Archive for July, 2021

Last year was a year to forget. “Season” is a relative term especially when your school plays a mere 8 games. However, finishing 4-4/4-2 was disappointing. I refuse excuses such as the circus of phone calls and cancellations that finally led to a trip to Boulder where our offense sputtered, stalled and collapsed, thus summing most Aztec offensive efforts for 2020. A successful 2021 season demands a functional offense that puts the ball in the end zone on a regular basis. Three and out moments cannot be the rule of the day. If so, third place in the West division will be the shoulder shrugging result.

Offense: We need a lot of offense during 2021. Whomever wins the quarterback competition will be expected to direct the Aztec offense into the end zone, especially once inside the sacred red-zone. Score and score often. Please.

Quarterback: Lucas Johnson, Jordon Brookshire and Jaylen Mayden will continue the battle royale for the starting spot into August practice. One of the three always pulls a hamstring, one has grand difficulty throwing a pass in excess of 25 yards and the other I know nothing about less his Texas high school football video highlights. You can guess who is who. My hope is a healthy Lucas Johnson coupled with an ever improving Jalen Mayden share the qb duties. I realize my hope is heresy in established football circles because I dare suggest the sharing of the position. However, my reason for duality is the almost guaranteed moment when Mr. Johnson encounters hamstring issues, therefore Mr. Mayden is more than ready.

Running Backs: Greg Bell’s health determines if SDSU has an effective running game in 2021. Sure, Kaegun Williams (4.8 ypr), Chance Bell (4.9 ypr) and Jordan Byrd (6.4 ypr) will continue to receive significant play time, but the running game (and offense) was not the same once Greg Bell (5.6 ypr) was dogged by an ankle injury. Given post-spring practice coaching comments about Jaylon Armstead, I assume he will be in the above mix. Less Mr. Armstead, all the above are seniors, thus offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski and running backs coach Jeff Horton need to groom talent for 2022.

Wide Receivers: A position completely underutilized in 2020. 24 was the greatest number of receptions by an Aztec receiver last year which is a massive dud. Jesse Matthews should (a dangerous word) at least double that number in 2021. Kobe Smith (13 catches), Elijah Kothe (7 catches), TJ Sullivan, Isaiah Richardson, BJ Busbee and Ethan Dedeaux form a competent corps of wide receivers eager to catch and run in 2021. Aztecs of all shapes and sizes and positions caught a total of 115 balls (barely 14 completions per game) in 2020. Increasing that number to 220 will offer proof that the 2021 SDSU offense is indeed balanced between the throw and run.

Tight End: Daniel Bellinger (21 catches for a tad less than 10 yards per catch last year) must be put to greater use in 2021. I hope Mr. Hecklinski calls Mr. Bellinger’s number 6 to 8 times per game during the upcoming season. Standing 6’6 and weighing 255 pounds, he is tough to miss. The #2 tight end will be either Connor McBride or Jay Rudolph.

Offensive Line: This group will be a strong point in 2021 especially with the addition of Mike Goff as offensive line coach. Yes, Mike Schmidt was a fine coach, but too many moments arose the last two years exposing inadequate, sustained blocking that squashed a would be 10+ yard rush into a stumble just past the line of scrimmage. Mr. Goff will be a welcome change for all involved. Joey Capra, Dominic Gudino (please stay healthy), Chris Martinez, Alama Uluave and William Dinkle (see Mr. Gudino) and Zachary Thomas bring a wealth of experience and skill. Kyle Trombley and Tommy Mirabella likely join the 2021 rotation.

Defense: Defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix delivered big time ( an Uncle Teddy phrase. Those of you who don’t know the person referred to are not real Aztec football or basketball fans. Shame, you pretenders) in 2020. Last year’s Aztec defense allowed less than 18 points a game and less than 100 yards rushing per game. 283.5 yards of opponents’ offense was the average over the course of last year. Yet, we went 4-4 because of our poor offense. Sure, defensive generated turnovers ending in the end zone are welcome, not expected.

Defensive Line: Much like their brothers on the o-line, a place of strength in 2021. Keshawn Banks, Cameron Thomas anchor the front three. The winner of the Connor Mitchell, Kahi Neves, Jonah Tavai and Jalil Lecky August practice competition determines the #3 starter with the others appearing in game rotation this season.

Linebackers: Caden McDonald, Michael Shawcroft, Seyddrick Lakalaka, Andrew Aleki, Andrew Alves and Segun Olubi represent the best group of linebackers in the entire Mountain West.

