Posts Tagged ‘Donnel Pumphrey’


A barn burner.  Hanging on for dear life.  Fingers slipping from the edge.

You get the idea.

Among many mind blowing (as far as football is concerned) numbers, please consider the following:

4 plus hours of football (what is this?  A Red Sox/Evil Empire game?).

Cal ran 94 offensive plays.

SDSU had 70 offensive plays (for a game total of 164).

Their qb threw 72 passes (he completed 41).

15 kickoffs.

SDSU limited Cal to less than six minutes of ball time in the second and fourth quarters.

SDSU was flagged 14 times for 105 yards.

Once we took the lead at 28-21, we held the lead; 31-21, 38-21, 38-28, 38-34, 45-34, 45-40.

42,473 butts in the seats without the promise of post-game fireworks (the game was the fireworks show).

A tip of the hat to Donnel Pumphrey for the inevitable run past Marshall Faulk.  The fact Donnel teared up on the sideline is testament to a young man noting his place in NCAA history.

While Christian Chapman struggled, he limited bad decisions to a botched snap and one interception.  14/23 for 129 yards (while averaging just shy of ten yards per completion) was enough production in light of pound and ground for 334 yards (281 of those yards belonging to Mr. Pumphrey).  The offensive line, tight ends and fullback were exceptional.

The defense made plays when all seemed lost.  How do we win when we give up 604 yards of Cal offense?  How do we win when we give up 522 passing yards?  By making three interceptions and returning one for a touchdown.  That’s how.  The old “bend, but do not break” applied.  Trite?  Perhaps.  But, applicable.  Damontae Kazee’s acrobatic pick with seconds remaining sealed the win.  A wild end to a wild ride.

At last, we beat a Rigged 5 team.  A signature win?  I say no.  But, a quality win nonetheless.



Yes, a good start.  As mentioned in my SDSU season preview, non-con games at home are often a source of disappointment.  Thankfully, the Aztec defense completely eliminated any semblance of University of New Hampshire (UNH from this point forward) offense.  How complete?

71 rushing yards.  70 passing yards.  That complete.  For good measure, each UNH rushing attempt averaged a meager 2.3 yards while each passing attempt was capped at 3.5 yards.  That is Rocky Long defense.  Also, not once did UNH enter the treasured red zone.  Include 0-14 on third down attempts.  Impressive Aztec defense.

Christian Chapman did quite well with a line of 16/25/283.  Two td passes and zero interceptions.  Christian averaged a respectable 17.1 yards per completion.  Stretching the field makes for a clicking offense.  Eric Judge (5/54) and Mikah Holder (4/160) were the primary beneficiaries of Christian’s arm.   Donnel Pumphrey was well contained by the UNH defense.  Any team that holds Donnel to 98 yards rushing is to be applauded.  I did note that when Donnel ran to the right side, not much happened.  When he ran up the middle and to the left, he was successful.  However, the Aztecs did churn 461 yards of total offense by the end of the game.  Well balanced.

Cal is next.  Here comes the week long moan of not beating a PAC-12 team since the beginning of time or at least the creation of football.  Please stop.  If Donnel runs free and Mr. Chapman has consecutive productive, error free games, we beat Cal.  Recall, they played Hawaii two weeks ago and allowed 31 points.  The Rainbow offense is nowhere near our offense.



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.



Who knew?

After a horrible, expectation deflating 1-3 start, we run the Mountain West table to finish 8-0 in conference.  Never thought this would or could happen.  Did not cross my mind (but not much does).

Nevada arrived ready to play even in light of the poorly managed announcement of their offensive coordinator accepting the Hawaii head coaching job.  Best to keep such changes quiet until after the game is played.  Maybe next time.  The first half was tit for tat.  The SDSU defensive backs, less Malik Smith (a stellar first half effort), gave up far too much yardage via Wolf Pack passing schemes that reminded me of Air Force’s sneak-behind-the-defensive-backs strategy.  Regardless, Nevada scored 14 points.

