The big 2014 SDSU football preview: Another year, another 8 or 9 wins

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

After winning 34 games from 2000-08, San Diego State has won 34 in the last four years. The Aztecs are recruiting well and have an outstanding run defense, but offensive efficiency and pass defense will dictate whether they break through to 10+ wins.

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1. The bones get stronger every year

Every year if feels like I say something similar about San Diego State.

The Aztecs are in a fertile recruiting area. They have no excuse not to be at least decent. They were mostly bad until about 2010. Now they're in much better shape. You probably know the story by now.

The Aztecs are actually reaching an interesting crossroads. After winning 34 games in the nine seasons between 2000-08, the Aztecs have won 34 in four years. They attended four bowls from 1969-2009, and they've now attended four in a row. They are undoubtedly in better shape as a program than they ever have been before.

But eight wins gets boring after a while. Recruiting has been strong and steady, to the point where the Aztecs have former three-star (or better) recruits at every position -- seven at linebacker, five on the defensive line, five in the secondary, four at running back, four on the offensive line, three at wideout, two at tight end, et cetera. The base of talent is strong and getting stronger. But the Aztecs are still losing four or five games per year.

Last year, SDSU was almost done in by an atrocious start, but rebounded. They looked strong down the stretch, beating Boise State for a second straight year and winning the Potato Bowl in dominant fashion. But an 0-3 start and a strange blowout loss to UNLV still added a bit of a sour taste to the season. As an SDSU fan, you have to know how much better off your program is than at any point since the 1970s, but you probably still find yourself getting a little bit frustrated.

Every year more three-star recruits join the program; is there another breakthrough coming at some point, or are the Aztecs destined for an eight- or nine-win lot in life? There are worse things than that, but ... there are better things, too.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 89
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Eastern Illinois N/A 19-40 L 12.9 - 40.0 L
7-Sep at Ohio State 9 7-42 L 20.1 - 23.2 L
21-Sep Oregon State 42 30-34 L 18.2 - 21.2 L
28-Sep at New Mexico State 122 26-16 W 18.2 - 19.4 L
4-Oct Nevada 88 51-44 W 30.9 - 33.3 L -7.3
10-Oct at Air Force 113 27-20 W 26.0 - 20.5 W -0.8
26-Oct Fresno State 49 28-35 L 32.3 - 14.4 W 3.4
2-Nov New Mexico 110 35-30 W 28.1 - 30.6 L 3.5
9-Nov at San Jose State 74 34-30 W 27.4 - 18.2 W 5.6
16-Nov at Hawaii 82 28-21 W 28.4 - 23.9 W 6.9
23-Nov Boise State 45 34-31 W 18.7 - 14.9 W 6.6
30-Nov at UNLV 96 19-45 L 18.1 - 37.2 L -0.8
21-Dec Buffalo 80 49-24 W 39.5 - 18.0 W 4.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -10.8% 102 +1.6% 55 -2.4% 104
Points Per Game 29.8 58 31.7 92
Adj. Points Per Game 24.5 96 24.2 29

2. September was, shall we say, forgettable

It appears [Adam] Dingwell will be the starter this fall, and despite the presence of a new offensive coordinator (Bob Toledo; yes, that Bob Toledo), one can expect another heavy dose of the ground game. But Dingwell is still going to have to pass, and his ability to avoid sacks and prevent disasters will be a determining factor in just how much SDSU can get away with running the ball and moving the chains.

I said that in last year's SDSU preview. As it turned out, Dingwell couldn't pass. He completed 27 of 63 passes with four interceptions in the season-opening upset loss to Eastern Illinois, and he began the Ohio State game 0-for-5 with a pick.

Rocky Long and Bob Toledo turned to junior college transfer Quinn Kaehler; it took him a little while to get going -- he took a few too many sacks, he threw a devastating pick six late against Oregon State, and he looked rather average against New Mexico State -- but once he got his footing, and once an awful September officially ended, he began to figure things out.

By October, Kaehler had established a strong rapport with receiver Ezell Ruffin (23 catches for 454 yards and three touchdowns against Air Force, Fresno State, and New Mexico), and the Aztecs had figured out balance. They both rushed and passed for 200 yards six times in their final nine games. And after a brutal start, the offense was never amazing, but it was average enough to get out of the way of a stellar defense.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 26.0, SDSU 17.4 (minus-8.6)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 7 games): SDSU 27.4, Opponent 22.3 (plus-5.1)

SDSU's defense had occasional issues against the pass, but the Aztecs had one of the best mid-major run defenses in the country. And after the 0-3 start, SDSU finished 8-2.

