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1. Life ater the breakthrough
If SDSU is ever going to break the nine-win barrier, it will be this year. The Aztecs return plenty of fun pieces in 2016, but the conference schedule will flip and feature testy road games. This is an incredible opportunity for SDSU to break through.
During a disappointing 7-6 in 2014, an increasingly talented SDSU continued to struggle on offense and ranked just 83rd overall in S&P+. Rocky Long was at a bit of a crossroads, toeing the border of Glen Mason territory, the zone of a coach's tenure in which the guy who has raised the bar fails to raise it further. Long knows this well -- during his tenure at New Mexico, Long engineered bowl trips in five of six seasons between 2002-07, but he only once topped eight wins.
At San Diego State, the Aztecs were quickly hitting a similar ceiling. After bowling only three times between 1970 and 2009, SDSU took a step forward in 2010, Brady Hoke's second season. Hoke left for Michigan, and Long won eight, nine, and eight games heading into 2014.
Last year was big for Long. He boasted a team that was, at worst, the second most talented in the Mountain West, and the schedule was kind.
Damned if SDSU didn't break through. After a dreadful September, things clicked. The Aztecs beat eight MWC opponents by an average of 36-11, held off Air Force in the conference title game, then destroyed Cincinnati in Hawaii to finish 11-3. The next time SDSU loses will be the first since September 26 of last year.
This was the breakthrough we always thought this program was capable of. Long's always-tricky defense was strong from front to back. The offense wasn't great but was just good enough to kill clock and get out of the way. And now the best part of the offense (running back Donnel Pumphrey) returns along with most of an awesome linebacking corps and secondary. So ... is a repeat possible? What about improvement?
There are questions to answer, mostly centered around a rebuilt passing game. But at 66, having built sustainable success at two programs that hadn't experienced much of it, Long's career might be approaching a new level as it winds down.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-3 | Adj. Record: 10-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 43 | Final S&P+ Rk: 45|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|26-Sep||at Penn State||47||21-37||L||9%||1%||+1.9||-1.0|
|17-Oct||at San Jose State||89||30-7||W||96%||100%||+30.4||+26.0|
|31-Oct||at Colorado State||86||41-17||W||63%||84%||+20.8||+20.5|
|Points Per Game||32.1||46||16.4||7|
2. The proverbial switch got flipped
SDSU was a strange team to follow from afar in 2015. The Aztecs got romped by a Cal team that peaked in September, lost to what would eventually prove to be a bad South Alabama team at home, and put up minimal defensive resistance against a mediocre Penn State offense. At 1-3, it looked like the verdict was in: 2014's disappointment was carrying over to 2015.
But when the calendar flipped to October, the lightbulb turned on.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 26% (~top 95) | record: 1-3
- Average Percentile Performance (last 10 games): 77% (~top 30) | record: 10-0
SDSU handled Fresno State and Hawaii with relative ease, then mauled San Jose State. None of these results were standout wins, however.
Then the Aztecs beat Utah State and Colorado State by a combined 89-31. They cruised past Wyoming and UNLV, then whipped Nevada in the regular season finale. Written off in September, they beat eight conference opponents by an average of 25 points in October and November. They struggled to put a strong Air Force team away in the MWC title game but did so with Donny Hageman's 46-yard field goal and a late midfield stop. And then they did some brutal things to Cincinnati in the bowl.
Looking at the passing splits, you'd think that SDSU changed quarterbacks. But that wasn't really the case. With Maxwell Smith throwing the lion's share of the passes, the Aztecs managed a woeful 95.6 passer rating in the first four games. (Yes, that included an 83.8 against a good Penn State defense; it also included a 73.3 against San Diego.)
But with Smith still leading the way for the most part, SDSU produced a 179.3 rating over the final 10 games. This was almost all Smith until he got hurt against Nevada; redshirt freshman Christian Chapman took over did as well or better. Against Nevada, Air Force, and Cincinnati, he completed 23 of 34 passes for 360 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. In fact, neither QB threw a pick after the Penn State game.
