College football is on its way back, so we continue with the Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. We’re trotting out a new team each day. We started at No. 25 and we’ll build each day until we reach No. 1.
No. 17: SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS
Last Season: 11-3 (8-0 Mountain West, won 42-7 against Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl).
Last Five Seasons: 43-23 (two conference titles, five bowl games).
Coach: Rocky Long (sixth season, 43-23).
Overview: Optimism is high for the Aztecs, who closed last season with 10 straight victories, including a resounding win against Cincinnati at the Hawaii Bowl. It’s clearly a run-first approach. San Diego State had a school-record 3,266 rushing yards last season when the Aztecs clinched their first outright conference title since 1986.
Player To Watch: He should break Marshall Faulk’s school rushing record. That bears repeating. He should break Marshall Faulk’s school rushing record. He’s senior RB Donnel Pumphrey and he had 1,653 yards last season, along with 17 touchdowns. Pumphrey (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) needs only 318 yards to surpass Faulk. He could have that by the second game.
Top Newcomer: RB Juwan Washington, a redshirt freshman, should add another dimension to the Aztecs’ running game. He’s severely undersized at 5-foot-7, but extremely elusive and might become the team’s change-of-pace weapon.
All-Conference Potential: DL Alex Barrett, TE Billy Freeman, DB Damontae Kazee, LB Calvin Munson, RB Donnel Pumphrey, OL Nico Siragusa.
Key Question: Can the defense maintain its high level of performance? The Aztecs allowed 17 or fewer points in nine of their final 10 games last season. If that continues, San Diego State will be an especially tough out.
Best Unit: It’s clearly the running backs. With Pumphrey as the star — along with the depth provided by Rashaad Penny, Marcus Stamps and Washington — the Aztecs have a quartet of players who could all probably start for most Mountain West teams.
Good Stat: Last season, San Diego State matched the school’s major-college record for victories (11). It was first accomplished in 1969 under Don Coryell, who became a highly successful NFL head coach.
Bad Stat: It’s usually difficult to succeed in a big-time way with a one-dimensional offense, but that’s what happened for the Aztecs last season. The running game was a given. The passing game was among the nation’s least productive units, mustering only 142 yards per game, which ranked 119th nationally.
Big Game: Sept. 10, California. It’s a matchup against an average (at best) Pac-12 opponent, but it’s the only Power Five opportunity on San Diego State’s schedule. From a perception standpoint, this one probably matters more than any Mountain West foe. If the Aztecs can defeat the Golden Bears (who won last season’s meeting 35-7), the drumbeat will begin for a 12-0 finish.
It’s a legitimate goal for the Aztecs to pursue being the best Group of Five program, which would guarantee entry into a New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s a very talented roster. In fact, San Diego State was the nation’s only school last season to produce conference players of the year on offense (Pumphrey), defensive (DB Damontae Kazee) and special teams (Penny). The Aztecs are solid favorites to earn their Mountain West division crown, the conference title and the program’s seventh straight bowl-game appearance. The only question: How high can they go?
Next: No. 16 Georgia.