Long before the second half arrives, along with improvement, so does my much called for replacement of Maxwell Smith.  But not in the fashion delivered.  Christian Chapman played well.  6/9 for 44 yards and handing the ball off with extreme abandon (kidding) while rushing for 29 yards himself gives pause for thought.  Dual threat?  We will know more after December 5th.  However, on Mr. Chapman’s behalf, he played the entire game from the 7+ minute mark in the first quarter forward.  Only 7 of the eventual 31 points were scored prior to his arrival.  Donnel Pumphrey (23/157) was certainly irked by comments from a Nevada defensive back.  I want to thank that young man for angering Donnel to another great game.  Chase Price (19/118) ran like a player who knows the end is near.

The Aztec defense had 4 sacks and 2 picks.  Just another day at the office.  The notable Wolf Pack running duo of Don Jackson and James Butler were held to 3.1 and 2.5 yards per rush respectively.  The Nevada offense gained a mere 10 first downs.  Perhaps most telling was the 1 for 6 effort in third down conversions during the fourth quarter.  A tip of the helmet to the Aztec defense for finding itself in the second half.  Also, no second half points allowed.  All this without the injured Christian Heyward.

We will host Air Force for the first Mountain West Conference championship game and rightfully so.  Undefeated teams should host games, not teams with two conference defeats.  I feel better.  Air Force is always a concern given their offensive sets and general intense play.  A tough bunch.  For the moment we enjoy an overall record of 9-3 to accompany the 8-0 MWC record.  First place in the West division.  An eight game win streak.  What shall December 5th bring?

I’m in Pacific Beach at a dive bar formerly known as The Green Flash restaurant which was once a nice place to eat, but I digress.  The reason I’m in the dive bar formerly known as The Green Flash is because finding an Aztec football game in a bar in Pacific Beach (San Diego) is evidently a tough trick.  I left my hotel room (okay, the Pier) just after 7pm because past experience dictates finding a bar in Pacific Beach with the Aztecs on one of how many televisions blasting away is a tough trick.  Do not consider the fact that we were 7-3/6-0 prior to broadcast.  Doesn’t matter.  After wandering up and down Garnet and Mission for twenty minutes peering into various drinking establishments in hope of catching C-CBS on a television screen, I decide to hit the board walk.  Lo and behold said dive bar that was once The Green Flash restaurant holds my beloved Aztecs on a couple of their wall hung (don’t go there) television sets, monitors, whatever.  I’m five minutes late, but nothing’s happened.  The bartender cheerfully informs me that if I want a drink, wander over and let her know.  Quality joint.  But, they had C-CBS.  Or were at least willing to admit as much.

Now for the game.

Five rushing touchdowns.  The Aztec front-five were marvelous.  Complete domination of the UNLV defensive line.  Hats off to our tight ends as well.  The UNLV linebackers were as ineffective as their defensive line.  Countless moments of UNLV front seven running into each other because of being pushed backed by SDSU blockers.  Donnel averaged 9.9 yards per rush.  Enough proof?  I hope so.  Our average field position during the first half was somewhere in the UNLV locker room.  Maxwell Smith had another serviceable game:  11/17/107 and game nine without an interception (perhaps the best stat of all).  7/7 in the red zone continues a trend of scoring when expected.  I believe we are 94% for the year in the sacred red zone.

The defense allowed 80 yards rushing.  Great.  But, the 270 yards passing was shockingly bad, especially against a team without their starting quarterback.  Something to work on this week prior to Nevada arriving.  Seven sacks was impressive as was 21 points off turnovers.

8-3/7-0.  Nevada arrives after giving away their game to Utah State.  Play for pride?  I don’t know.  The Wolfpack coach doesn’t strike me as a motivator.  The Aztecs can finish the season undefeated in MWC play with a win over Nevada.  That is motivation.  Air Force waits for us in the MWC championship game.  To think that this would have happened after a 1-3 start is frankly stunning.  Reversal of fortune through hard work, belief and a quality coaching staff.


Oy, the first half was ugly.  Or to paraphrase Redd Foxx, so ugly, we were hit with the ugly stick.  Why was Jeff Horton running the majority of plays to the Aztec right?  One stuff after another.  We could not block on our right side the entire half.  No momentum was developed less the opening drive (which was nice).  Malik Smith loses his mind during the second quarter.  Rocky should have removed him from the game.  Mr. Smith was completely out of control.  Shame.