This was a full-team improvement, mind you -- the defense went from allowing 5.7 yards per play in the first four games to 4.2 in the last 10. But the improvement of the sparingly used passing game opened things up for Pumphrey and the run game and gave the Aztecs enough oomph to give the defense all the points it needed. SDSU only once scored less than 27 points in the last 10 games and only once allowed more than 17. That's a pretty good recipe.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.9%||50||Succ. Rt. +||96.8||84|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.2||15||Def. FP+||29.7||67|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.1||18||Redzone S&P+||102.6||67|
|Q1 Rk||52||1st Down Rk||93|
|Q2 Rk||95||2nd Down Rk||91|
|Q3 Rk||104||3rd Down Rk||91|
3. The power of identity
It's difficult to glean much from full-season numbers for SDSU when it was like a completely different team filled the uniforms one-third of the way through the regular season. Regardless of the mediocre 2015 numbers, though, SDSU seemed to benefit from knowing exactly what it was on offense.
With running backs coach Jeff Horton taking on offensive coordinator duties in 2015, SDSU took on the exact kind of plodding, bludgeoning attack that a defensive coach like Rocky Long tends to love. The Aztecs ran almost as frequently as an option team -- in fact, their 81 percent standard downs run rate was seventh in FBS, behind only six option teams (Army, Navy, Georgia Southern, New Mexico, and Georgia Tech) -- and did just well enough at it to put themselves into third-and-manageable.
Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price combined for 35.6 carries and 190.1 yards per game, but players like Rashaad Penny and Marcus Stamps managed to get some looks as well. For predictability's sake, the Aztecs could have perhaps benefited from a bit more mobility at the QB position (Smith and Chapman combined for just 28 non-sack carries all season), but this approach worked pretty well after September.
It worked doubly well when the play action game actually began to pay off. Chapman ended up averaging 15 yards per completion and 8.3 yards per pass attempt, and while Smith took quite a few hits, Chapman really didn't. He proved more mobile than Smith in the run game and managed to take far fewer sacks as well.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Christian Chapman||6'0, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8167||29||49||436||2||1||59.2%||2||3.9%||8.3|
|Ryan Agnew||6'0, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8184|
|Mason Hall||6'3, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR|
|Jimmy Walker||6'3, 220||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
|Donnel Pumphrey||RB||5'9, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8044||309||1653||17||5.3||6.7||36.2%||3||2|
|Rashaad Penny||RB||5'11, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432||61||368||4||6.0||5.5||44.3%||0||0|
|Marcus Stamps||RB||6'1, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8448||16||33||0||2.1||1.5||18.8%||0||0|
|Christian Chapman||QB||6'0, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8167||14||83||0||5.9||1.9||71.4%||0||0|
|Juwan Washington||RB||5'7, 175||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8286|
|Chase Jasmin||RB||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389|
|Parie Dedaux Jr.||RB||6'1, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8156|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Mikah Holder||WR-X||6'0, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8538||49||24||439||49.0%||20.2%||9.0||38.8%||40.8%||2.06|
|Donnel Pumphrey||RB||5'9, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8044||49||28||416||57.1%||20.2%||8.5||26.5%||42.9%||1.89|
|Eric Judge||WR-X||6'1, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148||29||15||296||51.7%||11.9%||10.2||44.8%||44.8%||1.91|
|Daniel Brunskill||TE||6'5, 250||Sr.||NR||NR||19||10||112||52.6%||7.8%||5.9||68.4%||47.4%||1.18|
|Chase Favreau||WR-Z||6'1, 200||Jr.||NR||0.7000||10||2||16||20.0%||4.1%||1.6||20.0%||10.0%||1.45|
|Rashaad Penny||RB||5'11, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432||9||8||120||88.9%||3.7%||13.3||77.8%||66.7%||1.96|
|David Wells||TE||6'5, 255||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7793||9||4||22||44.4%||3.7%||2.4||55.6%||22.2%||0.98|
|Christian Cumberlander||WR-X||6'3, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8400||4||1||0||25.0%||1.6%||0.0||50.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Curtis Anderson III||WR-Z||6'3, 200||Sr.||NR||NR||1||1||6||100.0%||0.4%||6.0||0.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Lloyd Mills||WR-Z||5'10, 175||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8091||1||1||6||100.0%||0.4%||6.0||0.0%||100.0%||0.45|
|Jerry Chaney||WR||6'0, 180||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7817|
|Tayler Hawkins||WR||6'1, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8410|
|Parker Houston||TE||6'3, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8115|
|Timothy Wilson Jr.||WR||6'4, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8066|
4. In search of ever-elusive pass efficiency
That Pumphrey, Penny, Stamps, and three offensive line starters (including all-conference guard Nico Siragusa) return is obviously good news considering SDSU's run-heavy identity. Plus, Long signed two JUCO linemen and two three-star running backs (in addition to three-star redshirt freshman Juwan Washington); the run game could be even deeper than it was last year.
