SDSU 26, Wyoming 22

Posted: October 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

This group drives me crazy.  Let’s wait until the second half to play offensive football.  Why score touchdowns during the first half?  Who cares?  Matt Araiza can hit a couple of field goals.  We hang around.  Chat on the sidelines.  Who is doing what on Sunday?  Half time hits, then we decide to score touchdowns (and Mr. Araiza actually missed a field goal attempt).  If we can score 20 points in the second half, couldn’t we score 20 points in the first half?

Ryan Agnew threw the ball 32 times.  Wow.  Shades of Ryan Lindley.  21 completions for barely 200 yards (209).  Yes, I’m complaining about the lack of verticalness via the passing game.  Frankly, the Aztec running game wasn’t much better.  Juwan Washington on the field makes a big difference, but by no means have we established a buffo running game during the first six games of the season.  However, I must admit that the shot gun/spread is generating just enough offense to color the Aztecs as a balanced offensive football team.  A little of this.  A little of that.  We win.  By the way, Issac Lessard caught a pass.  Fullback production on the comeback trail?

Luq Barcoo’s pick with 49 seconds remaining sealed the win.  If Wyoming completes that pass . . .  oy vey.  We probably lose.  Which is indicative of a competitive game.  Keeping Wyoming to 266 total yards is just another day for the Aztec defense.  Pulling out the win against a good Cowboy squad is proof that SDSU is on a collision course with Hawaii and Fresno State to win the West.

Brandon Heicklen had a great game.  4 boots averaged 49 yards.  Thank you.

Finally, a tip of the hat to the loud crowd at SDCC stadium.  Enthusiasm plus.

5-1/2-1.

Go, Aztecs.

 

 

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Aztecs 24, Rams 10

Posted: October 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

31-10 with a bit more effort in the final minute.  But, why complain?

Ryan Agnew was a model of passing proficiency:  16/20 with 3 touchdowns and zero picks.  Not bad, yet somehow more is needed.  Why Jeff Horton leaned to any attempt to balance the pass with the non-effective run was a head scratcher.  The running game took a step backwards.  Between Juwan Washington, Chance Bell, Chase Jasmin and Jordan Byrd, the Aztecs tallied a sad 120 yards.  Boo.  The offensive line’s inability to push back the CSU d-line was the equivalent of slap and yell.  I expect the call of “Back up, you brute” to be quickly adopted as strategy.  Note; our horizontal to the line of scrimmage plays are as effective as no waves at the beach.  Please stop.  Vertical is the preferred method.  You know, north and south.

Juwan Washington, ankle sprain or no, brings spark and speed sorely needed, yet he too could use a bit more help from the front five.

Kobe Smith was the game.  7/101 and 2 of Mr. Agnew’s 3 touchdowns deserves a trip to Hodad’s.  Well done.  The burger as well.

The defense was, once again, superb.  I lost track of how many 3-0 the CSU offense was handed.  Luq Barcoo’s 3 consecutive interceptions is the stuff of lore and legend.  Silly good.  The Aztec defense had 4 sacks and 41 yards in tackles for loss.  The goal line stand at the end of the second quarter was testament to why practice makes perfect.  Also, limiting the Rams to 3/14 on third downs was the proverbial cherry on top of a fine night.  By the way, when was the last time a MWC team averaged 0.7 yards per rush?

4-1/1-1.

Go, Aztecs.

Utah State 23, SDSU 17

Posted: September 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

Meh or coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Choose one of the above.

The Aztec defense allowed one (1) Aggie offensive touchdown.  If we subtract the Aggie defensive touchdown (a bouncing ball interception), we win, 17-16.  We were in the game  until the end.  So much for the good news.

Utah State’s linebackers and secondary made plays.  What seemed to be a 5 yard plus run for Chance Bell, Jordan Byrd and/or Chase Jasmin crumbled to a 2 yard gain the entire night.  Rare was the run forward that eluded the Aggie defense.

Ryan Agnew’s propensity to scramble bit him last night.  Especially the final play during which he almost stumbled into the end zone for a safety.  Mr. Agnew lost 60 (!) yards all by his lonesome due to his ineffective scrambles, zig-zags and running sideways.  This behavior must be modified.  He must be frustrating to watch in a buffet line.  Yet, on his behalf, he threw for 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter that kept SDSU’s chances alive.

The penalty bug returned as SDSU received 7 flags for 61 yards.  That and a grand total of 83 yards lost is a quarter plus worth of offensive yardage.

A week off after 4 games is well received.  Heal, rest and have a long chat with Mr. Agnew about throwing the football forward rather than running with the football in the wrong direction.

I choose meh.

3-1/0-1.

Go, Aztecs.

 

When I bitch and moan during a 31 – 10 win, my Aztec football life is a tad too good.  Yet, I bitched and moaned during our prolonged penalty party (Dominic Gudino called for holding twice?  C’mon, Dom) that stalled a second quarter drive into a Matt Araiza field goal rather than a touchdown.  My burden is great.

Speaking of Mr. Araiza, six kick offs equaled six touchbacks.  Not bad.  I want to witness the spectacle of the SDSU kick off team veering immediately to the sidelines after one of Mr. Araiza’s kicks.  Who needs coverage when a touchback is guaranteed?  All that sprinting for nothing.

