San Diego State
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Mountain West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Andy Ludwig | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long
San Diego State’s offense will lack star power with four-year starting quarterback Ryan Lindley and standout running back Ronnie Hillman off to the NFL. Former Oregon State signal-caller Ryan Katz had the edge coming out of spring ball and is a virtual certainty to hold off Adam Dingwell for the starting gig. Katz brings experience and a strong arm but was inconsistent with the Beavers and was eventually supplanted as the starter. Dingwell has thrown only one career pass and is an unknown commodity.
Replacing Hillman’s 1,711 rushing yards won’t be easy, and it won’t be done by any one player. Adam Muema had some impressive moments when Hillman was injured last season and appears to be the frontrunner. Muema rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries last year vs. Boise State. Walter Kazee will be a factor if he recovers from a knee injury that ended his season in mid-November. Kazee had at least one carry of 10 yards or more in seven of the nine games he played in last season.
Tight end Gavin Escobar is one of the top players in the Mountain West. USC transfer Brice Butler will add to a receiver group that is led by Colin Lockett and Dylan Denso.
Center Alec Johnson and guard Nik Embernate head an offensive line that has some holes that need to be plugged. Brice Quigley moved from tight end to fill the left tackle spot.
The Aztecs’ success this season could very well hinge on a unit that is experienced in the back end and rebuilding up front. San Diego State also took a major hit at linebacker.
Leon McFadden is an elite cornerback who can lock down an opponent’s top receiver. Aztec safety Nat Berhe had a solid campaign last season and will be flanked by Gabe Lemon and Marcus Andrews in Rocky Long’s three-safety alignment. Cornerback Josh Wade is back after missing last season with an Achilles tendon injury.
Two-time first-team All-Mountain West middle linebacker Miles Burris will be tough to replace, but hard-nosed Jake Fely is back for his second season in the middle. Nick Tenhaeff and Rob Andrews will man the outside linebacker spots.
There are plenty of question marks on the defensive line. Ends Jordan Thomas, an eight-game starter last season, and talented sophomore Dontrell Onuha will be counted on to emerge as consistent performers.
San Diego State seeks to identify a new kicker and punter in fall camp, and it could end up being the same person filling both roles if incoming freshman Seamus McMorrow is up to the task. Replacing two-time All-Mountain West punter Brian Stahovich will be a chore, but it won’t be so difficult to move on from inconsistent kicker Abel Perez. Lockett is a solid kickoff returner.
San Diego State has failed to win a conference title in its 13 seasons in the Mountain West and won’t be expected to do so this fall in its final campaign before moving to the Big East. The goal this season is to play in a bowl game for the third straight year, something that has never happened during the program’s 43 seasons in the Division I ranks. For that to occur, Katz will have to play well at quarterback, Muema must emerge as threat at tailback, and the defense will have find some able replacements in some key spots.