Defensive Backs: Much is to be replaced with departure of Tariq Thompson, Dwayne Johnson and Darren Hall who were also the top three tacklers in 2020. Trenton Thompson, Tayler Hawkins and Patrick McMorris are looking for two more Aztecs to make a competent defensive backfield. Rashad Scott is rumored to be healthy once again. Kyron White, Noah Tumblin and Dallas Branch compete to fill the available spots.

Kicking: The talented Matt Araiza will provide many an accurate kick between the goal posts.

Punting: Jack Browning or true freshman Collyn Hopkins compete for the honor. However, if both falter, Mr. Araiza can punt, though head coach Brady Hoke would rather have him concentrate solely on his field goal opportunities.

2021 Schedule

New Mexico State is a win. A ready-to-play Aztec team dominates the Aggies.

@ Arizona results in better coaching beating the Wildcats in Tucson.

Utah will be prepared as they enter Carson for a road game against a MWC school. Potentially a close game, but the Utes win.

Towson: Having read through the Tigers roster, they sport a plethora of transfers from better division I schools. If SDSU starts flat, this game could be a disappointing loss. However, I choose the Aztecs.

New Mexico: This game follows SDSU’s first off week. Containing the UNM rushing game will be key. Aztecs win by a healthy margin.

@ San Jose State: Our first MWC road game and a doozy (cool word) in the waiting. Spartan qb Nick Starkel is talented and so is his receiving corps. This game is won or lost in the air. Last possession wins the game. Sadly, I go with the Spartans.

@ Air Force: This game is scheduled for October 23. In Colorado Springs. The weather will be psychotic. As the SJSU game will be air dominated, the Falcons will do little flying. Both teams will pound and ground. SDSU in a close one because we can throw better than the birds.

Fresno State: As stated in my MWC West preview, I sense Bulldog football is taking a step backward. This game will be the Bulldog’s ninth game. If they arrive 6-2 or 5-3, the game will be close. Anything less, not so much. The Aztecs win.

@ Hawaii: If the Aztec defense controls the Hawaii passing offense, a fairly easy win. Hawaii’s defense has problems stopping any type of competent offense. SDSU wins and enjoys the flight home.

Nevada: Last year’s 26-21 loss to the Wolfpack in Reno was pure coulda, shoulda, woulda. Carson Strong is one of the top three MWC qbs. Nevada has proven talent galore returning on both sides of the ball. Nevada.

@ UNLV: The Rebels coaching staff was brand new last year. New schemes, new attitude, new everything except the result at game’s end. Aztecs by at least 17.

Boise State: This game begins at 9:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t care. And neither will the SDSU coaching staff. The Bronco passing game often shuts the door on opponents. I go with the class of the Mountain division.

2021’s result will be 8-4/5-3. If my prediction of losing to both San Jose State and Fresno State rings true, we finish third in the West. A bowl game is likely, though not guaranteed.

Go, Aztecs.

The West is the best (those of you who recognize the reference, congratulations). Three teams will vie for the MWC title game against Boise. The team finding itself at the top of the West could easily sport a conference record of no more than +2. Believe me.

Nevada in 2021 will charge hard. They walloped opponents during the first half (162-105) in 2020. Lots and lots of impact players return for senior season dos.

Offense: Carson Strong threw for more than 2,800 yards in 8 games. Imagine that number expanded to 12 games. I’ll do the math for you. Let’s see . . . um, 4,287 mind blowing yards. His 355 attempts expanded would be 532. Boom. Toa Taua, Devonte Lee and Avery Morrow return as the top three 2020 running backs. The top five (!) recievers return as well. Romeo Doubs (this guy is talent plus), Cole Turner, Troy Horton, Melquan Stovall and Justin Lockhart will continue to flourish as Mr. Strong throws, tosses and hurls the football downfield. 441 yards of total offense will increase in 2021.

Defense: 18 of the top 20 tacklers return. Granted, the Wolfpack defense gave up an average of 377.7 yards of total offense during the 2020 year. Honestly, who cares?

San Jose State remains in the race because Nick Starkel returns for super senior season two. Much of the 2020 talent returns. Additionally, many mavens miss the obvious mark of superior Spartan defense.

Offense: Mr. Starkel is a mild tick below Carson Strong. Mild. San Jose State does a better job of mixing the pass with the run than the Wolfpack. Tyler Neven (7.8 ypr) and Kairee Robinson return as the #1 and #2 running backs. Derrick Deese, Jr. (the best tight end in the MWC) leads a group of returning receivers (Isaiah Hamilton, Jermiah Braddock and Isaiah Holiness) eager to again enjoy the talent of Mr. Starkel.

