Archive for August, 2016

Accolades make me nervous.  Too much praise this preseason from too many sources.  Does that offer balance?  I don’t know.  All I know is Aztec football history.  Sure, the last six years have been incredible, but I suffer the memory of the Luginbill/Tollner/Craft/Long (Chuck, not Rocky) years.  Thus, I want to embrace the preseason hype, but all I can do is nod and smile.

Defense (because everybody wants to read about the offense first).

The Line:  Two leave, thus two must be replaced.  Kyle Kelley wins the battle for the honor of pairing with the returning Alex Barrett at defensive end.  Sergio Phillips seems to be the starting nose guard if, a big if, Rocky decides not to pull Sergio and return him to the offensive line (more on the other line later).  Noble Hall is a worthy nose guard if Sergio returns to the other side of the ball.  Grade B.

Linebackers:  Calvin Munson returns for his final year.  A superior talent.  Randy Ricks and Austin Wyatt-Thayer complete a talented trio with Ronley Lakalaka and Ryan Dunn as the primary back-ups.  Grade A.

Back Five:  Remember, this is Rocky Long’s defense, not the standard offering.  The strength of the defense lies with these five.  Four starters return.  Malik Smith, Na’im McGee, Kameron Kelly and Damontae Kazee.  Billy Vaughn or Derek Babiash will complete the back five.  This group will set an Aztec record for most interceptions by a defensive backfield during 2016.  A talented second squad is ready with Parker Baldwin, Trey Lomax and Kalan Montgomery (these three would start for other MWC teams).  Opposing quarterbacks with little to no experience will not sleep prior to playing SDSU.  Chaos, fright, visions of sharp teeth and outright panic will overwhelm many a quarterback (and offensive coordinator) attempting to prepare and execute a game plan against the Aztec defense.  Grade A.

Punting (technically, a defensive skill.  I promise):  Tanner Blain was steady in foot application in 2015.  I expect the same foot in 2016.  Grade A.

Offense (at last).

Quarterback:  Christian Chapman guiding the 2015 team to wins against Nevada, Air Force and Cincinnati is proof of not only talent, but the ability and willingness to follow the script of offensive coordinator Jeff Horton.  Christian must improve upon his ability to throw downfield 40+ yards a half-dozen attempts as each game progresses.  Stretching the field makes for many a miss on behalf of Aztec running backs.  Christian can run as well.  Jimmy Walker and Ryan Agnew battle for appearances during wipe outs.  Even though Mr. Agnew won the back-up spot post-fall camp, I prefer Mr. Walker given his considerable junior college experience.  Nothing personal, Mr. Agnew.  Grade B.

Running Backs:  Donnel Pumphrey will politely run past Marshall Faulk at the end of the Cal game or no later than the Northern Illinois game.  His final total rushing yardage as an Aztec begins with a question mark.  Who knows?  However, I must admit concern with Donnel’s past brush with high ankle sprains.  No, I’m not a doctor, but his past must be acknowledged.  Rashaad Penny will receive one rushing opportunity for every two of Donnel’s.  He will impress.  I would not be surprised to witness Rashaad rush for 1,000 yards this year (shades of Chase Price).  Juwan Washington is receiving a lot of under the radar praise as the third back and kick return partner of Rashaad’s.  We shall see.  Grade A.

Fullback:  Nick Bawden (thank God he no longer throws a football) or Dakota Turner, your choice.  Candidly, I would rather Mr. Turner return to the defensive side of the ball.  I’m going with Nick since he’s played on the offensive side his entire time as an Aztec.  May he block well, not fumble and catch the occasional seven to ten yard pass for a first down.  Grade C.

Wide Receiver:  Sure, Coach Hunkie Cooper’s first year was 2015, but this group underperformed.  Yes, they can block downfield, but catching downfield is the goal, thus the position title, wide receiver, not wide blocker.  Mikah Holder will get the attention of opposing defensive backfields, thus some combination of Chase Favreau, Curtis Anderson, Eric Judge and Christian Cumberland must offer Christian Chapman open receivers who can catch a football in flight.  Grade C.

Tight End:  If Daniel Brunskill switches to right tackle, David Wells becomes the starting tight end.  David is 6′ 5″ and easy to find.  Kahale Warring (6′ 6″) or Darryl Richardson (6′ 5″) will pair with Mr. Wells during double tight end sets.  However, if Mr. Brunskill remains a tight end, he and Mr. Wells form a potent one-two combination for Christian Chapman.  Grade A with Mr. Brunskill, grade B without him.