The running game returned with a flourish.  Does this imply our o-line is becoming more effective?  I choose yes.  Jordan Byrd seems to be the heir apparent.  22/134 and 2 touchdowns speaks well.  Chance Bell made the best of his playing time with a line of 17/121 and 1 touchdown.  Ryan Agnew was a passing qb during the first half, then morphed into last year’s version of Captain Handoff during the second half.  I believe I’m bitching and moaning, again.  However, Mr. Agnew was without an interception and did throw for a touchdown to Daniel Bellinger.  Mr. Agnew did not suffer a sack courtesy of the Aztec o-line.

The Aztec defense was sack city against the Aggies.  6 tosses to the ground were suffered by the NMSU qb.  Many bruises.  Keshawn Banks led the way with 2 and enjoyed the company of Cameron Thomas (1.5), Myles Cheatum (1.5) and Andrew Aleki (1).  The Aztec defense created a total of 46 lost yards on behalf of the Aggie offense.  A whole lot of backwards goes a long way.  The Aztec rush defense allowed 30 yards the entire game.  The pass defense, not so much.  299 yards was far too much to a team that specializes in short slant routes.  I find inadequate Luq Barcoo’s and Kyahva Tezino’s interceptions.  I want roses, not daises.  Again, I’m bitching and moaning.

The offense has scored a total of 60 points during the first three games.  To beat Utah State we will need at least half that number.

3-0.  Go, Aztecs.

What a game, what a  game.

First, those of you whining about Jeff Horton and his play calling need to wander away into oncoming traffic.

The Aztec offense, courtesy of Ryan Agnew, performed well enough.  The offensive line looked absolutely anemic during the first possession, then blocked, pushed and shoved to a reasonable degree of effectiveness throughout the remainder of the game.

Mr. Agnew scrambled as needed.  He’s not half bad.  Ask the UCLA defense as they bit on Ryan beginning to run only to watch him pull back and throw his sole touchdown pass of the afternoon to make the score 17-7.  23/31/293 is a notable effort.  Kobe Smith and Jesse Matthews caught 12 of Mr. Agnew’s 23 completions for a total of 190 yards.  Do we have a receiving duo of impact?

Speaking of impact, or lack of, the running game was absent.  Jordan Byrd started to no real effect.  Chase Jasmin scored the first touchdown on a well blocked 3 yard run and did nothing else.  Chance Bell had a couple of carries for not much.  Juwan was mostly missing in action less the interesting sequence with 25 seconds left in the first half featuring Jeff Horton seemingly willing to take a couple of knees and end the half, when Rocky walked over to him and, um, encouraged Mr. Horton to run actual plays to gain yardage (a thrilling concept), which resulted in Mr. Washington rushing for 15 yards in two carries (his best consecutive rushes of the afternoon).  I will say that I was puzzled by Mr. Horton’s repeated (and repeated) attempts at running the ball into the middle of the UCLA defense for no gain or minor losses.  However, this shortcoming was easily overcome by the arm of Mr. Agnew.

The d-line continues to impress.  At worst they held the UCLA o-line in place which allowed Aztec linebackers into the backfield (as proof consider our 3 sacks of the UCLA quarterback).  At best, they applied plenty of pressure forcing throws on the run or brining down UCLA running backs behind or near the line of scrimmage.  The 2 fourth down stuffs at 4:04 and 2:31 in the fourth quarter by the SDSU defense was pure fight and desire.  At game’s end, allowing 62 yards rushing and 199 yards passing is to be applauded.  Finally, the UCLA offense had the ball for only 21:44 the entire game thanks to the Aztec defense.

Matt Araiza was 3/4 in field goal attempts.  He hit from 43, 31 and 25.   His 6 kickoffs featured 5 touchbacks with the other not returned.  That’s right.  6 kicks, no yardage.  A worthy defensive weapon this year and the next three.  I can’t wait to watch him kick in Fort Collins this October.  He may send one into the stands on the fly.

2-0.

Go, Aztecs.

 

Aztecs 6, Weber State 0

Posted: September 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

A punting clinic unfolded during the game.  A sure sign of a lack of offense.  As exciting as working outside in triple digit heat.  Oh, yeah.

Brandon Heicklen’s foot was surely sore at game’s end.  9 punts.  Thankfully he averaged an impressive 49 yards per leg swing.  3 of the 9 landed inside the 20 and 4 were waved for fair catches.  Weber State had lousy staring points the entire game.

The Aztec defense held Weber State to 5 first downs.  As in 5 first downs the entire game.  That is a tough trick.  Among other highlights:  Weber State averaged only 1.8 yards per rush, accumulated 35 yards rushing at game’s end, averaged less than 6 yards per completed pass and overall generated a pathetic 154 yards of total offense.  The Aztec defense was above and beyond.  And, Tariq Thomspon’s interception with less than 3 minutes remaining sealed the deal and prevented a likely 7-6 loss.

Evidently, shot gun/spread offenses are really difficult.  I mean calculus difficult.  The Aztec offense sputtered and stalled all night.  The offensive line was physically present, but mentally at the beach watching the sunset.  SDSU offensive highlights were limited to:  8 different Aztecs caught at least one pass from Ryan Agnew.  Jordan Byrd ran for 51 yards on 5 carries and Chance Bell had 18 yards on 3 carries.  Both these guys deserve more time with the ball in their arms.  Yes, Ryan Agnew can scramble.  Not my favorite moment(s), but at least he falls forward more often than not.  However, 238 total yards is an absolute mess of an offense.  Get well, fast.

Finally, Matt Araiza’s introduction was the game difference.  Two chances (I’m not counting the misfire snap that sailed away from Brandon Heicklen), both good, both desperately needed.  More to follow, I’m sure, but hopefully accompanied by lots of extra points.

