The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 83 San Diego State.
Previewing San Diego State’s Offense for 2014:
Quarterback Quinn Kaehler underwent offseason elbow surgery on his throwing arm but is expected to be fully recovered well before fall camp. That’s a huge plus since he is San Diego State’s only proven commodity at quarterback and all but saved the squad’s 2013 season after replacing ineffective Adam Dingwell early in the campaign. Kaehler passed for 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns, and his efficient nature led to only nine interceptions in 389 attempts.
Kaehler has a big-time target to throw to in Ezell Ruffin, who emerged as a go-to receiver last season with 68 receptions for 1,136 yards. Eric Judge, who caught 13 passes in 2013, has the potential to develop into a solid receiving complement to Ruffin.
Two-time 1,000-yard running back Adam Muema surprisingly bypassed his senior campaign in favor of chasing an NFL roster spot, leaving scatback Donnel Pumphrey (10 total touchdowns as a freshman) as the most accomplished runner. But the 5'9", 170-pounder isn’t suited for heavy pounding, so the Aztecs will be hoping someone such as Chase Price or Dwayne Garrett can emerge as a between-the-tackles rusher.
Left tackle Terry Poole is the top offensive lineman.
Previewing San Diego State’s Defense for 2014:
San Diego State will be searching for reinforcements up front and in the back end but is well stocked at linebacker. Middle linebacker Jake Fely is one of the top defensive players in the Mountain West and is fully recovered from a foot injury that ended his 2013 season in late September. Josh Gavert played well in Fely’s place, but having the fiery leader back to team with outside linebacker Derek Largent gives the Aztecs a sturdy group in the center of the defense.
The toughest chore is replacing standout safeties Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins — the squad’s top two tacklers last season. Most of that will be hashed out in fall camp as Brandon Porter was the only player to secure a starting spot in the three-safety alignment during spring drills.
The defensive line will be deep, as tackle Sam Meredith and end Dontrell Onuoha are expected to be fully healthy after missing the spring, and former USC defensive tackle Christian Heyward figures to push for a role. J.J. Whittaker, who had three of the Aztecs’ eight interceptions in 2013, and Damontae Kazee are the starting cornerbacks.
Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists for 2014:
The placekicking was a disaster last season as departed Wes Feer and Seamus McMorrow combined to go 8-of-16 on field goals and missed six extra points. Coach Rocky Long moved to fix the issue by recruiting junior college kicker Donald Hageman and freshman John Baron II. The two kickers will compete for the job during fall camp with the more experienced Hageman holding an edge after going 19-of-20 at the junior college level last fall. Joel Alesi placed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line last season, and only 13 of his 53 punts were returned. He holds an edge over McMorrow for the job.
San Diego State is in a bit of a transition after losing 12 starters, but there is enough remaining talent to finish in the top half of the conference’s West Division. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and have proven to be a gritty squad under Long’s leadership. San Diego State didn’t collapse after an 0–3 start last season and ended up playing in four overtime games while rebounding to record at least eight victories for the fourth straight year.
That type of consistency — along with defeating conference power Boise State in back-to-back seasons — provides hope that the Aztecs will again win eight or more games and contend for the division crown.