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San Diego State Football: 2018 Aztecs Preview and Prediction

Juwan Washington, San Diego State Football

Juwan Washington, San Diego State Football

San Diego State has been one of the top Group of 5 programs over the past three seasons thanks to the combination of a productive running game and stout defense. The formula won't change for Rocky Long's team this fall, although some of the key pieces will. The Aztecs may take a slight step backwards in 2018 but this team should remain a force in the Mountain West and could knock off another Power 5 team in the process.

Previewing San Diego State Football's Offense for 2018

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San Diego State Football/National College Football Magazine

The San Diego State rushing attack should again be one to be reckoned with as junior Juwan Washington ascends to the throne. Two seasons ago, Donnel Pumphrey finished his career as the NCAA's all-time leading rusher (6,405 yards), and last season Rashaad Penny posted the top rushing campaign in school history (nation-leading 2,248 yards along with 23 touchdowns). And just as there was little concern when Pumphrey moved on, there isn't any doubt among the San Diego State coaches that Washington will be up to the task of replacing Penny. He certainly displayed his talents while gaining 759 yards as a reserve last season.

The running attack will again be the primary method of producing points -- the Aztecs averaged 30.8 points in 2017 -- and will take pressure off an average passing game. Senior quarterback Christian Chapman is back for his third season as a starter, and he is noted more for his efficiency -- 35 career touchdown passes against 11 interceptions -- than throwing downfield darts. Chapman passed for fewer than 2,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.

Junior Fred Trevillion's 327 yards -- on 12 receptions -- rank as the most among the returning targets.

Left tackle Tyler Roemer and right guard Keith Ismael, both sophomores, headline another solid offensive line.

Previewing San Diego State Football's Defense for 2018

The Aztecs figure to again be a stingy unit after allowing 10 or fewer points on four occasions while ranking 21st nationally in scoring defense. They held Power 5 opponents Arizona State and Stanford to 20 and 17 points, respectively -- and won both games.

The secondary has an emerging star in safety Tariq Thompson, who intercepted five passes and garnered multiple Freshman All-America honors last season. Thompson and senior Parker Baldwin (76 tackles) are standouts in the unit's three-safety alignment.

Senior outside linebacker Ronley Lakalaka (team-best 82 tackles) underwent offseason shoulder surgery but will have recovered when fall camp arrives. Junior Kyahva Tezino (59 tackles) figures to take another step forward with his production.

Senior tackle Noble Hall provides strength up front; he tied for the team lead with 8.5 tackles for a loss last season. Senior end Chibu Onyeukwu had a team-high 4.5 sacks and could potentially double that this season.

Previewing San Diego State Football's Specialists for 2018

Senior placekicker John Baron II was 12-of-15 on field goals last season after setting a school record for made kicks (21) in 2016. He is also a big weapon in the field-position game, recording 33 touchbacks last season. Junior punter Brandon Heicklen doesn't always kick for distance, but 27 of his 59 punts resulted in fair catches. Washington again helps make up for the loss of Penny's kick-return prowess as he has a 26.1-yard average and three special teams scores over the past two seasons.

Final Analysis

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San Diego State is a stellar 32-9 over the past three seasons and once again figures to be among the best of the Group of 5 teams. The Aztecs have become a dominant force in the Mountain West -- they are 22-4 with two titles over the past three seasons -- and the yearly expectation under coach Rocky Long is that they will be in the mix for a conference title. Long's method of pounding the ball on the ground offensively and assaulting opponents with an opportunistic defense assures that the Aztecs will be in the hunt for their fourth consecutive season of 10 or more wins.

National Ranking: 44

MW West Prediction: 1

(Top photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson, SDSU Athletic Media Relations)