1-0.  Go, Aztecs.

 

The memory of last year’s miserable finish must be the starting point for 2019.  Beginning last season with 7-2 start only to watch the misery of a 0-4 finish, including the pitiful bowl loss to Ohio, serves as the primary motivator for the 2019 Aztecs.  Revenge, gnashing of teeth and general thirst to hurt must precede this Aztec football campaign.

Granted, most everything can improve, but I’m hard pressed to envision the Aztec defense allowing less than last year’s 3.0 yards per rush.  Impressive plus.  Also, while 7-6 was impermissible disappointing and foul, four of the six losses were by 4 (Nevada), 3 (UNLV), 9, (Fresno State) and 1 (Hawaii), thus one could make the argument that 2018’s offense was generally one score away from a win.  I could also claim that the Aztec offense scoring a woeful 30 touchdowns leaves much to improve.  And I do.  Averaging at least four offensive touchdowns is primary for this year’s success.

As usual, the position analysis unfolds in all well thought glory.

Quarterback:  Ryan Agnew’s (sr) job to lose.  I’m not sold on Ryan (I’m sure he is deeply concerned).  Last year he completed barely half his pass attempts (51.6%) and 115 completions created only 1,651 yards.  I grant sharing the position with the injured Christian Chapman was less than ideal, but at times Mr. Agnew seemed to spend too much mental time watching the clock featuring the return of Mr. Chapman.  This year’s introduction of the spread offense should allow for a great deal of creativity on behalf of Mr. Agnew.  He is a qb who can run vertically.  Such talent creates options for offensive coordinator Jeff Horton on behalf of Mr. Agnew.  The back up is juco transfer Jordon Brookshire (jr) followed by Mark Salazar (soph) and/or Carson Baker (rs-fr).

Running back:  Once Juwan Washington (sr) went down, so did the 2018 Aztec running game.  I was hoping Nebraska transfer Greg Bell (jr) would provide a true 1-2 punch that Aztec fans expect.  Alas, Mr. Bell is injured and unlikely to play in 2019.  Mr. Washington, injured or not, had a good year in 2018 (5.0 yards per carry, 10 tds, 111 yards per game).  The problem was the mere 9 games he played.  Expect a healthy Juwan Washington to rush for a minimum of 1,500 yards in 2019.  If, please God, no, he is not healthy, last year’s challenge of maintaining an impactful run game rears its ugly head, yet again.  I found Chase Jasmin (jr) to be a significant step down from Mr. Washington.  Mr. Jasmin runs a tad too slashy (new word) for me.  I’m hopeful that both Chance Bell (soph) and Jordan Byrd (soph) receive more opportunities to run the ball in 2019.

Fullback:  This position was little used, less the standard blocking, last year.  Isaac Lessard (sr), last year’s starting fullback is injured.  Either Grady Vazquez (jr) or Connor McBride (so) do most of the initial pushing and shoving on behalf of Mr. Washington.  However, in light of the spread offense, I expect the fullback position to be less of an influence compared to past years.

Wide Receiver:  Five guys played last year.  So, I’m proposing a mix of those five to significantly expand the number of catches from last year.  Ethan Dedeaux (so), Kobe Smith (so), Elijah Kothe (so), Bj Busbee (so . . . those of you paying attention have discovered a theme) and Isiah Macklin (jr . . . theme no more).  These gentlemen can catch the ball and run vertically.  What more do I want?  I remain a fan of wide receivers coach Hunkie Cooper.  Why?  Because Mr. Cooper demands, at the very least, the ability to block downfield to create those extra yards for their fellow Aztec with the ball.  This year, his receiving corps blossoms with the spread offense.

Tight End:  Parker Houston becomes “the man”.  He will block less in the 2019 offensive scheme, thus his 16 catches from 2018 should increase enough to notice.  Daniel Bellinger is second on the depth chart.  Alex Wilson (so) and Nic McTear (rs-fr) should be in the mix as the season progresses.  Much like the wide receivers, this is a position that will benefit from the offensive change.

O line:  A disappointment in 2018.  I labeled last year’s squad to be the pre-season best in the MWC.  Wrong.  Tyler Roemer’s departure during the 2018 season was the cherry on top of a bad blocking performance by the Aztec o-line.  Injury did not help, but injury is part of the annual puzzle that must be solved.  As currently listed, the experience is found on the left side.  Left tackle Kyle Spalding (jr), Daishawn Dixon (sr) at left guard and #2 man behind Mr. Spalding, Zachary Thomas (jr), supply brains as well as brawn.  Keith Ismael (jr) and Dominic Gudino (jr) are listed 1 and 2 at the center spot, though Mr. Gudino is far too talented not to start at another line position.  Is this a sign that I should be content with depth?  The massive William Dunkle (6′ 5″, 355, rs-fr) is currently listed as the starting right guard.  The University or Oregon transfer Jacob Capra (jr) most likely earns the right tackle spot.  I’m expecting a return to blocking prominence in 2019.

Defense

D line:  Sophomores, Connor Mitchell and Keshawn Banks, are the defensive ends.  These two received significant playing time in 2018.  Good gets better in 2019.  Myles Cheatum (sr) will be the nose guard.  Juco transfers, Jalil Lecky (jr) and Jonah Tavai (jr), add size and experience (something more than high school football experience) given the relative youth and inexperience of non-starter defensive linemen.  The return of former head coach Brady Hoke as defensive line coach guarantees a much improved Aztec front three during 2019.