Strong finishes are nothing new to SDSU, of course. They were 3-2 and finished 6-2 in 2010; they were 4-3 and won four of five to finish the regular season in 2011; and they started 2-3 and won seven in a row to finish the regular season in 2012.

Granted, there are typically some decent names on the schedule early on, but if the Aztecs can get this September thing figured out, they could finally crack the 10-win barrier.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.31 9 IsoPPP+ 103.4 44
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.1% 94 Succ. Rt. + 80.1 117
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.0 71 Def. FP+ 99.4 66
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 88 Redzone S&P+ 76.5 118
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 27.9 ACTUAL 30 +2.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 51 112 118 99
RUSHING 69 115 115 104
PASSING 38 103 115 76
Standard Downs 110 116 52
Passing Downs 113 121 47
Q1 Rk 109 1st Down Rk 97
Q2 Rk 117 2nd Down Rk 120
Q3 Rk 75 3rd Down Rk 85
Q4 Rk 115

3. Ode to the six-yard gain

Even when things improved for SDSU's offense in 2013, it was because of big plays. The mundane, smaller plays that keep drives alive were woefully rare at times. It seemed as if every drive began on second-and-9 for the Aztecs, who ranked a dreadful 117th in Success Rate+ (as you see above). The big plays were huge -- SDSU ranked 44th in IsoPPP+, a measure of the magnitude of SDSU's successful plays -- but there weren't enough of the smaller ones.

Either in philosophy or simply execution, Bob Toledo's system seemed to emphasize running and short passing on standard downs. SDSU still ran the ball rather frequently on such downs, but when the Aztecs did pass, it was frequently to tight end Adam Roberts or fullback Chad Young. Ezell Ruffin and Colin Lockett were targeted with success at times, but Tim Vizzi and Dylan Denso were almost never targeted until second- or third-and-long.

In theory, this almost seems to be an emphasis on efficiency. Use your good running backs, dump off for short gains to the tight ends and running backs, and gain five to eight yards whenever possible. But it didn't work out that way. Passes to Young and tailback Adam Muema went almost nowhere, and without enough fear of deeper passing, opponents were able to focus on the run and stuff Muema and company near the line.

The result was an offense that had to rely on big plays to succeed. That worked out at times -- Muema and D.J. Pumphrey were explosive in the open field, and four of the top five wideouts averaged at least 14 yards per catch -- but it resulted in quite a few three-and-outs as well.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Quinn Kaehler 6'4, 210 Sr. NR 232 389 3007 19 9 59.6% 26 6.3% 6.8
Adam Dingwell


27 68 318 0 5 39.7% 4 5.6% 4.0
Chase Favreau 6'1, 200 RSFr. NR
Brad Odeman 6'3, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Christian Chapman 6'0, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Nick Bawden 6'3, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

4. Kaehler, probably

Quinn Kaehler in no way lit the world afire in his first year as SDSU's starter. He was certainly better than Adam Dingwell (who has since retired from football because of injuries), and his interception rate remained relatively low despite throwing a high percentage of his passes on passing downs.

But he was not dominant. He missed spring ball with an elbow injury, which in theory gave other candidates a chance to impress and make up ground. Instead, redshirt freshman Chase Favreau and JUCO transfer Brad Odeman, Jr., simply fought it out for the backup job. It appears Kaehler is the man moving forward, unless he starts the season like Dingwell did last year, anyway.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Adam Muema RB


256 1244 15 4.9 5.4 36.3%
Donnel Pumphrey RB 5'9, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 125 752 8 6.0 7.7 36.8%
Quinn Kaehler QB 6'4, 210 Sr. NR 23 91 1 4.0 5.6 30.4%
Chad Young FB 22 112 3 5.1 4.9 31.8%
Chase Price RB 5'8, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 17 78 0 4.6 3.6 41.2%
Dwayne Garrett RB 6'0, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 8 38 0 4.8 4.1 37.5%
Ezell Ruffin WR 6'1, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 8 4 0 0.5 2.5 25.0%
Adam Dingwell QB


4 7 0 1.8 4.7 25.0%
Marcus Stamps RB 6'1, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Rashaad Penny RB 5'11, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)


Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Ezell Ruffin WR-Z 6'1, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 107 68 1146 63.6% 24.9% 50.0% 10.7 317 11.4 108.7
Colin Lockett WR-X 100 52 736 52.0% 23.3% 54.2% 7.4 31 7.7 69.8
Tim Vizzi WR-Z 41 18 278 43.9% 9.5% 22.2% 6.8 9 5.2 26.4
Dylan Denso WR-Z 35 20 265 57.1% 8.1% 36.7% 7.6 7 8.3 25.1
Adam Roberts TE 6'3, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 34 20 217 58.8% 7.9% 66.7% 6.4 -37 5.9 20.6
Donnel Pumphrey RB 5'9, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 27 22 224 81.5% 6.3% 29.2% 8.3 -14 8.6 21.2
Chad Young FB 24 15 70 62.5% 5.6% 65.2% 2.9 -114 2.9 6.6
Adam Muema RB


21 18 98 85.7% 4.9% 55.0% 4.7 -93 4.7 9.3
Eric Judge WR-X 6'1, 190 So. 2 stars (5.4) 20 13 218 65.0% 4.7% 43.8% 10.9 61 12.0 20.7
Robert Craighead TE 6'3, 270 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 8 5 32 62.5% 1.9% 0.0% 4.0 -29 1.6 3.0
Larry Clark WR-Z 6'4, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 4 3 51 75.0% 0.9% 0.0% 12.8 17 14.7 4.8
Jemond Hazely WR 6'1, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Lloyd Mills WR 5'10, 165 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Kene Anigbogu WR 6'4, 205 So. NR
David Wells TE 6'5, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Darryl Richardson TE 6'5, 240 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Christian Cumberlander WR-Z 6'3, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Mikah Holder WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Dionte Sykes WR 6'2, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

5. How many hits can you take, Ezell and D.J.?

Whatever load D.J. Pumphrey can handle at 5'9, 170 pounds, he should get a chance to handle it in 2014. He lit a spark into the offense with his explosive (and not incredibly efficient) running in late-September and early-October, and he will pair with bigger backs like Chase Price, Marcus Stamps, and Dwayne Garrett to lead a running game that, in theory, has potential for both efficiency and explosiveness.

The line is reasonably experienced -- the Aztecs must replace all-conference tackle Bryce Quigley, but do return five players with starting experience (57 career starts) -- but wasn't that great outside of short-yardage situations. If experience plugs holes, the running game could improve even without Muema.

Meanwhile, Ruffin does return to anchor the receiving corps. He and Colin Lockett combined to see nearly half of all SDSU's targets last year, but he's the only one of the top four wideouts returning this time around. Unless Eric Judge or a newcomer steps up, Ruffin could see one of the country's heaviest receiver loads this fall.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 82.5 2.66 3.37 36.1% 75.4% 20.8% 83.2 5.7% 7.2%
Rank 120 102 50 96 25 83 90 92 71
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Bryce Quigley LT 38 2nd All-MWC
Zach Dilley LG 6'5, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 18
Japheth Gordon LG 16
Jordan Smith C 6'5, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 14
Darrell Greene RG 6'4, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12
Terry Poole LT 6'5, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 12
Nico Siragusa LG 6'5, 320 So. 3 stars (5.6) 1
Garrett Corbett RT 6'5, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Lenicio Noble C 6'2, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Garrett Corbett RT 6'5, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Arthur Flores LT 6'5, 290 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Anthony Juarez LT 6'6, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Antonio Rosales RT 6'4, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Caleb Brady OL 6'5, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Pearce Slater RT 6'7, 340 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Sergio Phillips OL 6'2, 285 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.13 55 IsoPPP+ 98.0 71
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.8% 37 Succ. Rt. + 112.5 22
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 33.4 6 Off. FP+ 106.5 5
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.8 112 Redzone S&P+ 92.2 82
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.1 ACTUAL 19.0 -2.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 55 32 22 24
RUSHING 22 19 14 13
PASSING 100 40 37 57
Standard Downs 25 19 58
Passing Downs 50 39 81
Q1 Rk 38 1st Down Rk 16
Q2 Rk 16 2nd Down Rk 38
Q3 Rk 37 3rd Down Rk 60
Q4 Rk 52

6. Neither SDSU nor its opponent had an efficient offense

It would make sense that Rocky Long runs a program that is further along on defense than offense. Whereas the 3-3-5 defense has become a novelty or an underdog tactic in portions of the country, it is a way of life for Long, who mastered the defense as New Mexico's head coach and quickly installed it with success as Brady Hoke's SDSU defensive coordinator in 2009-10.

