 20 return including 7 of the top 10.  Granted, replicating 2019’s defensive performance of allowing 13 points a game and 2.8 ypc isn’t likely to happen, yet the SDSU defense will be the best in the West division.

2 – University of Nevada.  The Wolfpack won 3 of their final 4 MWC games, thus allowing the return of head coach Jay Norvell.  Oh, joy.

Offense:  Carson Strong returns as the starting quarterback after surviving a year of on-field learning.  The top 2 rushers return as do the top 2 receivers, though they lose the #3, #4 and #5 receivers from 2019.  Returning to the rushing game, 2019’s trivial rushing ypc average of 3.4 must improve or else Mr. Strong will average 40+ passing attempts per game out of necessity.

Defense:  7 of the top 10 tacklers return and 13 of the top 20.  The 2020 defense must flip the -11 points per game difference surrendered in 2019 (UN 21, opponent 32).  The best hope other than self-improvement for the Nevada defense is the impressive play of their quarterback so that he can pull their collective and individual buttocks from the fire.

3 – Fresno State.  A new coach in Kalen DeBoer (much needed.  Jeff Tedford displayed all the interest of a man waiting for a root canal).  Improving on last year’s total of 4 wins is guaranteed.

Offense:  Ronnie Rivers returns as their leading rusher.  Zane Pope returns as their leading receiver.  The University of Washington transfer, Jake Haener likely wins the quarterback competition.  If he produces, great.  If not, get ready for the carousel.  Mr. DeBoer’s primary challenge is creating an offense that scores points.

Defense:  Speaking of scoring points, the 2019 Bulldog defense allowed 31 or more points in 7 of 12 games as well as a stunning 420 yards per game.  Yuk.  13 of the top 20 tacklers return.

4 – San Jose State.  Go ahead.  Laugh.  Is San Jose greatly improved?  A bit.  Head coach Brent Brennan and staff continue the painful turn towards success.  The real reason for the #4 spot is the schools yet to be mentioned are walking backwards downfield while wearing blindfolds.

Offense:  Josh Love moves on.  Graduate transfer Nick Starkel via Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas arrives.  On behalf of the Spartans, his past travel better payoff.  Mr. Starkel will, thankfully, have 4 of the top 5 receivers returning for 2020.  SJSU’s 2019 running game averaged a pathetic 3.5 ypc/89 ypg.  But, with the return of Kaire Robinson (4.3 ypc) and soon to be determined partner, the running effort should  improve.

Defense:  The Spartans lose their #1 tackler, but return 7 of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20.  The 2020 defense must significantly reduce last year’s 444 ypg and 62% fourth down conversion rate for the Spartan offense to have any chance of winning a close game.

5 – Hawaii.  They too have a new head coach.  The uninspiring Todd Graham.  Almost as poor a choice as Steve Addazio.  Almost.

Offense:  Chevan Cordeiro returns and wins the quarterback spot in 2020 (Cole McDonald and his 4,135 passing yards are long gone).  Their #1 rusher returns and #2 and #5 receiver, which is code for running and receiving depth must be developed for a semi-successful 2020.  However, no matter who fills the offensive gaps, 2019’s average of 34 points per game decreases dramatically.

Defense:  Hawaii’s defense goes from bad to worse in 2020.  They gave up 32 points per game last year.  I say add a field goal to that total for 2020.  Allowing 37 rushing touchdowns in 2019 was eye-popping and painful.  They lose half of their top 10 tacklers, and return only 11 of the top 20.

6 – UNLV.  Another new coach (the West can’t get enough of new coaches in 2020).  Marcus Arroyo assumes the ever present challenge of turning the Rebels into a winning football program.

Offense:  The #1 and #2 quarterbacks return.  You flip the coin.  Either Kenyon Oblad or the ever under-performing Armani Rogers lead the Rebels in 2020.  Their top 2 rushers return.  Both Charles Williams and Chad Magyar averaged 5+ ypc last year.  The top 4 receivers return as well.  Coach Arroyo should have enough talent to hang around late in a game to surprise or at least make the opposition sweat.

Defense:  Beginning with the word “ouch”, UNLV loses 4 of their top 5 tacklers and return only 10 of the top 20.  Rebel faithful will lose count how many times the UNLV defense returns the lead to opponents this year.  Last year’s defense gave up 33 points per game.  2020’s defense gives up more.