Speaking of shame, 13-10 at the half.

We finally arrived to play in the second half.  Maxwell Smith produced his best game as an Aztec quarterback.  11/14/180 yards.  No interceptions.  Plus, he averaged just shy of 13 yards per completion.  Not bad.  Donny Hageman nailing a 54 yard field goal was a team boost.  Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny both averaged 6 yards a carry.  Mr. Penny looked especially impressive against the CSU defense.  Dakota Gordon rumbled (all fullbacks rumble) for 52 yards on 4 carries.  The offense provided the most  balanced performance of the season.

The Aztec defense started poorly, but ended well.  Three picks.  Damontae Kazee returning his interception for a touchdown was a spear to the Rams offensive heart.  The back seven allowed the Rams a paltry 7.3 yards per completion.  A solid second half effort.  During the first half, I’m wondering “who are these guys?”  Thankfully, they disappeared.

Next week is our off week.  Soak the bumps and bruises.  Enjoy next Saturday.  Grab some sand.  Three MWC games remain.  5-0 in conference play is stellar.  Wyoming rolls into the Q Saturday, November 14.  The Cowboys feature an above average running game.  However, as long as Rocky keeps the boys focused, I’m leaning towards a 6-0 Mountain West result.

Three consecutive games of unbelievable defense.  Comprehensive in every sense of the word.  Less idiotic penalties, dare I say, perfect?  Perhaps I’m gushing, but the complete shut down of the offenses of Fresno State, Hawaii and San Jose State is impressive, awe-inspiring and downright wow.

Let us review the complete San Jose State beating:  35 yards rushing.  The much mentioned Tyler Ervin was held to 31 yards in 17 carries.  Mr. Ervin certainly had his opportunities.  SJSU rushing attempts yielded 1 yard per rush.  1 yard.  36 inches of grass and dirt.  As for the air, 113 yards passing.  That equates to barely 8 yards gained per completion.  Whether by foot or by air, the Spartans averaged less than a first down.  4 sacks (16 for the year), 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.  Applause, and lots of it, for the Aztec defense.  An Aztec defense without Dakota Turner and Trey Lomax.  An Aztec defense that featured J.J. Whitaker losing his mind via assaulting a Spartan wide receiver, thereby receiving the obligatory personal foul (this stuff must stop.  9 flags for 76 yards is stupid).  An Aztec defense featuring true freshman Ronley Lakalaka subbing for Jake Fely in the second half.  148 yards of total offense allowed by this stellar defense.

Darrell Greene’s return to the offensive line was notable.  Nothing against Robert Craighead, but Mr. Greene knows the business of blocking and pummeling his defensive opponent.  Addressing the obvious, Mr. Greene’s presence related directly to Maxwell Smith’s comfort.  While I continue to find astounding Mr. Smith’s lack of air production, he was much more a quarterback than any prior game.  10/14/144 is, again, serviceable.  No picks is extra nice.  The running game was almost as phenomenal as the SDSU defense.  Donnel Pumphrey (20/153) and Chase Price (10/47) led the way to the end zone and impressive drives.  However, I found at least one of Donny Hageman’s field goals should have been a touchdown (okay, two of his kicks should have been touchdowns), but I find confidence in his 3/3 evening via his foot.

Speaking of feet, Tanner Blain was NFL good by landing all three punts inside the fifteen, two of which were inside the ten.  Well done.

3-0.  Utah State is next.  The Aggies destroyed Boise State.  Not a team to be taken lightly.  Thankfully, at the Q is helpful.  The run continues.


Having roundly criticized Maxwell Smith for better than a month, I now congratulate him on an unspectacular, yet solid effort against Hawaii.  11/15, 1 touchdown, no interceptions and 184 yards is serviceable.  However, my call for change continues.

Donnel Pumphrey was stellar especially playing with the dread high ankle sprain.  3 touchdowns cures a lot of injury.  218 total yards rushing is testament to the offensive line getting a whole lot of push.  Congrats to Curtis Anderson, III for leap frogging four teammates to receive playing time and make his first catch of the year.