Linebacker:  A point of strength, again.  Yawn.  Kyahva Tezino (sr) and his 127 tackles from 2018 centers the defense.  A mix of Caden McDonald (so), Andrew Aleki (jr), Troy Cassidy (sr), Kaelin Himphill (jr), Seyddrick Lakalaka (so) and Will Stricklin (jr) will raise hell, chaos and confusion to the opponents detriment.  A deep and talented group.

D backfield:  These guys are as good as the linebackers.  Luq Barcoo (sr) returns from injury.  Trenton Thompson (jr) and the other Thompson (Tariq, also a junior), Dwyane Johnson (jr) and Darren Hall (so) complete the starting five.  Kyree Woods (sr) may not start, but he will see quality time on the field.

Kicking, punting and special teams:  John Barron is gone.  Boo.  I will miss John.  He was good.  Matt Araiza (rs-fr) is the field goal kicker for now.  If he misses from inside 30 yards, Rocky will sit Mr. Araiza and instead institute two-point plays after touchdowns until further notice.  Do not miss the easy/makable kicks, Mr. Araiza.  Brandon Heicklen (sr) improved his punting game as the 2018 season progressed.  Turner Bernard (jr) handles the long snaps.  Rocky and Jeff will deploy the usual mix of running backs and wide receivers to catch kick offs and punts.  Key word is catch.  Fumbles are death.

The Schedule

Weber State (8/31) is no slouch.  Aztec faithful are painfully aware of our history with FCS schools.  Weber State made the second round of last year’s FCS playoffs.  If the Aztecs overlook these guys, we are off to an official bad start.

@ UCLA.  A game we can win, Pasadena or no Pasadena.  The Bruins play Oklahoma the following Saturday.  I’m anticipating a dose of only-a-MWC-school in light of the Sooners impending arrival.

@ New Mexico State.  Aztecs win.  The Aggies were 3-9 last year and 2-3 at home.

Utah State.  As stated in my ever dazzling MWC football review, Utah State is built around Jordan Love.  A substantial amount of 2018 talent on both sides of the ball is gone.  However, USU has a bye week to prepare game strategy prior to their Aztec date.  SDSU’s defense must set the tone early and often.

@CSU followed by a SDSU bye week. The good news is traveling to Fort Collins in early October makes crazy weather less of a factor.  With a week to prepare, the Aztecs dominate on both sides of the football.

Wyoming at home is a win.

@ San Jose State is a win.

@ UNLV.  Ditto.

Nevada arrives after our second bye week.  College football mavens think more of the Wolf Pack’s ability than I do.  Win.

Fresno State, much like Utah State, loses enough talent to notice.  Yet, by the date of this game (11/16/19) that challenge has been met or not.  The final possession determines the winner.

@ Hawaii.  I’m not looking forward to this game.  Hawaii is vastly improved.  The team with the most mistakes/turnovers/penalties loses.

BYU.  Why we agreed to play these guys is inexplicable.  A divorced parent suddenly agrees to date the former spouse?  The guy you fired wants to be your best friend?  Though, play we must.  This game, while impactful, has no bearing on our MWC standing.  If the Aztecs at this point in the 2019 season have delivered beyond and above expectations, the game becomes significant regarding bowl game designation.  As a fan with decades of BYU/SDSU games in my skull, I long to always beat these guys.  By one or a lot.  Kick BYU butt.

Best case scenario:  10-2.  Worst case scenario:  8-4.  Consecutive bowl game number 10 awaits.

Go, Aztecs.

 

 

 

Mostly a yawner until the Zach Greinke trade.  Nonetheless, here we go.

The Twins did well.  Not great, but well.  Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson create depth that did not exist.  Closer Taylor Rogers and late inning men Ryne Harper and Mike Morin now have plenty of help holding leads from the sixth inning forward.  Minnesota will have their hands full during the Dog Days as Cleveland continues their slow chug for first in the A.L. Central.  Mr. Romo was swapped for two minor leaguers.  One is interesting.  Lewin Diaz, 22, lefty first baseman in AA.  Mr. Diaz has a cumulative power line of 55/249 accompanied with a recently developed sense of hitting for the sake of batting average and obp.  A rare quality choice by Miami scouts and administration.  Mr. Dyson was traded for three minor leaguers.  A tad excessive given the fact that Mr. Dyson finally became a quality bullpen guy in 2018.  Of the three, Jaylin Davis is, sadly, the only one worth a look.  Mr. Davis is in year three of development.  Currently at AAA he is a right fielder with pop.  I grant Mr. Davis a visit to San Francisco prior to season’s end.

L.A. acquiring Tyler White is a solid late inning addition.  Mr. White is an above average defensive first baseman.  Unfortunately, his bat does not follow his glove.  Andre Scrubb is Houston bound.  A fine choice less a slight bb problem, but I’m sure Houston’s AAA coaching staff will fix that concern.  Mr. Scrubb, either a closer or eighth inning man (you choose), has a lifetime line of 2.37/1.25.

Initially when the Mets traded for Marcus Stroman, I assumed Noah Snydergaard was long gone.  Instead the Mets hold steady and strengthen their starting pitching staff.  With these two and Jacob deGrom, a late wild card charge by the Mets is not out of the question regardless of management.