Defense: 19.9 points allowed per game in 2020. Golly gee. 120 yards rushing per game. Oy vey. The Spartan defense was best during the third and fourth quarters in 2020. Only 62 points allowed during the last half of 8 games. San Jose loses only 1 of their top 20 tacklers. Close games go to the Spartans in 2021.

San Diego State has a yet to be decided quarterback competition entering summer practice (sorry, August preparation for a season that begins in early September does not render mid-year practice “fall camp”. Especially in San Diego). The offense sputtered often during 2020 especially when Greg Bell limped through the remainder of the 8 game season. A year to forget is no reason for a .500 result.

Offense: Quickly summing the quarterback competition; Lucas Johnson (king of hamstring injury), Jordan Brookshire (throwing downfield more than 25 yards is difficult) and newcomer Jaylen Mayden (transfer from Mississippi State) will likely share the qb duties as the year progresses. Speaking of injury, if, a big if, Greg Bell plays the entire year without pause, the Aztec running game will return to form. Chance Bell (4.9 ypr), Keagun Williams (4.8 ypr) and Jordan Byrd (6.4 ypr) provide ample support. Jesse Mathews, Daniel Bellinger, Kobe Smith and Elijah Kothe provide proven targets for whomever quarterbacks the Aztecs.

Defense: If you were impressed with San Jose State’s 19.9 points per game, may I introduce you to the Aztecs’ 2020 17.75 result. Fewer than 100 yards rushing per game was allowed (98.3). A stingy 29.75% third down conversions was allowed. Red zone touchdowns amounted to 12 of 23 attempts by opponents. SDSU’s 2 MWC losses were by 11 and 3 points respectively. The top 3 tacklers leave the Aztecs in 2021. 17/20 returning isn’t bad.

Fresno State has entered the floundering zone. Not good for Bulldog football. They started poorly in the first quarter, recovered in the second, then played less than inspired football the second half in 2020. As a result, giving up an average of 30 points per game is cause for my charge of floundering, if not outright lollygagging.

Offense: Jake Haener returns as starting quarterback. He averaged just shy of 337 yards passing per game. The top three running backs return: Ronnie Rivers (5.1 ypr), Jordan Mims (5.2 ypr) and Jevon Bigelow (4.1 ypr). Mr. Haener will find familiar faces awaiting his passes. Jalen Cropper (14 ypc), Keric Wheatfall (15.8 ypc) and Josh Kelly (15.0 ypc) will enjoy another year of quality production. However, as of this publication, the Bulldogs have 2 redshirt freshmen and 1 true freshman in reserve on behalf of Mr. Haener. One crushing tackle will easily upend the Fresno State offense in 2021.

Defense: The center of Fresno State’s concern. 430 yards of offense allowed per game in 2020. No wonder they allowed 30 points per game. In 26 visits to the red zone, opponents scored on 21 occasions. 18 of the top 20 tacklers return. Hopefully they tackle better in 2021.

Hawaii has an offense that giveth as well as a defense that giveth. A poor combination that does not change in 2021.

Offense: Chevan Cordeiro returns. His 62% completion rate is to be admired. His 116 rushing attempts brings the sanity of the coaching staff into question. Calvin Turner (60 rushing attempts as contrast) and Dae Dae Hunter lead a punchless running game. Jared Smart , Nick Mardner and Jonah Panoke seek to improve on their 2020 catches.

Defense: 18 of the top 20 return. However, this group allowed 5.7 yards per play in 2020. 408.8 yards wandered by the Hawaii defense each game. Opponents outscored Hawaii 72-38 in the first quarter in 2020. An improved start is the beginning of a better 2021 season.

UNLV . . . um, well, bad football improves slightly in 2021.

Offense: The Rebels averaged less than 18 points per game, 4 yards per rush and 10 yards per catch in 2020. Anemic is too kind a description. 10 of 19 red zone visits were touchdowns. Boo. Justin Rogers and Doug Brumfield battle for the starting qb slot. Charles Williams (4.4 ypr) gives way to Courtney Reese (5.9 ypr) as the #1 running back. Receivers Kyle Williams and Zyell Griffin can stretch the field, if the quarterback can locate them.

Defense: The UNLV defense gave up 228 points in 6 games. An average of 38 points was allowed each game. Opponents registered 482 yards in total offense per game. The Rebel defense was pummeled all four quarters allowing 50 (1st quarter), 83 (second quarter), 52 (third quarter) and 43 (fourth quarter) points in 2020. The wind blows in Las Vegas and so does the Rebel defense in 2021. I’ve most likely used that line before.

