Brady Hoke's Aztecs are coming off a strong 12-2 season, and despite some personnel turnover, another trip to the Mountain West title game is within reach. San Diego State allowed only 19.8 points a game in '21, and the defense once again ranks among the best in the league with seven starters back - including end Keshawn Banks, linebacker Caden McDonald and safety Patrick McMorris. Virginia Tech transfer Braxton Burmeister is likely to start at quarterback, but Hoke and coordinator Jeff Hecklinski need to revamp a line with just two returning starters and must replace leading rusher Greg Bell. A trip to Fresno State on Oct. 29 is likely to decide the winner of the Mountain West's West Division in '22.
Previewing San Diego State's Offense for 2022
San Diego State will have a new starting quarterback for the fourth straight season. The difference this year is that it's a player with Power 5 starting experience in Virginia Tech graduate transfer Braxton Burmeister. The San Diego native returns home after starting all 12 regular-season games last year, passing for 1,960 yards with 14 TDs and four interceptions. Redshirt freshman Will Haskell has teased fans with his athleticism, and many are eager to see him in a starting role.
SDSU's reputation for its running game could take a backseat to its passing game for the first time in more than a decade. There is no 1,000-yard back returning for just the second time in a dozen seasons. That suggests the run game could be by committee, led by super seniors Chance Bell (341 yards, four TDs) and Jordan Byrd (246 yards, three TDs). A big back who bears watching is 220-pound redshirt freshman Jaylon Armstead. Also, USC transfer Kenan Christon joined the team in late May and will push for carries in the fall.
The quarterbacks will benefit from the presence of senior WR Jesse Matthews (57 catches, 642 yards, nine TDs), a former walk-on. Tyrell Shavers, a 6'6" senior transfer from Mississippi State, caught on late last season and should be a second go-to guy.
Previewing San Diego State's Defense for 2022
A unit that ranked 12th in total defense (324.4 ypg) and 17th in scoring defense (19.8 ppg) will be without Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Thomas — and could still be even better this season. Thomas left early for the 2022 NFL Draft, and three other starters graduated, but the Aztecs were bolstered by three defenders from the transfer portal.
Two of the transfers are brothers of Aztecs who will join them in the starting lineup, with senior Justus Tavai (a Hawaii transfer) joining Jonah Tavai on the defensive line and junior Cooper McDonald (Washington) joining Caden McDonald at linebacker.
Senior Patrick McMorris is a first-team All-MW safety who led the team with four interceptions, helping the Aztecs to a conference-high 17 picks. He leads a secondary that includes six players with starting experience.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2022
Previewing San Diego State's Specialists for 2022
Junior Jack Browning has the tall task of succeeding Ray Guy Award winner Matt Araiza, who departed early for the 2022 NFL Draft after setting a national record with a 51.2-yard punting average. Araiza also handled placekicking and kickoff duties, which Browning will assume as well. All-MW kick returner Jordan Byrd is a big-play threat.
Success could hinge on a revamped offensive line with three new starters. If the line is at least adequate, then the offense should be improved and take some pressure off the defense. No one expects SDSU to match last season's school-record 12 victories, but double-digit wins for the sixth time in seven full seasons wouldn't be a surprise. It will help being home again. After two seasons playing at Carson's Dignity Health Sports Park, SDSU's $310 million Snapdragon Stadium debuts with the Sept. 3 season opener against Arizona.