Hats off to Tampa.  A round of applause coupled with fireworks, please.  Eric Sogard makes injury much more manageable.  Mr. Sogard plays most anywhere.  Jesus Aguilar brings his substantial power and deft glove to first base.  Next, Tampa adds Trevor Richards (a perfect fit for a #5 starter) and Nick Anderson in the bullpen.  At the time of the trade, Mr. Anderson led the lowly Miami bullpen in ip (43 2/3) while sporting a whip of 1.28.  Upon hearing the trade, rumor insists that Ryne Stanek, the Miami bound victim, screamed, “Kansas City!  Please send me to K.C.!  Hell, I’ll go to Baltimore!”

Speaking of screaming, why did Milwaukee trade for the likes of Jordan Lyles, Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black?  Would a decent Broadway show give the Three Stooges starring roles?  S.F. receives Mauricio Dubon.  A quality shortstop who can hit and steal.  Mr. Dubon likely sets up shop in San Francisco immediately.  Cody Ponce was the exchangee (new word) for Mr. Lyles.  He’s a righty starter with a cumulative line of 3.72/1.25.  He is currently in AA.  A nice choice by Pittsburgh.

Corey Dickerson moves from one end of Pennsylvania to the other.  He definitely helps the Phillies.  Mr. Dickerson is a classic under-the-radar player.  As for the player to be named later, betcha’ he’s a 19 year old in rookie ball.  As for the Phils trading for Jason Vargas . . . why?  I loved the Mets demanding Austin Bossart.  He is a 24 year old platoon catcher who cannot hit, but, depending upon which of his minor league seasons, throws out 35% to 46% of baserunners.  So there.

Atlanta takes Chris Martin (I”m not a fan) and Shane Greene (I’m a fan).  Kolby Allard goes to Texas.  In three years of minor league ball, Mr. Allard went from rookie ball to AAA.  He didn’t play, he visited.  Impressive numbers puts him on the hill in Texas this season.  Joey Wentz goes to Detroit.  Year three finds him in AA.  He is progressing well.  Given the Tigers need for mound help, he pitches in the bigs in 2020.

Tanner Roark eats innings and doesn’t walk batters.  He helps Oakland stay in the A.L. wild card hunt.

Martin Maldonado to Houston was a dumb move by Theo.  Do not trade quality defensive catching to upgrade the rest of the defense.  Cubs pitchers are not happy.  Houston pitchers are quite pleased.  Tony Kemp will do his usual 2b/ss/cf rotation in late innings for the Cubs.  Joining Tony Kemp in Chicago is Nick Castellanos.  Imagine his joy as he leaves one team that was 32.5 games out of first place to join a team 1 game out and in the thick of division and wild card consideration.  Life is good.

The Nationals rivaled Milwaukee in “You did what?” land.  Daniel Hudson makes sense.  Roenis Elias does not.  Neither does Hunter Strickland who has thrown 3 1/3 ip the entire season.

Cleveland did well.  Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes add significant pop to the middle of the Indians lineup.  Well done.  Logan Allen pitches in Cleveland no later than next year. He was my #1 rated pitcher in the Padres organization.  The Padres receive the much ballyhooed Taylor Trammel who has struggled this year in AA.  Why the collective excitement of baseball mavens over Mr. Trammel?  Finally, Trevor Bauer can now throw baseballs into the Ohio River while pitching for the Reds.

The Zach Greinke deal almost seals the deal for the Astros to appear in the World Series.  I know games must be played, but once the playoffs and three man rotations begin, beating Mr. Greinke, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole is a tall order.  The Snakes chose well from Houston.  Seth Beer, a first baseman and outfielder, in two years has a line of .307/.401 with 37/128.  Josh Rojas is a middle infielder with gap power and base stealing know how (70 bags in 3 years).  Of the two pitchers selected, Corbin Martin likely takes the mound in Phoenix this year.

Enjoy the Dog Days.  Best baseball ever.

 

Boise remains the class of the Mountain division.  Who knew?  Utah State could easily slip into fourth place with the right amount of wrong.  Air Force has experience that Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico do not.  New Mexico.  Don’t get me started.

Mountain

Boise State:  With Brett Rypien gone, the quarterback position goes to Chase Cord.  Jaylon Henderson is the likely back up.  Andrew Van Buren (4.8 yards per rush) and Robert Mahone (4.0 ypr) will do the majority of the running.  Given Mr. Cord’s total of 9 passing attempts last year, the run game will be the primary feature leading into MWC play.  Speaking of passing, Boise loses their top two receivers from last year, but return #3 through #6.  C.T. Thomas (41 catches, 13.0 yards per catch) and John Hightower (31 and 16.3 ypc) lead a deep group of wide receivers and tight ends.  However, equaling last year’s impressive 35 points per game will be a tall order.

The Bronco defense returns last year’s #1 tackler, Kekoa Nawahine (71 tackles) and #3 tackler Riley Whimpey (55 tackles).  Overall, 15 of their top 20 return.  Boise gave up a mere 123 rushing yards per game last year and only 356 yards per game.  Not much changes this year.

Utah State:  Jordan Love takes the best-quarterback-in-the-MWC title by a wide margin.  However, equaling (or approaching) 2018’s grand total of 3,567 yards passing (294 passing yards per game) isn’t happening given the loss of 5 of his top 6 receivers (running backs included).  No matter the talent of Mr. Love, scores of newbies at the starting wide receiver and tight end slots, catching and running forward may take awhile to develop.  As the receiving corps took a graduation hit, so to did the running game.  3 of the top 4 are gone leaving Gerold Bright carrying the load until a #2 back is established.  Given the lack of proven talent around Mr. Bright, look for last year’s 203 rushing yards per game to dip.  Perhaps dramatically.  Intriguing, in a train wreck sense, is the fact that the Aggies have only two back up quarterbacks.  If Mr. Love goes down with an injury, Henry Colombi, last year’s #2 qb, stands between success and disaster.  The Aggies are truly a team dependent upon their starting quarterback.

