Mountain West


#36 San Diego State Aztecs





HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 43-23 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Horton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long

The Aztecs took a huge step forward last season and look to keep that momentum going into 2016. Not only did San Diego State win the Mountain West in 2015, the 11 victories also tied for the best mark in program history. Coach Rocky Long will once again lean on dynamic running back Donnell Pumphrey and lockdown cornerback Damontae Kazee to win the conference in 2016. The Aztecs have some uncertainty at quarterback and in the receiving corps, but Long's team should be strong on defense and with the ground attack once again. 

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Previewing San Diego State’s Offense

Running back Donnel Pumphrey is back for an encore campaign after rushing for 1,653 yards and winning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year honors. Pumphrey considered leaving for the NFL but decided he wanted to take aim at Marshall Faulk’s school career rushing mark (4,589 yards from 1991-93). “I would like to break all of Faulk’s records,” says Pumphrey, who enters the campaign with 4,272 yards. “He’s an NFL Hall of Famer and had a terrific college career, and it would be a great accomplishment for our team if I was able to achieve that.”

Pumphrey’s return is also beneficial for quarterback Christian Chapman, who will need to prove he can be a downfield thrower after winning three consecutive starts to end last season after an injury to starter Maxwell Smith. The receiving group is a weakness, and that could affect Chapman’s growth. Pumphrey’s 28 receptions led the Aztecs last season, and Mikah Holder’s modest 24 catches were the best among the wideouts and tight ends.

First-team all-conference guard Nico Siragusa is the headliner of the offensive line, which returns three starters from a group that helped San Diego State rush for a school-record 3,266 yards.

Previewing San Diego State’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Cornerback Damontae Kazee was the MW Defensive Player of the Year last season after intercepting eight passes and forcing two fumbles. He originally announced he was leaving for the NFL, but a week later he stunningly changed his mind and said he was returning for his final college season. Kazee’s return allows San Diego State to keep its status as the top defense in the conference as he routinely quiets the receivers who line up on his side of the field.

Safety Malik Smith had 77 tackles and five interceptions and should take another step forward. Outside linebacker Calvin Munson is another standout on a defense that allowed 16.4 points per game; he totaled 98 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Defensive ends Alex Barrett (5.5 sacks) and Kyle Kelley (7.5) are strong performers up front. The Aztecs allowed 17 or fewer points in nine of their final 10 games last season and have the talent to be a stingy unit again this season.

Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists

Not only do the Aztecs return the top offensive and defensive players in the conference, they also possess the reigning Special Teams Player of the Year in Rashaad Penny, a dynamic kickoff returner. Penny averaged 33.5 yards per return last season and scored TDs on three of his 24 opportunities. Punter Tanner Blain doesn’t kick for distance — only eight of his 77 efforts went for 50 or more yards — but he stifled the opponent’s return game with 25 placed inside the 20-yard line along with 24 fair catches. Kicker Donny Hageman is out of eligibility, so the field goal duties fall to John Baron II, a left-footer with a powerful leg.

Final Analysis

San Diego State matched the school’s major-college record for victories (11) last season — it was originally done in 11 games in 1969 under legendary Don Coryell — and will have an opportunity to reach those heights again this season. The Aztecs have developed a high level of toughness during Rocky Long’s five seasons as coach and also a resiliency to overcome obstacles that was seldom seen at the school for most of the previous two decades. The result has been six consecutive bowl games and last season’s conference title — the Aztecs’ first outright league title since claiming the Western Athletic Conference crown in 1986.

San Diego State will be favored to win the West Division, and the ultimate goal will be another MW title. Championship expectations are still a new thing for the Aztecs, but the 42–7 demolition of Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl showed that this crew is ripe to tack on more accomplishments.

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#34 Boise State Broncos



MW Mountain Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, 21-6 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Zak Hill, Scott Huff | DEF. COORDINATOR: Andy Avalos

For only the second time in the past decade, the Broncos won less than 10 games last year. The disappointing season started off strong with Boise State opening 7-2 before November, but coach Bryan Harsin's team dropped two critical November conference games and fell short of the division title. Will they be rejuvenated in 2016? Star quarterback Brett Rypien looks to take more of a leadership role this year and lead the Broncos to another conference title.

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Previewing Boise State’s Offense

The Broncos return their offensive star power in sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, junior tailback Jeremy McNichols and senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck but lack proven depth. They also will have a new voice calling the plays — the fifth change in six years. Third-year coach Bryan Harsin, who was the offensive coordinator from 2006-10, will call the plays with help from new co-offensive coordinators Zak Hill (formerly of Eastern Washington) and Scott Huff, who also coaches the line.

Rypien, first-team All-Mountain West as a true freshman, will try to build on his early success. He tossed 20 touchdown passes in 11 games and averaged 304.8 passing yards per game. He battled inconsistency, though, which contributed to a pair of home losses late in the season.

McNichols was among the nation’s most productive players, amassing 1,337 rushing yards, 460 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns. Sperbeck — the Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP in 2014 — chipped in with 88 catches for 1,412 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Broncos need to develop some depth around those playmakers — junior tight end Jake Roh and senior wide receiver Chaz Anderson are the only other major contributors returning — and re-assemble an offensive line that lost center Marcus Henry and left tackle Rees Odhiambo.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Broncos ended a disappointing 2015 on a historic high, holding Northern Illinois to 33 yards in a 55–7 win in the Poinsettia Bowl. The defense struggled mightily against option teams New Mexico and Air Force — teams Boise State must face every year — and has a new coordinator in linebackers coach Andy Avalos.

The No. 1 task for Avalos’ staff: Rebuild the defensive line. The Broncos return one defensive tackle with significant game experience and don’t have much more experience at end. They’ll need some newcomers to play immediately at tackle and hope that ends Jabril Frazier and Gabe Perez — who was injured last season — step up. Senior Sam McCaskill provides some needed versatility with the potential to start at end or tackle.

The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where leading tackler Ben Weaver, third-leading tackler Tanner Vallejo and Joe Martarano return. The secondary is inexperienced at cornerback — senior Jonathan Moxey will need to provide leadership — and deep at safety, led by senior Chanceller James.

Previewing Boise State’s Specialists

Placekicker Tyler Rausa and punter Sean Wale return for their senior seasons. Rausa was exceptional last year, hitting 25-of-30 field goal attempts. Three of his misses were from outside 50 yards. Wale hasn’t been able to boom his punts consistently, but he has improved his ability to pin opponents.

Final Analysis

The Broncos will enter the season as a bit of a mystery with new play callers on both sides of the ball and massive turnover on the defensive line. They’ll find out quickly what they have, though. Boise State has a challenging September — at Louisiana-Lafayette, vs. Washington State and at Oregon State to begin the season. October features three teams that beat the Broncos last season (Utah State, New Mexico and BYU). If Boise State can get to November in good shape, the schedule softens and perhaps sets up a marquee showdown at Air Force on Thanksgiving weekend. The Falcons have beaten the Broncos in consecutive seasons, including on Senior Night last year in Boise.

The development of Rypien and the young playmakers around him will play an instrumental role in the Broncos’ ability to bounce back from the 9–4 disappointment of 2015. So, too, will defensive line coach Steve Caldwell’s ability to turn an unproven bunch of linemen into a formidable presence.

The Debate

Will Boise State edge San Diego State for the Mountain West title in 2016?

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