San Diego State
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
MWC West Division PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 17-9 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Toledo | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long
Adam Dingwell all but saved San Diego State’s 2012 season after Ryan Katz was lost to an ankle injury in mid-October. Dingwell rallied the Aztecs to a dramatic overtime victory over Nevada and then became the first San Diego State quarterback since 1991 to win his first four career starts. Dingwell threw for eight touchdowns and was intercepted seven times.
Former UCLA coach Bob Toledo has been hired to run the Aztecs’ offense. One of his primary tasks will be to make Dingwell a more dangerous downfield passer. He only had 12 pass plays that went for 20-plus yards last season.
Running back Adam Muema rushed for 1,458 yards in 2012 — eighth-most in a single season in school history — and has an impressive 6.1 yards-per-carry average through his first two seasons. He is the only tailback with any experience.
Tight end Gavin Escobar departed for the NFL with a season of eligibility remaining after leading the Aztecs in receptions, yardage and receiving touchdowns. Escobar was the only player to catch more than 25 passes. There is pressure on the receiving corps to step up. Ezell Ruffin has the potential to do so after averaging 18.8 yards on his 17 catches last season.
Left tackle Bryce Quigley is the leader of the offensive line.
Coach Rocky Long runs the defense, and plenty of standouts are back from a unit that racked up 32 sacks, intercepted 14 passes — returning three for TDs — and set the tone for a nine-win season.
Hard-nosed middle linebacker Jake Fely is beginning his third season as a starter. He had a team-high seven sacks. Outside linebackers Derek Largent (6.5 sacks) and Nick Tenhaeff (13 tackles for a loss) also excel for the top linebacking unit in the Mountain West.
The back end is strong with safeties Nat Berhe (team-best 94 tackles) and Eric Pinkins (three interceptions) back in the team’s three-safety alignment. But the cornerbacks are questionable as the Aztecs must replace all-conference pick Leon McFadden, the team’s MVP last season. King Holder figures to start at one cornerback spot, and the hope is that talented but often-injured J.J. Whittaker will step up to man the other spot.
The defensive line returns all three starters in ends Jordan Thomas and Cody Galea and tackle Sam Meredith. Former starter Dontrell Onuoha also is around to fortify the depth at end.
Colin Lockett averaged 25.9 yards on 30 kickoff returns. He etched his name in San Diego State history forever, jumpstarting a road upset of Boise State by returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a score. Seamus McMorrow was adequate as the punter. Wes Feer is the favorite to handle the placekicking chores.
San Diego State has appeared in three consecutive bowl games for the first time in its history. And with the school finally deciding to remain in the Mountain West and rather than depart for the Big East, the opportunity is there for the program to position itself as the second-best program in the conference behind Boise State. Winning a share of the Mountain West crown last season earned Long a two-year contract extension through the 2017 season, and the belief is that bowl bids will continue to be the norm.
The Aztecs will again have a strong defense this season and one of the top running backs in the West in Muema. If Dingwell can again avoid mistakes, and one or two receivers can emerge as a consistent threat, San Diego State will again battle for the conference crown. Regardless, a fourth straight bowl appearance would seem to be well within reach.