The Aggie defense takes a sizable hit with the departure of 6 of their top 10 tacklers.  Granted, the return of their #1 tackler, David Woodward (134 tackles), offers a fine example of how to hit, wrap up and return an opposing player to a horizontal position.  As good as last year’s defense was, the opposition averaged 5 yards per play.  That number increases in 2019.

A note on the return of head coach Gary Andersen.  Rarely does lightning strike twice in the same spot.  Mr. Andersen had success his first run with Utah State.  But, he was absolutely awful with Oregon State (7 wins, 23 losses).  Coaching a team built around one player leads to anticipated success or surprising disappointment.

Air Force:  The Falcons averaged 30 points per game last year.  2019 returns Isaiah Sanders and D.J. Hammond III at the quarterback position.  This year, they score more points.   The Falcons also return 3 of their top 4 rushers.  Kadin Remsberg has the opportunity to improve last year’s eye-popping 5.8 ypr.  Air Force does lose their # 3 and #5 receiver from 2018, but catching footballs far down field is an unusual sight at Colorado Springs.  So, who cares.  Run, run, run.  When in doubt, run.

Defensively, they take a bit of a hit (pun intended) losing half of their top 10 tacklers, but retain Jeremy Fejedelem (#1 with 104 tackles), Kyle Johnson (#2, 70 tackles) and Jordan Jackson (#5, 54 tackles).  The challenge for the 2019 Air Force defense will be maintaining 2018’s defense average of 3.5 yards per rush and 14.6 yards per catch by the opposition.

Wyoming:  Choosing between the Cowboys and Colorado State is a coin toss.  I choose Wyoming because of their coaching staff.  Let the shouting begin.

Tyler Vander Waal had a dreadful 2018.  He completed 49% of his passes.  In 10 games, he threw for only 5 touchdowns and 1,310 yards.  He was as effective as a t-shirt during a snow storm.  When Mr. Vander Waal was seated on the bench, Sean Chambers threw 15/25 and 266 yards.  August practice will determine the starter between these two.  Xazavian Valladay is searching for a running partner in the back field or at least a fullback in a bad mood.  Austin Conway (32 catches) and Raghib Ismail Jr (24 catches) are the only returning receivers who had double digit receptions in 2018.

The 2018 Cowboy defense kept opponents to a more than respectable 326 yards per game.  7 of the top 10 tacklers return including Mr. #1 Wilson Logan (103 bring downs).  Wyoming’s defense will keep them in the game more often than not.  Will the offense score often enough to say “Thank you”?

Colorado State:  After sharing the starting quarterback role in 2018 Colin Hill may well do so again.  The Nebraska transfer, Patrick O’Brien, will serve as either plan A or plan B depending upon Mr. Hill’s August practice performance.  Since both players are redshirt juniors, they will also enjoy each other’s company in 2020.  Joy.  2018’s rushing game was anemic.  The Rams lose their top rusher from 2018.  Anemic becomes stagnant.  Marvin Kinsey Jr and Marcus McElroy are the primary running backs..  Adam Prenticeis is an actual fullback who not only blocks well, but can also run.  The running backs need a lot of work to improve.  If not, 106 rushing yards per game could sink to double digits.  Mr. Hill and Mr. O’Brien will throw primarily to Warren Jackson (32 catches) and Cameron Butler (29 catches) until the depth chart generates at least one more wide receiver who plays on Saturdays.

The Rams move their #5 tackler from 2018, Scott Brooks, to the offensive side of the ball in 2019.  This removes a total of 5 of their top 10 tacklers from last season.  Jamal Hicks (48 bring downs) is the top returner followed by Ellison Hubbard (22 tackles).  Neither total says much on behalf of the 2019 CSU defense.  They gave up a painful 452 yards per game last year.  This year may be worse.

New Mexico:  Why Bob Davie remains employed at UNM is beyond me.  The Lobos are painful to watch.  They have the emotional maturity of a 15 year old having a bad day on a high school freshmen football team.  Yeah.  They are that out of control and ego centered.

Either Sheriron Jones or Tevaka Tuioti start at quarterback.  Mr. Jones had 13 tds and an appalling 12 picks.  Mr. Tuioti offered 5 tds and 2 intercetptions.  When passes were completed, Elijah Lilly (21 catches, 17.9 ypc) and Anselem Umeh (16 catches, 19.8 ypc) proved they could motor downfield in a hurry.  The running game, which averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per rush in 2018, features Daevon Vigilant and Ahmari Davis in the backfield.  Much more is needed for an improved 2019.

Incredibly, as in I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening incredibly, the Lobos lose 9 (!) of their top 10 tacklers and 13 of their top 20.  A bad, disorderly UNM defensive squad gave up 473 yards per game last year and allowed opponents an average of better than 6 yards per play.  This year gets worse.

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West

The West division will be a three school race between Fresno State, Hawaii (that’s right, Hawaii) and San Diego State.  Nevada and UNLV battle for the fourth spot.  San Jose State, God bless them, takes another small step forward.