But the passing game is a little bit muddy. Chapman could be quite good, SDSU's best quarterback since Ryan Lindley at the very least. But a lot of receivers took turns serving as the go-to guy in 2015, and quite a few of them are gone. Four players (three wideouts and Pumphrey) were targeted between 29 and 49 times, and six more were between nine and 19.
Mikah Holder was the leader, but he made nearly half of his catches in the first four games and only once caught more than two passes in a game during SDSU's winning streak. Jemond Hazely was perhaps the go-to during the streak (he had zero catches through five games and 21 in the final nine), but he was a senior.
Maybe San Diego State doesn't need a go-to guy. But Hazely was the only of the top five targets with a success rate above 47 percent, and that added bit of efficiency seemed to make a difference. Can Holder or Eric Judge become more reliable options? Might big former three-star signee Christian Cumberlander be ready for a breakthrough? A tight end like Daniel Brunskill or David Wells? Star freshman Tayler Hawkins (who could end up on either or both sides of the ball)?
Depth in the passing game is clearly an issue, but if you're going to have questions like this, it might as well be with the part of the offense you don't use very much. The run game should be ready to roll, and that's what's important.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Nico Siragusa||LG||6'5, 335||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8428||14||28||2015 1st All-MWC|
|Pearce Slater||RT||14||27||2015 1st All-MWC|
|Kwayde Miller||LT||6'7, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8394||14||14|
|Arthur Flores||C||6'5, 305||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8352||14||14|
|David Servatius||LT||6'5, 350||Sr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Ryan Krum||OL||6'4, 320||Sr.||NR||0.7000||0||0|
|Ryan Pope||LT||6'7, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||0||0|
|Joe Salcedo||RT||6'7, 300||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7333||0||0|
|Daishawn Dixon||OL||6'5, 340||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7652|
|Nick Gerhard||RT||6'5, 285||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533|
|Derrick Achayo||OL||6'4, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8116|
|Donnell Greene||OL||6'6, 340||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7933|
|Yasir Durant||OL||6'7, 345||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8220|
|Douglas Tucker II||OL||6'5, 300||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8181|
5. Biiiiiiig boys up front
I probably shouldn't overlook the fact that those responsible for 28 of SDSU's 70 offensive line starts in 2015 are gone. Tackle Pearce Slater played at an all-conference level, and there's no guarantee the Aztecs can maintain last year's levels.
But at the very least, they'll be big. Holy smokes, will they be big. The 13 linemen listed above average 6'6, 318, and that includes two freshman signees and two 285-pounders who haven't seen the field before. This line isn't big by Mountain West or power conference standards; it's big by NFL standards. Last year's San Diego CHARGERS averaged 6'5, 319 up front.
Size isn't everything, obviously, but at the very least, it means defenders have to run around larger bodies of mass to get into the backfield. The line wasn't incredibly efficient in 2015, but it very much kept defenders from making run stops behind the line. That should be the case again.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||34.6%||11||Succ. Rt. +||115.1||19|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.2||8||Off. FP+||30.2||60|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.1||40||Redzone S&P+||113.6||24|
|Q1 Rk||30||1st Down Rk||15|
|Q2 Rk||32||2nd Down Rk||53|
|Q3 Rk||28||3rd Down Rk||20|
6. The perfectly realized 3-3-5
A 3-3-5 sacrifices size for speed and deception, swarms on passing downs, and more or less just hopes to survive against the run. Rocky Long's 3-3-5 pulled off a remarkable combination: fifth in Passing Downs S&P+ ... and fifth in Rushing S&P+. The Aztecs generated all the pass rush you would hope for from this alignment but stopped the run as well as almost anybody. They struggled against Air Force, but they almost completely erased big rushing plays -- opponents managed just 38 rushes of 10-plus yards (fourth in FBS) and nine of 20-plus (sixth).
