San Diego State Football 2016: A Favorable Aztec Calendar
Four games into the 2015 NCAAF season and things were looking downright apocalyptical for the Aztec football team: a 1-3 record comprised of a thorough drubbing by Cal, an unthinkably embarrassing home loss to Southern Alabama, and then a predictable loss at Penn State. SDSU didn't deserve any of those games, either. Even Southern Alabama outgained them by 206 yards.
The lone win was against the San Diego Toreros in week #1. They didn't play particularly good in that game, either, but were the beneficiaries of two pick 6s and a +5 turnover margin.
I didn't hate that loss to Southern Alabama, as I had both they and SDSU with season win Over plays last year, and I figured SOAL was going to need wins more than SDSU.
That turned out to be the case. SOAL ended up with 5 wins, winning the Over 3.5. 5.0 wins was exactly what I modeled for the Jaguars last year. Success! lol
For SDSU the projection was 8.6 wins and a 10-2 raw record. With little room left to spare for the Over 7.5 (with a stiff -175 juice), the Aztecs rattled off 9 straight wins including a conference championship win over Air Force. The success of the season was further solidified with an absolute thumping of the QB Kiel-less Cincinnati Bearcats in the Hawai'i Bowl. It was one final chance for a big play on the Aztecs and it was clearly marked on our calendar.
Can the Aztecs repeat the successes of 2015?
Rocky Long enters his 5th year as head coach of the Aztecs this season. He holds the defensive coordinator reins as well, and it is that side of the ball the Aztecs excelled at last year, finishing 2015 as my 24th best ranked defense, versus 79th best for the offense.
Jeff Horton continues as the offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Jeff has a ton of experience at both the collegiate and NFL level.
No shake ups here is good new for projecting continuity.
SDSU does lose starting QB Maxwell Smith this year, but I don't think anyone is particularly concerned, as he put up pretty average numbers and didn't contribute to the run game. This year's projected QB starter, Christian Chapman, put up better passing numbers while providing a running threat. He threw for 22% of SDSU's passing yards last year, so he won't be completely green, even if he's just a Sophomore.
The left side of the offensive line and center are Senior strong, but the right side will have some new bodies, so if there's a weakness, it's likely to be there.
Last year the Aztecs had a great 1-2 punch at running back with Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price, who both averaged near 5.4 ypc, while gaining 51% and 31% of the team's rush yards, respectively. Rashad Penny had a 6.0 ypc average on 61 carries last year, so look for him to scoop up Price's carries.
SDSU's run game should, if anything, be even stronger with QB Chapman's mobility this year. SDSU returns a solid 72% of its' receiving yards, so as long as Chapman doesn't regress the Aztecs rate to move a little higher than the 79th ranked offense of last year.
The Aztecs return 76.1% of their tackles, 76% of their sacks, and 65% of their interceptions.
The defense should be good.
SDSU does lose kicker Donny Hageman. He put up decent, if not spectacular numbers, but breaking in new kickers and punters is generally statistically bad for teams.
My preseason manual adjustments tend to be fairly conservative, with leans toward recruitment rankings.
As such, I've given SDSU a -5% adjustment to their passing game as a hedge on Chapman's overall inexperience. I left their rushing projections flat, even though I think that Chapman's mobility will more than make up for the new pieces on the right side of the line.
Defensively, I gave the Aztecs a small -2% adjustment to pass defense and a -5% adjustment to their rush defense projections. As I wrote above, they return a higher than average percent of tackles from last year's squad, but considering the excellent numbers they put up last year and their somewhat below average recruiting ranks, if anything, the defense might be just a tick behind last year's.
Overall, you can see a picture emerging from the Aztec's camera of a squad that should strongly resemble last year's snapshot.
SDSU is a strong run-first team, running on 74% of standard downs last year, which interestingly enough was the exact same percentage of New Mexico, where Rocky coached from '98-'08. Georgia Tech had the same percentage, and together they tied for the 5th highest run percentage of plays behind only the service academies and Georgia Southern.
The Long road looks to be smoother than Rocky this year. I project SDSU to have a very high win floor of 8 games. They avoid Boise State and play their only P5 opponent, Cal, at home -- a game in which they are favored in spite of last year's 7-35 Goff-lead loss. What does that tell you? Not all quarterback losses are the same, lol.
SDSU's other close games are toss ups at NIU and USU. Barring catastrophic injuries, I just don't see this team losing more than 3 games, making the Over 8.5 wins a solid value. If they can get past CAL and NIU early in the season they have a very good chance of getting to the conference championship game unbeaten.