Offensive Line:  Panic ignited when Joe Salcedo was injured.  Joe’s injury, while unfortunate, leads to opportunity for Nick Gerhard or David Servatius (switch to the right, David) to back up Daniel Brunskill . . . who was the reported (Rocky stated he was switching Mr. Brunskill to right tackle) fall camp favorite to start at right tackle!  I do not understand the hand wringing and hair pulling!  Calm down, my fellow Aztecs.  The left side is solid with Nico Siragusa at guard and Kwayde Miller at tackle.  Arthur Flores starts at center.  Antonio Rosales will partner with either Daniel Brunskill or a well-groomed replacement on the right side via the efforts of Line Coach Mike Schmidt.  I admit the second tier guys have little experience, but injury is why we recruit well and practice with intent to start.  Grade B.

Kicking Game:  John Baron has substantial leg.  Now he has the opportunity to show said leg during games.  I expect success on a 100% basis after touchdowns and a 75% basis (c’mon, he is a sophomore starting for the first time) from three land (inside the twenty-five, he must be perfect).  Grade C (until Mr. Baron proves his talent).

Return Game:  Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington return kickoffs (may there be few).  Mikah Holder and Damontae Kazee return punts (may there be many).  Coach Bobby  Hauck teaches the special team game to perfection.  Please continue.  Grade A.

Long Snapper (I forget nothing):  Ryan Simmons attempts to fill the substantial shoes of Jeff Overbaugh.  Good luck.  Grade C (see Kicking Game).

The 2016 Schedule.

Game 1, New Hampshire.  Hopefully, 45,000 plus butts in the seats (a Vin Scully line), thanks to the KGB fireworks show.  Yes, we have a horrible history of non-con first games.  I assume nothing other than Aztec starters sitting during the entire fourth quarter.

Game 2, Cal.  How I will grow weary of the week long chant of, deep breath, we-haven’t-beat-a-PAC-12-team-since-the-beginning-of-time crap that will dominate all media.  Hopefully, we beat the Bears at the Q.  This game may actually attract 40,000 fans without the benefit of fireworks.  Candidly, our defense wins or loses this game less the ill timed fumble or interception from our offense.

Game 3, Northern Illinois.  Our first road game.  The Huskies cannot pass which is unfortunate given our Back Five.  We will jam the first seven yards more often than not.  But, think Air Force and do not lose sight of a wandering Northern Illinois receiver twenty yards downfield.

Game 4, South Alabama (after an open weekend).  This game is of concern.  The Jaguars beat us in overtime at the Q last year (in my presence.  Sin).  Our second road game.  Thankfully this game is October first with cooler temperatures and a whole lot less dehydration.  South Alabama recruits kids who are a step below SEC talent, thus fast and quick is the tempo.  Much like Cal, our defense gets the win or the upset loss.

Game 5, UNLV.  A tip of the cap to Coach Tony Sanchez.  I thought his hire would be a disaster given his ascent from high school football to division one football, but no.  He did well in 2015 with little to use.  However, we win our first MW home game.  The Rebels’ defense is horrible.  Look for a minimum of 450+ yards of total offense on behalf of the Aztecs.

Game 6, Fresno State:  At Fresno is never easy.  The Bulldog faithful arrive in great numbers, inebriated and loud.  This year will feature an Aztec pummeling of the Bulldogs. Fresno State fans will flock to the exit during the third quarter.

Game 7, San Jose State:  We return to the Q for our first MWC test.  The Spartans are improving.  A fine coaching staff is turning SJSU into SDSU a-la the Hoke years.  They also return the talented quarterback, Kenny Potter.  This will be a fourth quarter game.  Our advantage is found at the Q.

Game 8, Utah State:  Late October in Logan, Utah.  Will leaves fall or snow fall?  The Aggies defense is a significant step below last year’s squad.  We should (dangerous word) dominate Utah State on both sides of the ball.

Game 9, Hawaii:  Back at the Q.  The year Hawaii is not a road game is a relief given distance and time change.  Not that the multi-colored arc in the sky has any chance of beating us.  Second and third tier Aztecs get a lot of playing time in this game.

Game 10, Nevada:  If we contain the Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart, we win.  If Mr. Stewart has the proverbial hot hand, this game will be a nail biter.  However, similar to Utah State, the more time the Wolfpack defense spends on the field, the better.

Game 11, Wyoming:  Laramie in November.  Blizzard?  Torrential rain?  40 mph wind?  Wolves?  Or a nice day in the 50s?  Who knows?  Wyoming is an improved team with a stellar coaching staff.  Yes, we win, but not by a wide margin.

Game 12, Colorado State:  We return home.  We win and pick at least two passes from Nick Stevens.

MWC Championship Game, December 3.  We represent the West.  We probably play Boise. If we win, wow.  If we lose, we still go bowling.