SDSU maybe allowed a few more big pass plays than it would have preferred, but this defense was Long's masterpiece (after September, at least), and he's had a lot of good defenses.
The best part: The defense was pretty young. The Aztecs do have to replace two of their top three defensive linemen, but the second stringers got plenty of reps, and all of them return. And if the line doesn't regress, then the linebacking corps (which returns five of its top six) and secondary (which returns four starters and four second stringers) should again dominate. SDSU broke through in a major way last year and returns most of the defensive reasons why.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Alex Barrett||DT||6'3, 260||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7500||14||47.5||6.7%||13.0||5.5||2||1||2||0|
|Kyle Kelley||DE||6'3, 260||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8741||14||19.5||2.8%||9.0||7.5||0||1||1||0|
|Noble Hall||DT||6'3, 265||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8163||11||14.0||2.0%||6.0||0.5||0||1||1||0|
|Dakota Turner||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8149||6||10.5||1.5%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Watson||DE||6'5, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8181||7||5.0||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Julian Rochelin||DE||6'5, 245||So.||NR||NR||13||2.0||0.3%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sam Tai (UCLA)||DT||6'3, 280||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8281|
|Sergio Phillips||DT||6'2, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8280|
|Myles Cheatum||DE||6'2, 250||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685|
|Jondarius Gardner||DT||6'4, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7600|
|Chibu Onyeukwu||DE||6'4, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Calvin Munson||LB||6'1, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7444||14||71.5||10.1%||15.0||9.5||2||2||2||1|
|Ryan Dunn||MLB||6'3, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8307||13||28.5||4.0%||4.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Randy Ricks||MLB||6'5, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133||9||15.0||2.1%||5.0||2.5||0||4||2||0|
|Austin Wyatt-Thayer||LB||6'5, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7633||12||10.0||1.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ronley Lakalaka||LB||6'0, 225||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081||11||8.0||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jay Henderson||MLB||6'2, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8174||9||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Morris||LB||6'3, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8175||14||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyahva Tezino||LB||6'0, 225||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9024|
|John Carroll||LB||6'2, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8517|
|Dwayne Parchment||WAR||5'11, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8226|
|Reggie Murphy||LB||6'5, 250||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8173|
|Jeff Clay||WAR||6'0, 180||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Dru Mathis||LB||6'3, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8326|
|Troy Cassidy||LB||6'3, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8235|
|Kaelin Himphill||LB||6'2, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR|
7. Too many linebackers, too little playing time
The departure of Jake Fely opens up a little bit of playing time, and wow, does SDSU appear to be loaded with options for filling that space. First, the Aztecs return Calvin Munson, one of the better blitzers in the Mountain West. They also bring back both of last year's primary middle linebackers. But who takes Fely's reps? Senior Austin Wyatt-Thayer? Three-star junior Tyler Morris? Three-star sophomore Ronley Lakalaka? Four-star redshirt freshman Kyahva Tezino? Three-star redshirt freshman John Carroll?
You get the idea. Never mind the MWC, this might be one of the best linebacking corps in the country. Pursuit should be fantastic. But there are indeed still some questions to answer up front. Speedy tackle Alex Barrett is back, and former four-star signee Kyle Kelley had a nice junior season, but the loss of end Jon Sanchez and tackle Christian Heyward still hurts.
Honestly, what SDSU might have going for it the most is injury. Heyward missed foru games, sophomore Noble Hall missed three, and juniors Dakota Turner and Jordan Watson missed a combined 15. That means quite a few players got reps. So the Aztecs are, in a way, losing two starters and returning two or three.
