Coach: Rocky Long (32-20, entering fifth season; 97-89 overall)
2014 record: 7-6, 5-3 in Mountain West; tied for first in West Division
Look back: San Diego State continued to thrive by sticking to coach Rocky Long’s strengths, using a run-heavy offense and gambling defense to tie for first in the Mountain West’s West Division.
After alternating wins and losses early in the season, the Aztecs won three of their final four regular-season games to clinch bowl eligibility. A 38-29 loss at Boise State during the run knocked San Diego State out of contention for a spot in the Mountain West title game. The Aztecs faced off with Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl played at its home stadium, but the Midshipmen navigated a sloppy game that featured seven turnovers and pulled away with a 17-16 win.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: QB Quinn Kaehler, OL Terry Poole, FB Adam Roberts, WR Ezell Ruffin, LB Josh Gavert, LB Cody Galea, DE Sam Meredith, DB J.J. Whittaker
Top returnees: RB Donnel Pumphrey, OL Darell Greene, OL Pearce Slater, OL Nico Siragusa, OL Wes Schweitzer, K Donald Hageman, LB Calvin Munson, DB Damontae Kazee, DB JJ Whittaker, DB Jake Fely, DB Malik Smith, DL Jon Sanchez, DB Trey Lomax.
Strengths: San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey should be an elite playmaker again for the Aztecs. He ranked No. 4 nationally and set a San Diego State single-season record with 1,867 rushing yards. Pumphrey added 20 touchdowns on 276 carries last year, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
He helped the Aztecs rank No. 26 nationally in rushing as a team, averaging 216.1 yards per contest.
Long is a veteran defensive coach who mentored a team that ranked No. 16 nationally in total defense, allowing 332.5 yards per game. The imposing defensive line and strong secondary combined to help the Aztecs rank No. 10 nationally in pass defense, giving up 178.5 yards per game.
Weaknesses: San Diego State is counting on its veteran lineup to do a better job of avoiding surrendering big leads. The Aztecs held a 23-10 third-qaurter lead against Boise State and a 13-7 halftime lead against Navy during key games San Diego State lost last season.
The offensive line struggled through part of spring practice and the path to improvement won’t get any smoother after Long announced starting right guard Darrell Greene was among five players suspended for the first six games of the 2015 season for undisclosed violations of team rules.
The Aztecs’ biggest question entering the 2015 season, though, is who will start at quarterback. The team entered spring drills with a six-man race, but Kentucky transfer Maxwell Smith appears to be the front-runner for the job. The Aztecs need their starter to be a solid game manager, avoiding turnovers and connecting on enough passes to give Pumphrey and other promising tailbacks on the roster space to run.
Outlook: With 14 returning starters who have bought into Long’s hard-nosed approach, the Aztecs are the favorite to win the Mountain West’s West Division and contend for a conference championship.
Sept. 5 San Diego
Sept. 12 at California
Sept. 19 South Alabama
Sept. 26 at Penn State
Oct. 3 Fresno State
Oct. 10 at Hawaii
Oct. 17 at San Jose State
Oct. 23 Utah State
Oct. 31 at Colorado State
Nov. 14 Wyoming
Nov. 21 at UNLV
Nov. 28 Nevada
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com