After the pandemic influenced 2020 season, I trust we will play the entire MWC schedule in 2021. My predictions are based on taking 2020 stats and expanding said numbers to reflect (always dangerous, but what the hell) a 12 game season for all Mountain West schools. Influencing my predicted finish will also include the specter of returning seniors, especially starting seniors, for senior season two. Here we go.

Boise State by quite a margin. As a sidelight, the Mountain division will be significantly weaker in 2021, thus Boise’s usual dominance becomes magnified. The Broncos rolled through opponents during the first half of last year’s games while giving back significant points in the second half, especially the fourth quarter. The offense generated a paltry 349 yds per game, but once inside the red zone, the Broncos offense scored.

Offense: Not one proven quarterback with talent, but two. Hank Bachmeier likely gets the 2021 starting nod over Jack Sears (senior year dos). Mr. Bachmeier should throw for more than 2,000 yards this year. An interesting note on Mr. Sears: He had only 4 incomplete passes in 27 attempts last year. Andrew Van Buren will again be the focal point of the rushing game. However, his tiny yards per rush (ypr) of 3.4 needs to improve. George Holani and Danny Smith will battle for the second back spot. Whomever quarterbacks will have two quality receivers waiting for the throw. Khalil Shakir (52 catches, almost 103 yards per game) and CT Thomas (better than 17 yards per catch) form a talented one-two tandem. Riley Smith is the next most likely receiver to enjoy an increase in catches.

Defense: The second lowest Mountain division return rate of top-20 tacklers gives pause for 2021. Only 15 of the 20 return including 7 of the top 10. Last year’s group gave up 373.3 yards per game which was more than the Boise offense generated. The Broncos’ defense abides by the “bend, but don’t break” dictum given their outstanding 27% of third downs allowed. Opponents once inside the red zone had a hard time scoring touchdowns (18 for 31).

Wyoming had the unbelievable bad luck of immediately losing quarterback Sean Chambers in 2020. The Cowboys four losses last year were by margins of 3, 10, 1 and 8. Perhaps the most competitive 2-4 team in the nation, but such praise is equivalent to a participation trophy. Last year’s grand total of 1 passing touchdown is the strangest Wyoming stat from 2020.

Offense: Mr. Chambers wins the starting qb competition over the returning Levi Williams who offered a dull 2020 result with a completion rate of 49.6%, the aforementioned 1 td and only 146.2 yards passed per game. With a healthy Mr. Chambers, Wyoming’s anemic 46% td rate in the red zone quickly improves. Xavier Valladay and Trey Smith return as starting running backs. Mr. Valladay averaged 110 ypg and 5.6 ypr while Mr. Smith averaged 81.3 ypg and 5.5 ypr. Not bad. Ayden Eberhardt was last year’s leading receiver, though I’m sure he blushes when the number 16 made him king of the catch in 2020. Isaiah Neyor will be Mr. Eberhardt’s partner in waiting for a well thrown ball.

Defense: The saving grace of 2020, and candidly ever since Craig Bohl arrived (by the way, the dumbest move by the university would be to fire Mr. Bohl. No other Mountain division coach does more with less than Mr. Bohl). Opponents averaged only 125 yards rushing per game against the Cowboy defense and 80 third down attempts succeeded only 29 times in 2020. Impressive and likely to improve with 19 of the top 20 tacklers returning. Final testament to the quality of Wyoming’s defense: Opponents attempted only 6 fourth down conversions in 2020 and failed each attempt.

Air Force offers the only threat to Wyoming for a second place finish (sad, sad, sad). Defense and running the football once again (yawn) will determine the academy’s 2021 success.

Offense: 305.7 yards rushing per game was the sole reason Air Force approached 400 yards total offense per game (389.3 was the actual number). 3 of the top 4 rushers return. Brad Roberts (7.2 ypr), Brandon Lewis, though listed as a receiver, but there is no such thing at the academy, (9.0 ypr) and Timothy Jackson (5.2 ypr) will lead the charge (yes, a military pun) in 2021 as the Cadets pound and ground to their collective delight. Much like Air Force wide receivers, Air Force quarterbacks do not exist. They are running backs who can throw 25 yards downfield a handful of attempts per game, i.e., they handoff and run . . . a lot.

Defense: The Cadets will not benefit as much as other MWC teams regarding returning seniors because these guys have the actual Air Force waiting for them upon graduation. However, Air Force fans fear not. Last year’s often dominating defensive performance repeats in 2021. Only one team scored more than 17 points against Air Force in 2020. Perhaps something difficult to repeat, but that fact sets the tone for opponents’ offense this year. A total of 10 tds were scored against last year’s Air Force defense. Stingy and then some.