Hall, Turnver, and sophomore Julian Rochelin could all be ready for larger roles, and Long signed two JUCOs (Jondarius Gardner and Chibu Onyeukwu) and brought in UCLA transfer Sam Tai for depth. The odds are good that the line will hold up, and if that happens, the linebackers will dominate.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Damontae Kazee||CB||5'11, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7900||14||66.5||9.4%||5.5||0||8||7||2||0|
|Na'im McGee||AZTEC||6'0, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8122||14||63.0||8.9%||4.5||1||0||7||0||0|
|Malik Smith||WAR||6'0, 190||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7900||14||60.5||8.6%||5||0||5||9||1||1|
|Kameron Kelly||WAR||6'2, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7907||13||47.5||6.7%||3||0||2||3||0||0|
|Parker Baldwin||AZTEC||6'2, 200||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7794||14||11.0||1.6%||0||0||1||0||1||0|
|Billy Vaughn, Jr.||CB||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8098||8||10.5||1.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Trey Lomax||WAR||5'11, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8108||5||7.5||1.1%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kalan Montgomery||CB||6'1, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8235||14||7.5||1.1%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Kendrick Mathis||WAR||6'0, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8255||14||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Kevin Walcott||CB||5'11, 185||Jr.||NR||NR||8||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Derek Babiash||WAR||6'1, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8838||7||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Tayler Hawkins||DB||6'1, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8410|
|Trenton Thompson||DB||6'12, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8381|
|Dwayne Johnson Jr.||DB||6'2, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8217|
|Kyree Woods||DB||6'0, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8100|
|Keoni Stallworth||DB||6'1, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081|
8. A corner void?
At first glance, SDSU's secondary appears loaded as well. Last year's top four tacklers return, as do 10 of the 12 players who recorded at least six tackles. Experience in the secondary matters a lot, and the Aztecs have it.
They do have to replace two of their top three corners, though. Damontae Kazee is incredible, but J.J. Whittaker is gone, and Pierre Romain was the top backup. Juniors Billy Vaughn Jr., Kalan Montgomery, and Kevin Walcott are all back, and we could always see one of about 17 awesome safeties changing positions, but there's at least a little bit of a question there.
Forgive me if I can't worry too much, though. Kazee is as good a No. 1 CB as there is in the group of five, and safeties Na'im McGee, Malik Smith, and Kameron Kelly combined for 12.5 tackels for loss, seven interceptions, and 19 break-ups last year. And I want to see more of junior Derek Babiash, a former star recruit who managed to break up three passes while making just 2.5 tackles in seven games. That's a combination that screams either "future ball hawk!", "risk taker!" or "horrific tackler!" All three are pretty entertaining.
|Tanner Blain||6'0, 205||Sr.||77||40.3||8||24||22||59.7%|
|Rashaad Penny||KR||5'11, 210||Jr.||24||33.5||3|
|Lloyd Mills||PR||5'10, 175||Sr.||15||9.5||0|
|Mikah Holder||PR||6'0, 180||Jr.||6||7.5||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||64|
|Field Goal Efficiency||44|
|Punt Return Success Rate||111|
|Kick Return Success Rate||5|
|Punt Success Rate||108|
|Kickoff Success Rate||101|
9. And when you score on them, they might score right back
There's nothing more demoralizing than finally scoring on a tough defense, then watching your ensuing kickoff get returned for a touchdown. And in Rashaad Penny, SDSU returns one of the most impressive, explosive kick returners in the country.
That's ... about all SDSU returns here, though. The Aztecs ranked in the triple digits in punt, kickoff, and punt return efficiency, and solid place-kicker Donny Hageman is gone. Despite Penny, I'd be impressed if SDSU cracked the top 60 in Special Teams S&P+.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|17-Sep||at Northern Illinois||79||0.7||52%|
|1-Oct||at South Alabama||115||13.3||78%|
|15-Oct||at Fresno State||94||5.5||62%|
|22-Oct||San Jose State||92||12.3||76%|
|29-Oct||at Utah State||73||-0.2||49%|
|Projected wins: 8.6|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||1.0% (57)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||79 / 74|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||22 / 12.0|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+3.9|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||66% (52%, 79%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||10.6 (0.4)|
10. The schedule cooperates again ... sort of
There are two ways to look at SDSU's schedule:
A. The Aztecs are projected to have at least a 49 percent chance of winning in every single game.
B. They are between 49 and 62 percent in five games.
The former makes you think San Diego State's about to go 11-1. The latter introduces 8-4.
Everything came together for Long's Aztecs last year. The defense caught fire, the offense was just good enough, and even turnovers luck was favorable. (I would have noted that before now had they played in more than two close games.) The timing was right.
SDSU's success in 2016 -- the Aztecs' ability to hover again in the range of double-digit wins -- will depend on stability on the defensive line and the emergence of an efficient receiver or two. They have the depth to outlast most MWC opponents, and while having two trips east of the Mississippi River is inconvenient, the Aztecs should at least be superior to NIU and South Alabama.