Predicted Won-Lost:  I will entertain the sometimes mentioned 12-0.  Strange things happen, so why not a perfect season?  We were perfect three years in the 1960s.  More than likely, 10-2.  Worst case is 8-4.

 

 

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Mountain Division

Boise State:  Lots to like about the Broncos.  Sophomore Brett Rypien will be a top-10 qb by his senior year.  Devan Demas and Ryan Wolpin will both enjoy a great many more rushing attempts in 2016.  3 of the top 5 receivers return (okay, one of the departed was a running back), thus Mr. Rypien will dutifully and effectively throw downfield to great effect.  Matching last year’s total of 508 points may not be a stretch for Boise in 2016.

Defensively, I anticipate slippage.  Boise will not maintain last year’s 318.3 ypg nor the impressive and mere 20.2 points per game.  Only 13 of the top 20 tacklers return.  True, while not a recipe for disaster, replacing the departed 7 may prove a challenge.

Air Force:  Nate Romine assumes the starting qb role.  Mr. Romine averaged a paltry 47.7 passing yards per game in 2015.  His completion rate was a pitiful 38.9%.  Air Force fans will choose to believe improvement awaits.  However, the ever present irony of Air Force’s seemingly perpetual inability to throw a football downfield is always balanced with their traditional above average running game.  This year they return four of 2015’s top five rushers.  Amazingly, last year’s rushing average of 319 yards per game could increase notably if Mr. Romine struggles with hurling the football in a forward manner.

The defense should improve upon last year’s 355 total yards per game.  16 of the top 20 tacklers return including 9 of their top 10.  Lots of ouch awaits opponents.

Utah State:  Kent Myers returns as the starting qb.  Since Chuckie Keeton is gone, Mr. Myers no longer needs to worry about sharing the position.  However, if Mr. Myers continues to run the football in 2016 as often as last year (85 carries, number three on the team), he may be subject to the injury riddled existence of Mr. Keeton.  Devante Mays and LaJuan Hunt return to run the football proper.  Mr. Mays (5.9 ypc) is the more effective of the two.  However, Mr. Hunt was tied for the number two spot on the receiving list in 2015.  Sadly, that was a total of only 27 catches.  Andrew Rodriguez and Wyatt Houston are the most productive returning receivers.

The defensive result of 2016 could be ugly enough to generate a contest for last place in the Mountain with Colorado State.  Only 2 of the top 10 tacklers return and only 9 of the top 20 overall return.  If the Aggies can’t tackle, last year’s 152 rushing yards per game and 180.5 passing yards per game will increase significantly on behalf of their competition.

New Mexico:  Lamar Jordan and Austin Apodaca return.  Who, oh who, will be the starting quarterback?  Too much time was shared last year.  Confusion reigned?  Only the Lobos know.  I am a Lamar Jordan fan (no offense to Mr. Apodaca).  He provides an element of surprise and is quick on his feet (perhaps too quick given his 147 rushing attempts compared to 118 passing attempts).  The running game features the return of last year’s number 2, 4 and 5 backs.  However, the returning receiving corps features only Dameon Gamblin (last year’s number one).  The rest are gone.  Stretching the field on behalf of Mr.Jordan and Mr. Apodaca will be a struggle.

The defense may be the difference between finishing behind Utah State or in front.  The Lobos return 15 of their top 20 tacklers.  Far more than the Aggies measly 9 of 20.  Included in the 15 of 20 is 8 of their top 10.  Last year New Mexico gave up 437.6 ypg.  Anticipate a significant drop in 2016.

Wyoming:  Gasp!  I’m not predicting a last place finish in the Mountain.  Take that, mavens.  Anyway,  the Cowboys challenge will be Nick Smith improving his numbers to resemble those of the departed Cameron Coffman.  Mr. Smith also needs to reduce his rushing attempts of 45 from 2015 by at least a third (I try to be realistic) and focus more on his receivers.  Speaking of which, his returning receiving corps feature the top four from last year.  If Mr. Smith can throw downfield with confidence, Wyoming will surprise.  Brian Hill and Shaun Wick return as the dasher and bruiser, but look for Kellen Overstreet to spend significant time in the backfield with Mr. Hill.

As New Mexico, 15 of the top 20 Cowboy tacklers return.  9 of the top 10 return.  If the offense offers a late lead, look for Wyoming to upset more than once . . . or twice.

Colorado State:  Why a last place finish in the Mountain division?  Because Nick Stevens throws too many interceptions.  Twelve interceptions dilutes twenty-one touchdowns.  3 of the top 5 receivers are gone (one of the two top returning “receivers” is the running back Dalyn Dawkins).  Speaking of Mr. Dawkins (5.1 ypc), he and Izzy Matthews (6.1 ypc) make for an impactful running game.  In addition to Mr. Stevens tendency to throw errant passes, only one true receiver, Xavier Williams, of the top five returns.  The Rams may run more than desired.