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Returning to my preamble (rambling is a better description), 2020 forward (or until further notice) college football will no longer feature on field cheerleaders, band performances at halftime, grown men standing on the sideline who send large amounts of money to football programs for the privilege of said standing (a weird, twisted form of groupie-ism), fans in the stadium are few, front rows behind the team benches are dedicated to team medical staff and general support services (granted not all stadiums can accommodate this change, but those that can will), the majority of coaching staff will be found in coaching and press boxes, game balls are rotated and cleaned as often as every snap, clear or shaded plexi-glass is inserted into each players face mask to “protect” against spit and sweat (good luck), player gloves are mandatory less the quarterback, players shaking hands at the beginning of each game ends, and finally game time from start to finish increases due to the above mentioned precautions.

Candidly, Rocky ranks with Don Coryell.  He was better than Claude Gilbert.  Rocky’s nine years at San Diego State produced an overall record of 81 – 38 (.681) and MWC record of 51 – 20 (.718).  None of his Aztec teams finished with an overall .500 record or losing record.  Only once in MWC play was .500 the result (4 – 4 during 2018).  He won 10 games twice (2017 and 2019).  He won 11 games twice (2015 and 2016).  Over a three year period, his Aztec teams posted a total of 32 wins.  Not bad for a head coach with the soul of a defensive coordinator.

Bowl game appearances became the norm rather than the exception during Rocky’s tenure at San Diego State.  Nine seasons produced nine bowls.  Sure some games were as disappointing as a pair of socks on Christmas morning.  Other games (the wins) were built for Aztecs fans’ memories:  Stomping Buffalo on a frigid night in Boise (49 – 24); ruining Cincinnati’s Hawaiian vacation (42 – 7); my personal favorite was the complete dismantling of Houston (34 -10.  In my not so humble opinion the best Aztec effort on both sides of the ball . . . ever) and the good-bye, Rocky game against Central Michigan (48 – 11).

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Rocky’s defenses gave away a season average of 30+ points once (31.7 in 2013).  2011’s defense was the next “worse”:  25.8 points allowed per game.  Two teams (2016 and 2017) allowed an identical 20.2.  His best defenses were 2014 (19.8), 2015 (16.4) and an absolutely crushing 12.7 in 2019.  His speciality was stuffing the run.  Opponents averaged barely 72 rushing yards per game in 2019.  Consider, that total is shy of 3/4s of a football field.  2018’s defense allowed 94.5 rushing yards per game (still a tad shy of an entire field and definitely end-zone free).  The SDSU defenses from 2015 – 2017 allowed 111.2, 111.9 and 110.4 rushing yards per game respectively.  From 2015 to 2019, Aztec rushing defense was rated in the top 5 for three years (2015, 2018, 2019), top 10 for one year (2017) and 11th overall in 2016.

During Rocky’s nine years, the offense wasn’t reminiscent of past glory (Coryell and Gilbert), but the Aztecs put the ball in the end zone and between the uprights often enough to generate those win percentages of .681 and .718.  Plus, we watched the impressive skill sets of Ronnie Hillman, Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny running this way and that way, over, under and through to great effect.  Speaking of those fine running backs (and not mentioned other running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends), 7 of Rocky’s 9 years featured offenses that scored between 25 points and 35 points.  Sure his final two years I dare not use the word “featured” to describe the Aztec offense.  Rather, “cringe worthy”, “red zone reluctant” and “pathetic” best portray the SDSU offensive efforts of 2018 and 2019.  Then again, who is perfect?

Rocky’s worst finish in MWC play was his first year (2011) as head coach, a seemingly unpromising 4th.  None of his Aztec teams finished 4th again.  Rocky’s teams finished first or tied for first five seasons including consecutive MWC championships in 2015 and 2016.  SDSU finished second in 2013 and 2017.  Third once in 2018.

Finally, his head coaching efforts against the infamous power-5 resulted in an overall record of 6-9.  His 2011 squad knocked off Washington State in 2011, then promptly lost the next eight non-conference games against p-5 schools.  However, from 2016 to 2019, his Aztec teams went 5-1 against the big boys.  PAC-12 games, always of note given our California residency, resulted in a 6-5 record which included the aforementioned run of 5-1.

The days of his souring media demeanor as the season progressed will be missed.  By mid-October, his press conferences (pre or post) featured a man who would rather be in his dentist’s chair than speaking to a writer from any media outlet.  His perpetual folded arms while roaming the sidelines represented a coach who simply wanted the last two minutes of the game to grind out another victory.  His back turned to all things offense during timeouts was the sign of extreme confidence in not only his offensive coordinator, but also his entire offensive coaching staff.  Much like a man lost in a kitchen who loves to eat.

Rocky Long returns to the University of New Mexico in 2020.  How long he stays, who knows?  He can always come back to the beach and offer an idea or two.