Despite preconceptions -- fewer linemen and more defensive backs equals speed over size and pass defense over run defense -- SDSU's defense was outstanding against the run last year. Ohio State and New Mexico, two of the best rushing teams in the country, averaged 6.4 yards per carry against the Aztecs last year; everybody else averaged 3.1. SDSU eliminated the run and took its chances with the pass, and while there were a few big pass plays along the way, this combination worked pretty well. SDSU held opponents to 5.2 yards per play or lower in nine of 13 games and, despite a lot of high-pace opponents, allowed more than 30 points just three times in the final 10 games after a shaky start.

With four of the top five linemen and five of the top seven linebackers returning, and with the front six adding an impact transfer and two three-star redshirt freshmen, it stands to reason that SDSU's run defense will be good once again. But the secondary has some questions to answer.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 110.5 2.66 3.34 36.1% 69.0% 18.8% 86 3.8% 5.4%
Rank 29 28 69 33 77 69 91 81 95
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dontrell Onuoha DT 6'2, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 19.5 2.7% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jon Sanchez DE 6'2, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 16.5 2.3% 4.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Thomas DE 13 16.0 2.3% 5.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Sam Meredith DL 6'4, 275 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 8 11.5 1.6% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Alex Barrett DT 6'3, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 11.5 1.6% 5.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Everett Beed DE 6'3, 255 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 5.0 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Paul Rodriguez DE 6'7, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Kenny Galea'i NT 6'1, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Jordan Watson DL 6'5, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Dakota Turner DE 6'3, 245 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Christian Heyward (USC) NT 6'3, 300 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nick Tenhaeff OLB 13 60.0 8.4% 15.0 6.0 1 1 1 0
Josh Gavert MLB 6'2, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 51.0 7.2% 6.0 3.0 1 3 1 1
Vaness Harris OLB 12 45.0 6.3% 4.5 1.5 1 2 1 0
Cody Galea OLB 6'3, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 28.5 4.0% 3.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Derek Largent OLB 6'4, 240 Sr. NR 12 26.0 3.7% 4.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Jake Fely MLB 5'10, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 4 17.5 2.5% 1.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Micah Seau MLB 6'3, 250 So. 3 stars (5.5) 11 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Calvin Munson OLB 6'1, 215 So. 2 stars (5.3) 11 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Fred Melifonwu OLB 6'5, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Tyler Morris LB 6'3, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Devante Davis LB 6'2, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Donavin Buck LB 6'5, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jay Henderson LB 6'2, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)






7. Replacing Tenhaeff

Linebacker Vaness Harris and end Jordan Thomas were solid players, combining for 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, and three passes defensed. They provided decent play-making ability, but they are exactly the type of player a good defense loses every year.

The biggest loss in the front six comes at the other OLB position. Nick Tenhaeff was an underrated play-maker for SDSU; in 2012-13, he logged 28 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Last fall, he was easily the Aztecs' best pass rusher on a defense that didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback overall.

Former end Cody Galea will now fill one of the OLB slots, and while his size will perhaps add further heft and prowess to the run defense -- the addition of USC transfer Christian Heyward to the rotation will go even further in that regard -- it might be up to newcomers like redshirt freshmen Fred Melifonwu and Dakota Turner and JUCO transfer Devante Davis to get pressure on the quarterback.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nat Berhe AZTEC 13 79.5 11.2% 5.5 1 0 6 0 0
Eric Pinkins WAR 13 62.0 8.7% 7 1 0 4 2 1
King Holder CB


13 53.5 7.5% 2 0 0 9 0 0
Damontae Kazee CB 5'11, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 34.5 4.9% 3 1 1 2 4 0
J.J. Whittaker CB 5'10, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 28.0 3.9% 2 0 3 11 1 0
Marcus Andrews WAR 13 26.5 3.7% 0.5 0 1 1 0 0
Rene Siluano WAR 13 17.5 2.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Malik Smith WAR 6'0, 170 So. 2 stars (5.3) 12 16.0 2.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Gabe Lemon WAR 6 15.5 2.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
David Lamar CB 6'2, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 14.0 2.0% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Stan Sedberry WAR 6'2, 210 Jr. NR 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Bell DB


6 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Pierre Romain CB 5'8, 165 Jr. NR 13 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
T.J. Hickman WAR 6'0, 185 Jr. NR 13 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Billy Vaughn, Jr. DB 6'1, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 1 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Porter AZTEC 5'11, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kendrick Mathis WAR 6'0, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Kalan Montgomery CB 6'1, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Billy Vaughn, Jr. CB 6'1, 180 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Davontae Merriweather DB 6'1, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Na'im McGee AZTEC 6'0, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5)

8. Strength gets stronger, weakness gets weaker

Thanks to the loss of both starting cornerbacks, the secondary was a question mark heading into 2013. But after a slow start, the trio of King Holder, Damontae Kazee, and J.J. Whittaker came along rather nicely. By the end of the season, these three had combined for 26 passes defensed (14 from Whittaker), seven tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. Holder is gone, but Kazee and Whittaker return, and the cornerback position seems well accounted for in 2014. Now about those safeties ...