The defense suffers from losing half of last year’s top 20 tacklers.  CSU gave up 390.5 ypg last year.  This year, 400+ is the likely result.  Giving up 30+ points on average is an ugliness to consider as well.  Could be a long year in the Rams’ impressive new stadium.

West Division

San Diego State:  This year’s media darling.  Such a development makes me cautious and apprehensive knowing Aztec football history.  However, a great deal of talent returns on both sides of the ball.  Donnel Pumphrey is silly good.  If he stays healthy, he will annihilate Marshall Faulk’s rushing records at SDSU.  Rashaad Penny will spend more time in the backfield with Mr. Pumphrey.  He is also a considerable talent.  Christian Chapman will handle the quarterback duties.  As long as he sticks to the offensive script, all is well.  The number 1, 2 and 4 receivers from 2015 return.

16 of the top 20 tacklers return.  However, 2 of last year’s starting 3 defensive linemen must be replaced in Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 scheme.  The 5 of the 3-3-5 have years of experience and is a senior dominated group.  Opposing quarterbacks will find no joy staring into the face of chaos.

San Jose State:  The Spartans feature one of the two best returning qbs in the West.  Kenny Potter completed 67% of his passes last year and threw only 7 interceptions in 270 attempts.  The number 1, 3 and 5 receivers return from last year.  Mr. Potter will keep them busy.  However, Mr. Potter needs to drastically reduce his 114 rushing attempts or he may find an unpleasant, angry linebacker guiding him to the ground one too many times.  Tucker Thomas and Malik Roberson should see a sizable increase in rushing attempts in an effort to establish an actual running game.

The defense will be solid and should reduce last year’s 358.5 ypg especially the 200.8 rushing yards there within.  However, if the Spartan defense disappoints, then they slip to a third place finish in the West.

Nevada:  Nevada holds the other top returning quarterback in the West.  Tyler Stewart will determine the success of the Wolfpack.  If he can improve upon last year’s 164.5 passing yards per game, Nevada will give San Jose State a run for second place.  He has the top four receivers from 2015 returning along with the number one running back.  However, proven back up at the quarterback and running back positions is unavailable (or unknown.  Which ever you prefer).  A key injury will be painful.

The defense will likely be anemic.  A mere 11 or the top 20 tacklers return including only 4 of the top 10.  The 405.4 ypg will increase in 2016.  Good luck to the Wolfpack offense as they hope to keep their defense off the field.

Fresno State:  Could be a long year for the Bulldog faithful.  They lose a massive section of last year’s offense.  If they struggle to score, UNLV could finish in front of them.  If they struggle to score, coaching changes will occur.  Whomever wins the quarterback spot from the trio of Kilton Anderson (poor 2015 numbers under the proof of 157 passing attempts), Chason Virgil or Ford Childress will need to find the top 3 receivers returning from last year’s team on a regular basis if this squad wants to score.  Much like the qb spot, the running back position is full of doubt and the unknown.  If the qb position struggles and the running game is inconsistent, Fresno State fans will be in for a long year.

The defense should at least play near last year’s disappointing level.  The Fresno State defense gave up in excess of 200 yards in both rushing and passing each game.  14 of last year’s top 20 tacklers return, though they lost numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7 in the top 10.  Good luck.

UNLV:  I criticized the hiring of Tony Sanchez from the high school ranks to coach a division one football program, and was I wrong.  Mr. Sanchez did a fine job during his first year.  I look for improvement in year two.  If he had a better returning quarterback, I would choose the Rebels over the Bulldogs, but ’tis not the case.  Throwing the ball downfield to good effect will be a struggle.  Thankfully, UNLV returns last year’s number 2 and 3 rushers.  The number 4 rusher returns as well, but he’s the returning qb, Kurt Palandech.

Much like Fresno State, if their defense does no more harm than last year, be thankful.  Only 13 of their top 20 tacklers return.  Let’s say lots of opportunity awaits those who did not play much last year.

Hawaii:  So much is wrong, but at least they fired Norm Chow.  Now this team has a chance to get better.  Yet, nothing will be easy.  Ikaika Woolsey returns after a disappointing 2015. He completed a mere 49% of his passes and averaged not quite 70 yards passing per game. The good news is the top three running backs and receivers return for 2016.  If Mr. Woolsey improves or is replaced, hope lingers for the Hawaii offense.

The returning defense will be challenged all season long.  3 of the top 10 tacklers return and only 6 of the next 10 return.  Hawaii gave away 35.6 points per game last year.  Hope for the same this year and enjoy the relief.  Gonna be a long year in paradise in 2016.