The Aztec defense was superb.  4 sacks, 2.5 by defensive linemen (Jon Sanchez, Christian Hayward and Noble Hall), was a job well done.  Ending the last two Hawaii drives in the fourth quarter with interceptions (Damontae Kazee and J.J. Whitaker) took what little momentum and/or hope retained by Hawaii.  The Rainbow Warriors (we can do better in the nickname/mascot category) were held to a total of 53 rushing yards and 251 total offensive yards.  Nice job, Aztecs.

2-0 in MWC play.  Change nothing.  Except the quarterback.

Yeah, a win is a win is a win.  But, the San Diego State offense remains a memory.  Distant memory.

You’re asking yourself, why so glum?  305 total rushing yards.  400+ total offensive yards.  Do the math.  Therein lies my complaint.

Congrats to Donnel Pumphrey prior to injury for 23/129.  Chase Price certainly delivered as much with 27/151.  Dakota Gordon had a fullback kind of game with 5/34.  Well done.  The offensive line was pushing the Bulldog front four off the line the majority of the game.  8/18 on third down conversions is definite improvement.  As was having the ball for better than 37 minutes.

The Aztec defense was marvelous.  6 Fresno State first downs.  89 total offensive yards including an unheard of 12 yards rushing.  Wow!  1.9 yards per play.  0/12 on third down.  10 punts.  The defense was stellar, almost perfect and a sight for sore eyes.  Thank you.

However, not mentioned in the offensive summation above is another stale and unimpressive performance delivered by Maxwell Smith.  5/12.  Yuck.  How and why Rocky Long and Jeff Horton continue to purposefully turn a blind eye to Mr. Smith’s lack of quarterbacking skills is beyond me.  Candidly, at this point in the season, I wonder how he ever threw for significant yardage during his Kentucky days.  Again, please escort Mr. Smith to the sideline . . . permanently.  Christian Chapman needs a chance to display the ability to avoid a sack as well as connect with an open receiver on a regular basis.

If Aztec faithful want smash-mouth football, we have exclusively that brand of football.  Those of us who remember the days of footballs flying downfield for 50+ yards at a time are feeling rather lonely and uncomfortable.  Especially during the game in our near future during which the running game is corralled.

1-0.  The MWC table run begins.  I hope.



Let’s begin on the offensive side of the ball.

QB:  As “fall” (honestly, any school west of the Rockies should choose a summer or pre-season description rather than any reference to autumn) camp concludes, Maxwell Smith will be named the starting quarterback.  Mr. Smith started for bad Kentucky teams against dauntingly good SEC (the AAA of the NFL) teams.  That experience is beyond valuable.  If Mr. Smith can limit mistakes and quickly grasp the offense of Jeff Horton, a flurry of offense is the result.  Backing Mr. Smith is Christian Chapman and the Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues.  Thankfully, Nick Bawden is now a fullback.

RB:  The best running back in the MW returns.  Donnel Pumphrey has no peer.  Fine, I admit New Mexico, Wyoming, Fresno State and Colorado State all possess at least one quality running back, but none quite so talented as Mr. Pumphrey.  Chase Price (a human bowling ball seeking immediate contact with linebackers), the injured Marcus Stamp whose depth chart spot will go to Rashaad Penny followed by Pumphrey-sized freshman, Juwan Washington, make for a talented group of running backs.

FB:  Dakota Gordon is entering Chad Young territory.  No higher praise can be offered to any Aztec fullback.

WR:  A point of major weakness in 2014.  Poor route running.  Extreme lack of concentration.  No confidence.  Alas, 2015 Aztec receivers cannot be any worse.  I choose to anticipate renewed vigor and focus given the arrival of the new wide receivers coach, Hunkie Cooper (how can you not have confidence in a man named Hunkie?).  Lloyd Mills (moments of brilliance during 2014), Mikah Holder, Eric Judge and Chase Favreau head a list of credible receivers.  Unlike the Bob Toledo years, look for two, rather than three, receivers at the line of scrimmage.

TE:  All five on the depth chart are listed at 6’5″, thus Maxwell Smith should not have difficulty finding any of them downfield.  If Daniel Brunskill and David Wells each develop a pair of hands, this position could be the surprise of the offense.