There is almost no experience at the safety position. The returning leading tackler is sophomore Malik Smith with 16.0. SDSU welcomes two three-star JUCO transfers (Davontae Merriweather and Na'im McGee) and a three-star redshirt freshman (Kalan Montgomery) to the rotation, but after a couple of years of stellar play from Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins, the safeties are starting over.

In other words, last year's strength (run defense) could be even stronger while last year's weakness (big plays, especially through the air) could be even weaker.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Joel Alesi 6'0, 235 Sr. 53 39.4 2 21 17 71.7%
Seamus McMorrow 5'11, 195 Jr. 3 39.3 0 0 2 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Seamus McMorrow 5'11, 195 Jr. 47 62.1 18 3 38.3%
Wes Feer 21 63.3 9 2 42.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Wes Feer 21-25 5-7 71.4% 3-5 60.0%
Seamus McMorrow 5'11, 195 Jr. 18-20 0-3 0.0% 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Colin Lockett KR 31 24.5 0
Tim Vizzi KR 7 16.3 0
Tim Vizzi PR 17 12.5 2
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 104
Field Goal Efficiency 123
Punt Return Efficiency 54
Kick Return Efficiency 60
Punt Efficiency 81
Kickoff Efficiency 48
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 108

9. Strength gets weaker, weakness gets stronger

Special teams was a mixed bag last year. On one hand, you had a collection of strong field position weapons in return men Colin Lockett and Tim Vizzi and a solid kickoffs guy in Seamus McMorrow. On the other, you had the place-kicking situation. Wes Feer was 7-for-7 on field goals in the first three games of the year, then finished 1-for-5. Seamus McMorrow went 0-for-4. It made no sense, and it was an extreme weakness.

In 2014, McMorrow returns, and Lockett and Vizzi are gone. So ... it's the opposite situation as the SDSU defense -- strengths get weaker, and weaknesses (in theory) get stronger with experience.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Northern Arizona NR
6-Sep at North Carolina 36
20-Sep at Oregon State 39
27-Sep UNLV 109
3-Oct at Fresno State 46
10-Oct at New Mexico 116
18-Oct Hawaii 93
1-Nov at Nevada 62
8-Nov Idaho 120
15-Nov at Boise State 18
21-Nov Air Force 105
29-Nov San Jose State 82
Five-Year F/+ Rk -3.1% (67)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 75
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -11 / -6.9
TO Luck/Game -1.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (6, 5)

10. A familiar tale

In my first SDSU season preview back in 2011, I mentioned that I liked the Rocky Long hire as a short-term way of maintaining the momentum SDSU had established in the brief, two-year Brady Hoke era. I was unsure about the Aztecs' long-term prognosis under Long, but so far there has been a lot to like. Each year San Diego State loses a couple of high-caliber players -- in 2011, it was Ronnie Hillman, Ryan Lindley, and company; this year, it's Adam Muema, Colin Lockett, Nick Tenhaeff, etc. -- and produces another sound season, then signs a load of solid recruits in the offseason.

This program is in good shape, and recruiting has had a clear impact on depth and athleticism. The only question remaining, really, is whether SDSU can at some point break into double digits in the win column. It hasn't happened yet, usually because the offense starts slow and SDSU drops some games against quality non-conference foes early on.

We could certainly see something similar in 2014. Early trips to North Carolina and Oregon State and a mostly rebuilt corps of skill position players and safeties could certainly result in a 1-2 or 2-3 start. But with six quite winnable home games, six opponents projected 90th or worse, and plenty of team strengths -- run defense, explosiveness, an experienced quarterback, stellar cornerbacks -- SDSU should be counted on to get back to the eight- or nine-win range by the end of the year.

The Aztec calendar might not begin until October, and I doubt this is the year for a 10-win season, but a fifth straight bowl should very much be in the works.

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