Brady Hoke's second stint at San Diego State is headlined by one of the top Group of 5 defenses in the nation, but the offense will be a work in progress for 2020. The Aztecs finished 10-3 last season and will return seven starters off a defense that held teams to just 12.7 points a game. Offensively, new play-caller Jeff Hecklinski is tasked with finding a go-to running back and developing quarterback Carson Baker in his first full year as a starter. San Diego State's defense is good enough to carry it to a division title. However, with the offseason uncertainty and question marks on offense, a small regression off last year's win total seems likely.
Previewing San Diego State's Offense for 2020
There is plenty of work to be done for a unit that scored more than 30 points just once prior to its bowl game and ranked 112th in the nation in scoring. New offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski welcomes back six starters as he tries to give the Aztecs enough punch to take full advantage of what should be a strong defense. Sophomore quarterback Carson Baker was the unquestioned QB1 after the six spring practices San Diego State managed to get in, and graduate transfer Lucas Johnson will arrive this summer to give the position some depth. Baker went 19-for-24 for 172 yards and a touchdown in his lone significant action last season — a 13–3 win over BYU.
From 2010-17, San Diego State had at least one 1,200-yard rusher every season, but the position has dropped off the last two years. Speedy Jordan Byrd has a chance to restart the tradition, but his size (5'9", 170) may keep him from being a true workhorse. Nebraska transfer Greg Bell is a wild card who may have the most talent. Three quality pass catchers return in former walk-on Jesse Matthews, Kobe Smith and tight end Daniel Bellinger. The offensive line has three starters back, including William Dunkle, who dropped 30 pounds since he arrived as a freshman at 380 pounds. Center Dominic Gudino did not start in 2019 but has done so 14 times in his career.
Previewing San Diego State's Defense for 2020
Brady Hoke is moving from defensive line coach to head coach, but his influence will still be strong on the defensive side of the ball. Seven starters return from one of the top defenses in the nation, including five players who received some type of all-conference honors.
Two of the three defensive linemen who earned all-league honors are back. Sophomore Cameron Thomas was first-team All-MW, and he can move from DT to DE in the Aztecs’ 3-3-5 scheme. Keshawn Banks also returns at defensive end as a second-team All-MW after he recorded nine QB hurries and 4.5 sacks. Jonah Tavai should also get significant time as a typical run-stuffing DT.
Linebacker is the worry spot now that Kyahva Tezino has departed. Outside backers Andrew Aleki and Caden McDonald are back, but neither is the playmaker Tezino was. The five-man secondary returns three starters and three all-league selections. Corner Darren Hall will lock down his side of the field, while Cedarious Barfield replaces All-American Luq Barcoo on the other side. Field warrior safety Tariq Thompson will start for the fourth straight year, while the position of boundary warrior safety will be shared by Trenton Thompson and Tayler Hawkins. Dwayne Johnson Jr. plays the Aztec safety, which is a linebacker/safety combo.
Previewing San Diego State's Specialists for 2020
Sophomore Matt Araiza nailed 22-of-26 field goals last season, but he unfortunately missed one of his biggest in the final seconds at Hawaii in a 14–11 loss. Araiza is slated to handle punting duties as well, while the return game will be in the hands of veterans Byrd and Matthews.
The Aztecs can return to the MW championship game for the first time since 2016 if the offense finds some playmakers. The transition to Hoke should be smooth, the defense could be the league’s best and the Aztecs avoid Boise State and Air Force. An 11th straight bowl bid seems like a given.