No. 58 San Diego State
San Diego State hadn't won 11 games in a season since 1969. Now they've done so in back-to-back seasons. The quest for a third will be tricky.
The losses from 2016 are substantial; five First-Team All-Mountain West selections are gone, as are several other key contributors. Still, the Aztecs return talent and experience at every position, most notably a two-headed monster at running back replace Donnel Pumphrey and a secondary laced with aggressive playmakers.
2016 Record: 11-2 (6-2, Mountain West)
San Diego State dropped their final two Mountain West games but still captured the West Division title and beat Wyoming in the championship.
The Aztecs yielded an average of 46.3 points in their losses, compared to 13.1 in wins. They held opponents to 42 total points during a six-game mid-season winning streak. And they dominated Houston, 34-10, in the Las Vegas Bowl, their second-straight bowl win after winning just one of their previous four bowl games.
Head Coach: Rocky Long (7th year, 54-26 overall)
San Diego State opted for the in-house hire when Brady Hoke bolted for Michigan in 2011. It worked out well — better than anyone could have imagined.
Rocky Long, 67, is thriving in his second head coaching job (New Mexico, 1998-2008), going 36-11 in the Mountain West, appearing in six-straight bowl games and finishing below second in the West Division only once. In January he agreed to a contract extension that runs through the 2021 season.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Christian Chapman, RB Rashaad Penny, RB Juwan Washington, WR Mikah Holder, TE David Wells, G Antonio Rosales
Christian Chapman is back at quarterback after an efficient and conservative sophomore season. He threw for 1,994 and 20 touchdowns on just 251 attempts, topped 200 yards once in their final nine games and never attempted more than 26 passes.
Chapman had offseason thumb surgery and wasn't scheduled to throw all spring. That didn't happen; he was "ahead of schedule" and began throwing day one. He was called "the ultimate grinder" by a teammate last year.
San Diego State loses one of the best all-purpose backs in FBS history in Donnel Pumphrey but return two players who were arguably just as good in 2016. Both Rashaad Penny (below) and Juwan Washington averaged better than 7.5 yards per carry.
“He’s a big back who can really run,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach Jeff Horton said of Penny. “When you watch him, you don’t think he’s going fast, but he’s moving that 220 pounds down the field – and nobody’s catching him.
Receiver Mikah Holder and tight end David Wells will be Chapman's primary targets. Holder ranked seventh in the FBS with 21.5 yards per catch (27 catches for 581 yards). A young but talented offensive line is led by senior guard Antonio Rosales. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder is playing for a spot in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Dakota Turner, DE Noble Hall, LB Ryan Dunn, LB Ronley Lakalaka, CB Ron Smith, CB Kameron Kelly, S Parker Baldwin, S Trey Lomax
Rocky Long has done a brilliant job with the defense. They ranked first in the FBS with 26 interceptions in 2016 – and have an FBS-leading 49 over the last two years. They also have 75 sacks the last two years.
The onus is on defensive ends Dakota Turner and Noble Hall, two upperclassmen linebackers and four talented defensive backs to keep their advantageous unit rolling. Hall has 12 tackles for loss in his first two seasons and had two tackles for loss and one sack in the bowl win.
With linebacker Calvin Munson and 116 tackles gone, Ronley Lakalaka (below) is now the leader. He had a breakout sophomore campaign (72 tackles, three tackles for loss and two interceptions) and is the type of responsibly aggressive player Long's defense is built on.
In the secondary, the loss of interception machine Damontae Kazee will sting, though the return of three starters and a rising sophomore should ensure minimal drop-off for a defense that ranked 11th nationally in total yardage (315.4 per game).
Sophomore corner Ron Smith flashed All-Mountain West potential as a redshirt freshmen. He ranked third on the team with three interceptions.
Notable Player Losses
RB Donnel Pumphrey, OT Daniel Brunskill, G Nico Siragusa, DE Alex Barrett, DE Kyle Kelly, LB Calvin Munson, LB Austin Wyatt-Thayer, CB Damontae Kazee, S Malik Smith
Five of San Diego State's seven All-Mountain West First-Teamers graduated, led by Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year Donnel Pumphrey and Defensive Player of the Year Damontae Kazee.
Their three primary defensive disrupters are also gone. Alex Barrett, Kyle Kelly and Calvin Munson combined for 31.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks. Munson was also one of the better coverage linebackers in the conference.
Notable Player Additions
OT Tyler Roemer, G Keith Ismael, G Ladji Bagayoko, C Zachary Thomas, WR Tim Wilson, WR Isiah Macklin, CB Keoni Stallworth
New faces are everywhere on both sides of the ball, led by four freshmen who could see time on the offensive line.
Redshirt freshmen Tyler Roemer and Keith Ismael were listed as starters at left tackle and left guard, respectively, in the post-spring depth chart, while true freshman Zachary Thomas and redshirt freshman Ladji Bagayoko are backups at center and left guard, respectively.
Two more redshirt freshmen are competing for snaps at receiver (Tim Wilson and Isiah Macklin) and another, Keoni Stallworth, is backing up Trey Lomax at the Warrior corner position.
San Diego State's schedule is highlighted by two non-conference Power Five matchups. The Aztecs visit Arizona State on Sept. 9 and host Stanford a week later. They haven't played Stanford since 1988 and Arizona State since 2007. They also host Northern Illinois on Sept. 30.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. UC Davis|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Arizona State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Stanford|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Air Force|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. Northern Illinois|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at UNLV|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Boise State|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Fresno State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Hawai'i|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at San Jose State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Nevada|
|Friday, Nov. 24||vs. New Mexico|