In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 40 San Diego State
"We don’t measure ourselves against anybody. We measure ourselves against ourselves,” San Diego State head coach Rocky Long said in April.
"Does that mean fewer than 10 wins — which they've done in three straight seasons — isn't good enough in 2018? Probably. And given the Aztecs' returning talent, they should make it four straight seasons.
2017 Record: 10-3 (6-2, Mountain West)
Thanks to a 6-0 start that included wins over Arizona State and Stanford, San Diego State slid into the AP Top 25 for the second straight season and at 19th in both the Week 5 and Week 6 rankings tied the highest ranking since 1977.
But the third straight season with at least 10 victories felt like an underachievement. They lost to Boise State and Fresno State by a combined 41 points, in which they had their two lowest-scoring games (14 and three points, respectively) of the season, and lost to Army in the low-level Armed Forces Bowl.
Head Coach: Rocky Long (8th Year, 64-29)
When Rocky Long replaced Brady Hoke in 2011, San Diego State was coming off a nine-win season but hadn't hit 10 wins in more than three decades. They've done so three years in a row and are averaging more than nine wins in Long's seven seasons.
He's brought unprecedented stability and success to the program and, in April, signed a contract extension that runs through the 2022 season.
RB Rashaad Penny, FB Nick Bawden, WR Mikah Holder, TE David Wells, LB Jay Henderson, DB Kameron Kelly, S Trey Lomax
Rashaad Penny (Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Team) was the conference's first player to earn two major postseason awards in the same year. He also extended San Diego State's streak of Offensive Player of the Year awards to three years after Donnel Pumphrey won in both 2015 and 2016. Penny was also the Aztecs' highest-drafted player (27th) since Kyle Turley (seventh) in 1998.
Elsewhere, fullback Nick Baldwin was a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Lions, and receiver Mikah Holder was the only player who had more than 20 receptions last year (43 for 602 yards). Kameron Kelly is gone after a superb career at safety and corner, and Jay Henderson ranked second on the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (four).
Returning Offensive Players
QB Christian Chapman, RB Juwan Washington, WR Fred Trevillion, OT Ryan Pope, OT Tyler Roemer, G Keith Ismael
San Diego State isn't Army or Navy but the Aztecs don't need to throw the ball often (or deep) to score points. They averaged 31 points last season despite averaging just 147 yards per game (118th in the FBS). The attack wasn't explosive but it was efficient with Christian Chapman under center. The three-year senior starter has completed 60 percent of his passes the last two years while throwing for 33 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions (one interception per 50 pass attempts).
A ground game that averaged 5.8 yards per carry (ninth in the FBS) will be just as good despite the departure of Penny. Not only does his explosive backup Juwan Washington (below) return, two of the best young lineman in the FBS are back in Tyler Roemer and Keith Ismael, both of whom earned all-conference honors as redshirt freshman.
"For his size, he’s a physical runner," offensive coordinator Jeff Horton said of the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Washington. "He can make people miss. He has great vision. He understands how we’re blocking plays and has the acceleration for being able to hit it."
While Horton doesn't need many vertical threats in his move-the-chains pro-style offense, the receiver group is still a concern. Senior Fred Trevillion is the only returnee who had more than 10 receptions last year.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Chibu Onyeukwu, DT Noble Hall, LB Ronley Lakalaka, LB Kyahva Tezino, CB Ron Smith, S Tariq Thompson, S Parker Baldwin
San Diego State's defense allowed fewer than five yards per play (4.9) and four yards per rushing attempt (3.8) and was great in the red zone (77 percent) but there is a lot of room for improvement. The pass rush was inconsistent (sack rate of 6.6 percent) and they forced 0.8 fewer turnovers per game than in 2016.
Somehow, the secondary is laced with talent despite losing Kelly and Trey Lomax. Ron Smith had 18 passes defenses, Tariq Thompson is oozing with NFL potential after a big freshman season (five interceptions, three tackles for loss) and Parker Baldwin is a menace near the line of scrimmage.
“Without him, I don't know what we would have done in the secondary,” Long said of Thompson in November. ". . . He didn't play like a freshman. He's played much better than a true freshman normally plays.”
The front six of Zach Arnett's defense is led by senior outside linebacker Roney Lakalaka (below), the team's leading tackler who added 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He was one of only four players with more than two sacks last year.
Unlike their enormous offensive line, San Diego State's defensive line isn't big, though they are strong and mobile. Seniors Chibu Onyeukwu and Noble Hall anchor a unit that's ranked among the nation's best against the run the last two years.
WR Ethan Dedeaux, DE Joah Robinett, DE Jalil Lecky
The defensive line is in good shape but they need depth, which should come from Oregon State (via JUCO) transfer Joah Robinett and JUCO transfer Jalil Lecky. Robinett is a huge (6-foot-8, 260 pounds) former tight end.
Stanford and San Diego State have played five times ever and last year was their first meeting in three decades, yet the series almost feels like a rivalry. They meet in Week 1.
Following the trip to Stanford, San Diego State leaves home just once until late October, playing five of six games at home, including a Week 3 date with Arizona State.
|Friday, Aug. 31||at Stanford|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Sacramento State|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Arizona State|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Eastern Michigan|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Boise State|
|Friday, Oct. 12||vs. Air Force|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. San Jose State|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at Nevada|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||at New Mexico|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. UNLV|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Fresno State|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Hawai'i|