San Diego State:  Ryan Agnew is the full-time starter at qb.  Last year sharing the position with Christian Chapman did nothing on behalf of Mr. Agnew’s confidence.  I remain not completely sold on Mr. Agnew’s ability.  Time will quickly tell.  Once Juwan Washington was injured, the running game became entirely ineffective.  The proverbial fart in the wind.  A healthy Mr. Washington coupled with the Nebraska transfer Greg Bell does wonders for the running game.  The returning wide receivers feature a bevy of players who played a bit last year.  Three or four must emerge to assist Mr. Agnew in establishing an improved passing game.

Brady Hoke returns as the defensive line coach.  While I tsk-tsk the return of former head coaches as head coach, not so with former head coaches becoming assistants.  SDSU allowed a miserly 3 yards per rush last year.  Hard to improve upon.  Kyahva Tezino (#1, 127 tackles), Tariq Thompson (#3, 60 tackles) and Trenton Thompson (#4, 57 tackles) lead a group of only 12 of the top 20 tacklers returning for the 2019 season.

Hawaii:  In front of Fresno State?  True.

Cole McDonald returns from a total of 36 touchdowns in 2018 (with only 10 interceptions).  Will he improve upon his 3,875 total yards in 2019?  If so, 4,000 yards is seemingly possible.  Mr. McDonald keeps his receivers happy of which the #2 and #3 wide outs return.  What is striking about Hawaii’s offense is the return of their top 3 rushers.  Fred Holly III, Miles Reed and Dayton Fruta averaged 4.3, 4.3 and 4.9 ypr respectively last season.  They provide Hawaii with a balanced offense and lots of options.

On the defensive side, the top 3 tacklers return with 7 of the top 10.  8 of the next 10 return as well.  For the first time in a volcano’s age, the Rainbow Warriors may limit opposing teams to less than 400 yards per game.  What must improve is the run defense that gave away 4.9 yards per rush to non-Rainbow Warriors in 2018.

Fresno State:  The exit of Marcus McMaryion completely changes the face of the Bulldogs offense.  Averaging 35 points per game becomes a hey-remember-when moment.  So does averaging more than 420 yards of offense per game.  Jorge Reyna (8/12/111) takes the reins.  The four qb back-ups are freshmen or redshirt freshmen.  If Mr. Reyna suffers injury, the plug is pulled on the 2019 season.  Good news is found in the return of Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims as the featured running backs.  Saevion Johnson (6.2 ypr) will be ready for more carries in 2019.  Jared Rice (55 catches) and Derrion Grim (20 catches) offer Mr. Reyna downfield opportunities.  Given the departure of last year’s #1 and #3 receivers, look for Mr. Rivers and Mr. Mims to catch throws coming out of the backfield on a regular basis.

Fresno loses 4 of their top 5 tacklers and return 11 of the top 20.  Last year’s measly 14 points allowed per game will increase notably in 2019.  Opponents averaging only 322 yards per game will also head north.

Nevada:  In front of UNLV by a hair because they return more offense from 2018 than the Rebels.  Ty Gangi is gone, so  Christian Solano (23/45/200 with 4 picks) finally starts as a senior.  Football people make a lot of noise about Nevada landing Malik Henry of Last Chance U fame, but I do not share the excitement.  The top 3 rushers return.  3 of the top 4 receivers return.  Mr. Solano will have options.

The defense will be porous.  The Wolf Pack loses 7 of their top 10 tacklers.  They return 11 of the top 20.  Whereas Hawaii drops below 400 yards allowed per game, Nevada rises above 400 yards allowed per game in 2019.

UNLV:  Suddenly, Armani Rogers is a junior.  He has yet to come close to realizing his substantial talent.  Max Gilliam out-played him last year and may do so again this year.  Charles Williams is the only returning running back of note.  The top 4 receivers return.  However, in 177 attempts between Mr. Rogers and Mr. Gilliam, 12 picks were thrown.  Getting the ball downfield consistently will be a concern.

Half of the top 10 tacklers return along with 8 of the next 10.  Not bad.  What is bad is these returners were part of a group that gave up 454 yards per game and 37 points per game.

San Jose State:  If they win three games this year, rejoice and give to the poor.  Josh Love returns for the final season.  He played in only 8 games last year.  Playing the entire 2019 season for the Spartans would be helpful.  If he goes down, the Spartan coaching staff is looking at two freshmen back up qbs.  Please, no.  Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither are the top two returning receivers.  Tyler Nevens and DeJon Packer need support in the backfield or this year will drag like a broken bumper behind a twenty year old truck.

15 of the top 20 tacklers return.  Another year older and wiser.  This group includes 4 of the top 5.  Reason to hope for improved defense breathes in San Jose.  These guys were 5 yards shy of allowing 500 yards per game last year.  Can’t get any worse, right?

 

Padres

Adding Manny Machado adds excitement and misplaced hope.  The Padres offense will sparkle during the 2019 season only to lose 8-6, 9-5 and similar scores of wasted runs.  Yes, I need pitching and lots of it before turning the corner to Happy Street near Petco Park.

Offense:  Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Mr. Machado likely smack 25 to 30 dingers each and drive in at least 85 rbi per.  Hunter Renfroe should join them.  Manuel Margot, Luis Urias (he should land the starting shortstop job and is the proud recipient of my #1 offensive player in the Pads minor league system) and Ian “Old Man” Kinsler will benefit from improved pitch selection with runners on base.  The catching duo of Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia will not last long.  Eventually, Mr. Mejia becomes the full-time catcher as 2019 progresses.  Franmil Reyes will make a case for playing time and press either Wil Myers or Hunter Renfroe as the year unfolds.  Or the Padres package him in late July to an unforgiving land such as Baltimore or Miami.

