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CFN Preview 2013 - San Diego State Aztecs
Heres the deal. You cant say that Rocky Long is succeeding at San Diego State because of Brady Hoke if you dont also say that Brady Hoke is succeeding at Michigan because of Rich Rodriguez.
Long did a nice job of making New Mexico football relevant over his 11-year run, but his only nine-win season came in 2007 and he was canned at the end of 2008. And thats why it was a bit of a shocker when San Diego State came calling after losing Hoke following the 2010 season. All of a sudden, the Aztecs seemed like they were taking a step back and settling as they replaced one of the hottest head coaching prospects in all of football with an old retread who couldnt quite get his former Mountain West team over the hump. But Long is more than making the most of his second chance.
Hoke might have set the wheels in motion for a program that wasnt used to winning on a consistent basis, but Long is starting to adapt and adjust as needed with his brand of aggressive, hard-nosed defense to go along with an evolving offense thats finding ways to get the job done. Never able to get a Mountain West title with the Lobos, Long showed he really could produce with a share of the championship last season highlighted by a thrilling win at Boise State. Its not like the expectations are through the roof now, but all of a sudden, San Diego State is a big player in an improving and emerging conference.
The key going forward is Longs adaptability, and while hell still employ his 3-3-5 defense that somehow keeps high-octane offenses in check, hes changing up his offense a bit. Always about the big running game at New Mexico and now at SDSU, hell still keep banging the ball on the ground but hell start using the passing game more with offensive coordinator Bob Toledo looking to be the missing piece to take the team from great to consistently fantastic.
The D will once again shine with a loaded front six that should get into the backfield on a regular basis. The offense welcomes back running back Adam Muema and enough explosive playmakers to help quarterback Adam Dingwell become more effective and efficient, while the line should be terrific again at keeping the ground attack moving. And now, after the success of last season and with a relatively favorable schedule, Long has a chance to do even more.
Hoke might have provided the spark, but its Long whos cranking out the consistent winners. He has the horses to do it again.
What to watch for on offense: The Bob Toledo offense and more from the passing game. The Aztecs turned to running back Adam Muema more and more as the season went on, and while the passing game didnt totally disappear, it struggled to find its groove at times. This year, Toledo, the new offensive coordinator, will try to generate more downfield passing and look to get the wide receivers more involved. No team with Rocky Long as the head coach will ignore the ground game, but expect more of a pro-style attack and more from the quarterback lining up under center.
What to watch for on defense: Can the corners hold up against the better passing teams? The Rocky Long defense is terrific at getting into the backfield from all angles on the front six, but last year everyone who could throw the forward pass had few problems torching the Aztec secondary, even with all-star Leon McFadden at one corner. Hes gone and a new, smallish group of corners have to try to do more for a secondary that was roasted by Fresno State, San Jose State and Nevada. The 14 picks helped the cause, but there have to be more third down stops.
The team will be far better if the turnovers slow to a crawl. Giving the ball away 25 times on the year isnt all that bad, but the mistakes seemed to come at the worst possible times. In the four losses the Aztecs gave up the ball 15 times lowlighted by a five-turnover performance in the bowl loss to BYU meaning they turned it over just ten times in the other nine games. SDSU lives off a good, sound defense and a solid rushing offense; turnovers turn into killers for this team.
The schedule: Its challenging, but for a team coming off a big season and with huge dreams, itll be fun. Going to Ohio State and hosting Oregon State early on will show the Aztecs where they stand, and they might be just good enough and athletic enough to win either non-conference battle. While they catch a horrible break having to play Boise State from the Mountain division, at least the game is at home. However, its the last home game of the season having to go to San Jose State, Hawaii and UNLV in November. The two huge West games Fresno State and Nevada are each at home, and getting New Mexico from the Mountain is a positive, but there cant be any big mistakes. An upset loss could make it a challenging year down the stretch.
Best offensive player: Junior RB Adam Muema. Last year at this time the big concern was whether or not anyone could replace Ronnie Hillman, and Muema stepped in and did everything the offense needed rushing for 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns averaging 6.2 yards per carry. This coaching staff knows how to get the most out of its running backs, and Muema is just the type of tough, quick back who can exploit the hole and come up with the big play. Offensive coordinator Bob Toledo got huge numbers out of Matt Forte and his backs at Tulane, and he should be able to help Muema come up with a monster season.
Best defensive player: Junior LB Jake Fely. The Aztecs bring the heat from the linebacking corps using Derek Largent and Nick Tenhaeff to apply the pressure from the outside, but its Fely who gets the job done in the interior with safety size and excellent toughness in the interior. A great hitter who holds up well and with unlimited range, he gets to everything from his spot in the center of the 3-3-5 storm. Hell be one of the Mountain Wests top statistical stars.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Adam Dingwell. He was neck-and-neck for the starting job going into last season, but it wasnt until Ryan Katz went down that he got his chance to show what he could do. While he was at the helm when the team went on a great run over the second half of the season, he was also part of the reason the offense relied more on the ground game. He has to cut down on his picks and he has to start cranking out bigger plays to his wide receivers to open up the attack.
The season will be a success if the Aztecs win the Mountain West title. That might be a bit ambitious considering itll probably take two wins over Boise State to win the championship, but if they can get by Fresno State and just get to the conference title game the season will be a major step forward. Itll be important for the program to establish itself as one of the true stars of the newly-configured league, and with all the big games at home, it has to take advantage of the timing.
Key game: Oct. 26 vs. Fresno State. The schedule works out relatively well overall, but before the nasty finishing kick with three road games in November wrapped around the Boise State game, the Aztecs have to make their West statement against a loaded Fresno State team that might come into the game unbeaten. SDSU gets a week off after going to Air Force to prepare, and itll need to be ready