Note: Regarding the final three spots in the Mountain division, please close your eyes and spin a wheel featuring the names Colorado State, University of New Mexico and Utah State to determine fourth, fifth and sixth place. Yes, these three schools will fare poorly in 2021.

New Mexico head coach Danny Gonzales had a mess to clean up upon his arrival. A mess, a car wreck and a train wreck. Establishing a culture of player responsibility takes time. 2021 is year two for Mr. Gonzales, so I choose the Lobos for third place in the hope that they present much more of a team as opposed to individuals.

Offense: All quarterbacks who had significant to enough-to-notice playing time in 2020 return. Trae Hall, Tevaka Tuioti, Isaiah Chavez and Connor Genal create battle galore during August practice to determine the starter. Unfortunately, UNM runs quarterbacks far too often. Mr. Tuioti (#3 rusher), Mr. Chavez (#4 rusher) and Mr. Hall (#6 rusher) need to spend more time in the pocket and less time bolting downfield were potential injury awaits. Speaking of rushers, 2020’s #1 rusher, an actual running back, returns in the form of Bobby Cole (5.6 ypr). The top 2 receivers return for 2021. Mannie Logan-Greene (30 catches) and Andrew Erickson (18 catches) hope to increase last year’s 7 game total.

Defense: I admit the ultimate reason I choose UNM over CSU and USU is because of Rocky Long. Rocky’s defensive coaching results in quick improvement (if you doubt me, please reference San Diego State defensive stats prior to Rocky’s arrival and the years that followed). Only 14 of 20 top tacklers return, which usually negatively influences my prediction, but not so much with Mr. Long as Lobo defensive coordinator. The 2020 Lobo defense was absolutely awful during the second and third quarters giving away far too many points usually field goals since the Lobo defense allowed a paltry 8/19 red zone touchdowns. Nonetheless, points are points. The 2021 defensive backfield needs to dramatically reduce last year’s 18 passing tds by opponents.

Colorado State has a simple problem: Their athletic director must fire his hire, Steve Addazio. Improvement is that simple. Watching a Rams game with nary a soul in that impressive stadium is pure sad.

Offense: As the 2020 “season” (CSU played 4 games) progressed, Patrick O’Brien lost the starting qb job to Todd Centeio. Why? Because Mr. Addazio is the head coach. Mr. O’Brien finished the year with a completion rate of 56% while Mr. Centeio offered an anemic 38.9%. As a result, guess which quarterback transferred? Not Mr. Centeio. Ironically, another O’Brien, Jonah O’Brien, will provide August competition for the starting spot. The Rams return the two running backs who had the most rushing attempts in 2020: A’Jon Vivens and Marcus McElroy. However, neither impressed. The top two receivers return and these guys do impress. Trey McBride (15.0 ypc) and Dante Wright (15.8 ypc) offer worthy downfield targets. Getting the ball to them will be a challenge.

Defense: 2020 featured 35.8 points allowed per game. Ick. The first half of all 4 games highlighted a CSU defense that was unprepared, distracted, lousy and/or careless. Please choose 3 of the 4. This same defense gave up 67% of fourth down conversions as well. A thin ray of sunshine was found: 2.5 ypr and only 108.5 yards rushing per game for CSU opponents. 18 of 20 top tacklers return. Hopefully so does their ability play an entire football game.

Utah State was ugly in 2020. I mean a dog walking backwards ugly. Gary Andersen did everything wrong. His replacement, Blake Anderson is looking at a long season in 2021. So much to fix and not a lot to work with.

Offense: Starting quarterback Jason Shelley hit the road when Mr. Andersen was fired. Andrew Peasley performed admirably as his replacement, but by no means is guaranteed to win the 2021 starting job. Devonta’e Henry-Cole offers the beginning of a running game (4.4 ypr), but would be better served as the #2 running back. The top 3 receivers return. Deven Thompkins (20 catches), Justin McGriff (15 catches) and Derek Wright (11 catches). Not much else to say.

Defense: Last year’s Aggie defense allowed 6.6 yards per play which resulted in 485 yards total offense per game. Yuck. 28 tds by opponents was evenly split between rushing and passing tds. How kind of the USU defense. Parity is important. The 2021 translation is get-better-now or USU will wish they only play 6 games (2020) instead of 12. They tie UNM with the least amount of returning op 20 tacklers: 14.