Pitching:  The reason why third place is the best outcome in 2019.  Joey Lucchesi (or lefty #1) had a decent 2018 and holds promise, but not as a #1 starter.  Robbie Erlin (lefty #2) pitched better than Mr. Lucchesi, yet, he too, is not a #1 starter.  Matt Strahm (lefty #3.  Yes, we have theme among starting Padres pitchers) likely emerges from the bullpen to start, though I lobby for his role as a closer.  Eric Lauer is also a lefty.  That’s all I have on behalf of Mr. Lauer, though I once spent a night in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio.  A nice place.  Bryan Mitchell appearing as a potential starter on any team is a sign of debacle.  Chris Paddack, Logan Allen and Jacob Nix will get a long look during 2019.  The bullpen is led by Kirby Yates (not a bad choice), Brad Wieck, Adam “Human Rain Delay” Warren ann Aaron Loup (when not the fifth starter during bad times).

Note:  Until Andy Green is fired, the Padres will continue to languish from unrealized offensive production and poor pitching management as nine innings flutter by.  Why a 205-281 manager is retained for a fourth year is inexplicable.  Mr. Green needs to move on.

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Angels

Behold, Arte Moreno again spends enormous, spectacular, incredible amounts of money on a single player.  But, this guy’s name is Mike Trout.  I’m fine.

Offense:  Mike Trout, Mike Trout, Mike Trout.  Yes, he’s the best baseball player of my lifetime.  When he first arrived in 2011, he caught my eye.  2012, I was sold.  Speaking of best players, Andrelton Simmons is the best shortstop on the planet.  Yes, even better than Ozzie Smith (blaspheme is some circles).  His glove, arm and brain are unsurpassed at the #6 spot on the field.  Plus, his obp has increased each year since 2015.  Albert Pujols will have a serviceable year, again, in 2019.  Guess how many times Albert drove in 100+ runs during his seven years in Anaheim?  C’mon.  You can do it.  No, not ever.  No, not twice.  Four seasons.  You didn’t know, did you?  Sure, bashing Albert for the money paid is in vogue (I do so), but he is more productive than given credit, less the injury years of 2013 and last year.  On behalf of his bat, the less he plays first base, the better.  Kole Calhoun had an awful, absolutely awful, 2018.  I’m of the opinion he is done. He can’t hit a fastball.  Michael Hermosillo is right field’s heir.  Justin Upton is Albert Pujols in the outfield.  He’ll do well enough.  Justin Bour will hit 20 home runs and drive in 75.  Yawn.  David Fletcher owns second base.  Zack Cozart played a mere 58 games last year after a breakout year in 2017.  2019 will prove 2017 to be the rule or the exception.  Jonathan Lucroy and Jose Briceno share the catching duties.  Why?  Mr. Briceno threw out 44% of base runners last year.  Mr. Lucroy should catch on Sundays only.  Shohei Ohtani will take turns at dh with Mr. Pujols until he returns to the mound.  Yes, he is the real deal both at the plate and on the mound.

Pitching:  Once, Mr. Ohtani returns, the Angels starting staff becomes deep enough.  Until his return, Matt Harvey, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Skaggs shoulder the load.  Jaime Barria should be the #5 starter, thus pushing Nick Tropeano and Trevor Cahill into the bullpen or Salt Lake City.  Said bullpen is shallow.   Cam Bedrosian, Noe Ramirez, Justin Anderson and, let’s say, Ty Buttrey make for a wobbly path to Cody Allen.

Note:  Hiring Brad Asmus was dumb.  He’s gone at year’s end.  If Billy Eppler admits a mistake sooner rather than later.

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Dodgers

Complain all you want, but Dave Roberts is arguably the best manager in the N.L.  He takes a lot of talent, keeps that talent happy (or happy enough), slogs through the inevitable late summer stall and delivers the playoffs or better.  So there.

Offense:  An outfield rotating between Joc Pederson (strikes out far too often, though 2018 was an improvement), A.J. Pollock, Cody Bellinger (no, I’m not sold on the first base change), Enrique Hernandez, Andrew Toles and Alex Verdugo (#1 in my rating of the Dodgers minor league system) protects against injury.  Speaking of injury, Corey Seager returns in 2019.  Shortstops and Tommy John surgery are close cousins to pitchers and Tommy John surgery.  Wait and see.  Justin Turner, Chris Taylor and Max Muncy complete the infield.  Austin Barnes and the returning Russell Martin form a passable defensive duo with little bat.  Will Smith is a year away before he becomes the starting catcher.

Pitching:  Injuries Are Us.  Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill are on the shelf.  Gonna be a sloooooooooooow start to 2019 for Dodger fans.  Prepare to lose winnable games through May.  At least.  Hyun-Jin Ryu is the #1 starter.  Kenta Maeda follows.  Candidly, these two are good, but do not replace the above mentioned.  Given the lack of depth, the rush job of Julio Urias continues.  Kenley Jansen’s long term health continues to be a question.  Joe Kelly, if healthy (there is that word again), could take the closer spot, though he is better served as the eighth inning guy.  Ross Stripling will spend time as both a starter and reliever.  Scott Alexander, Dylan Floro and Pedro Baez will be plenty busy until the starting rotation can get to the fifth inning on a regular basis.

Note:  The Dodgers run out of luck during the N.L. playoffs.  Philly and whomever emerges from the N.L. Central battle for the World Series spot.