OL:  Darrell Greene’s six game suspension puts the damper on three of five returning starters.  Now Nico Siragusa and Pearce Slater are the shining light of return.  Kwayde Miller, Arthur Flores, Robert Craighead more than likely complete the starting five.  Austin Mass probably backs Mr. Flores at the center spot.  Joe Salcedo (redshirt freshman) impresses o-line coach, Mike Schmidt.  This group allows for a successful start or a few games of adjustment as the season begins.

DL:  Jon Sanchez, Christian Heyward and Alex Barrett may be the best d-line in the West of the Mountain West.

LB:  Calvin Munson was the defensive surprise of 2014.  Expect no drop-off in 2015.  If, if, Jake Fely is healthy, he and Mr. Munson will provide and deliver a substantial amount of energy and hurt.  Choose from Jay Henderson, Devante Davis or Ryan Dunn as the other starter.

DB:  What is the greatest benefit of the return of J.J. Whitaker, Damontae Kazee, Malik Smith, Trey Lomax and Na’im McGee?  They all started in 2014.  This lends to a certain calm, satisfying sleep pattern on behalf of Rocky Long.  Coaching these five becomes more of a conversation than instruction.  A great depth rarely found on a college football team.  This group is the strength of the 3-3-5.  Anticipate much more blitzing than any year since Mr. Long arrived on the Mesa.

K:  Donny Hageman and his wonderfully accurate foot return.

P:  Tanner Blain or Joe Weilbacher.  You choose.

LS:  Jeff Overbaugh (and a guaranteed NFL draft selection).

Coaches:  Jeff Horton remains the running backs coach while assuming offensive coordinator duties.  He has edited Bob Toledo’s playbook.  Rather, removed dozens of pages.  Simplicity is the theme.  With a new starting quarterback, I second the idea.  Hunkie Cooper, granted, has zero collegiate experience, but he brings an energy and demand upon the wide receivers not seen in years.  Bobby Hauck, who was seemingly 100-2 at Montana as head coach, should strengthen the special teams.  I find smart of athletic director Jim Sterk to have two ex-head coaches on staff in Mr. Horton and Mr. Hauck.  Whenever Mr. Long decides to retire, in-house replacement may be a convenient and effective theme.  Blaine Morgan enters year one as SDSU quarterbacks coach.  As a former Air Force Cadet quarterback, anticipate Mr. Morgan grooming a feet-don’t-fail-me-now option when all else fails with Aztec quarterbacks.  Media folks love to swoon over Mr. Long’s unique 3-3-5 alignment, but without a quality defensive coaching staff, a 3-3-5 equals 0.  Coaches Lewis (d-line), Arnett (linebackers), White (cornerbacks) and Gonzales (safeties) deserve a great deal of credit and note on behalf of a superb 2014 defensive effort that was nationally ranked.  Look for even greater defensive heights in 2015.

2015 Schedule:  Beginning the season against USD is less than ideal, but a game is a game.  At Cal follows.  An immediate test to determine the real ability of the Aztec defense.  South Alabama is the second home game.  The Jags recruit kids thought to be a step below SEC ability.  This game must find a prepared Aztec squad or this is a not so surprising loss.  Penn State at Happy Valley follows.  I’m predicting an Aztec win (at last) over a legendary football program.  Fresno State (and their impressive band of alumni travelers) opens MWC play at the Q.  Two road games follow:  at Hawaii and at San Jose State.  The Aztecs return home for the always challenging Aggies of Utah State.  A Halloween game at Fort Collins may bring heavy snow, high winds or a pleasant evening.  Wyoming, at UNLV and Nevada finish the 2015 season.  Since two of three are at the Q, opportunity exists to right any prior disappointment.  Worst case:  7-5.  Best case:  10-2.

Final thoughts:  Will 2015 finally yield a win over a PAC-12 school (Cal) or nationally recognized legend (Penn State)?  Will Donnel Pumphrey rush for a minimum of 100 yards each game?  Is Jeff Horton’s offensive scheme simple enough or too simple?  Does an Aztec defense returning eight defensive starters smash opposing offenses or suffer from a case of overconfidence?  As always, stay tuned.