Today, we’re 85 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 85 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the San Diego State Aztecs.
The 2011 version of the Aztecs finished their 13-game slate with a solid 8-5 record which was capped off with a nail-biting 32-30 loss to the Louisiana-Layette Ragin’ Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl.
With a total of 12 starters (6 offense, 6 defense) returning this fall, the Aztecs should be in a position for a return bowl trip once again barring any unforeseen pitfalls.
There’s one obvious, glaring loss on the offensive side of the ball for the Aztecs: Ronnie Hillman. Hillman was one of the best running backs on campus since Marshall Faulk, and will leave a huge hole to be filled during the Aztecs’ 2012 campaign.
Losing long-time quarterback Ryan Lindley certainly won’t make things easier, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz will be available to play immediately this fall and should be an adequate, if not solid fill-in for Lindley.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will turn to Walter Kazee and a plethora of other unproven backs to make up for the lost yardage due to Hillman’s graduation. The wide receiving corps will be bolstered by the arrival of another transfer, Brice Butler, who once played sparingly at USC.
Along with Colin Lockett and Dylan Denso, Butler should help create some good throwing opportunities for Katz and help the Aztecs’ offense to stay on track as well as possible given there are only two starters returning from the 2011 offensive line.
With six starters returning from the 2011 Aztecs squad that gave up an average of 391.2 yards per game in 2011, the Aztecs have a solid foundation going into next season.
Head coach Rocky Long does lose five starters on the defensive line as well as linebacker Miles Burris who totaled 19.5 TFLs in 2011– better than three of the starting linemen combined.
Defensive ends Jordan Thomas and Dontrell Onuoha will be expected to carry the tempo on the Aztecs’ second-line of defense along with returning linebacker Vaness Harris who by most reports will be expected to make up for the production lost with the departure of Miles Burris.
The strength and depth at linebacker is augmented by an even more experience secondary. Josh Wade returns and should anchor the unit, and if redshirt freshman Darius Guillory can continue to step up, he should see significantly more playing time for the Aztecs this fall.
There are some uncertainties defensively for San Diego State, but if newcomers can step up and step in with confidence it could again be a very productive unit by the time Mountain West play rolls around at the end of September.
The Aztecs’ early-season schedule isn’t particularly daunting and should help them to get off to a quick start. A road game against the Washington Huskies– the toughest of the early slate– will likely end in a loss, but the next three games at Qualcomm Stadium are winnable.
Army, North Dakota, and San Jose State really shouldn’t pose much of a challenge, and a 3-1 start going into Mountain West Conference play is a strong possibility.
Once conference play starts, it’s anyone’s guess, but it would be hard to bet against an Aztec team that is starting to become accustomed to winning.