As summer continues to heat up, the Rant Sports 100 in 100 series keeps rolling on. Today, we head out west to check in with the San Diego State Aztecs, who nearly jumped into the Big East next season but remained in the Mountain West Conference at the last minute. That should turn out to be a wise decision in the long run, but what do their fortunes look like in 2013?
They’re coming off a strong 2012 campaign in which they finished 9-4 (7-1 MWC) and won a share of the conference title. They found their rhythm during the season, winning their final seven regular season games to surge to that piece of the MWC championship, but some tough losses, including a 23-6 shellacking by the rival BYU Cougars in the Poinsettia Bowl have the Aztecs looking for more next season.
They will have to transition to a new starting quarterback to get that done, however. Ryan Katz is gone after an injury-filled senior season saw him play in just eight games. He completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,348 yards with 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Junior Adam Dingwell saw action in relief and struggled as he completed only 57.6 percent of his passes for 939 yards with eight touchdowns against seven interceptions. He will have to do better in 2013 to improve SDSU’s No. 107 ranked passing attack.
But the passing offense will be secondary for the Aztecs in 2013, just as it was in 2012. The star of this offense will be running back Adam Muema who had a breakout sophomore season. He rushed for 1,458 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground, breaking the 100-yard mark in seven games last season. He even broke the 200-yard mark twice, highlighted by a 255-yard, four-touchdown performance in the regular season finale against the Wyoming Cowboys. He will get his touches again in 2013 and could emerge as one of the best backs in college football.
SDSU will have a group of playmakers at linebacker who could be ready to step up into the national spotlight. Juniors Jake Fely and Derek Largent paced the team in 2012 with 13.5 sacks between them, led by Fely’s seven. The pair combined for 21 tackles for loss and 151 total tackles as they got all over the field to make plays. Largent even added a pair of interceptions to his stat line last season. They’ll be asked to step up even more in 2013 to create more negative plays to help their defense flourish.
They’ll have some help in the secondary with senior defensive back Eric Pinkins. Last season, Pinkins shared the team-lead with three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and will be asked to become a vocal leader of the secondary. He has the unenviable task of replacing Leon McFadden as the experienced leader of the defensive backs after McFadden closed out his SDSU career with three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
The Aztecs could face a difficult challenge breaking through to double-digit wins in 2013 thanks to a very difficult non-conference schedule. September 7, SDSU travels to the Horseshoe to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have their sights set on a national title and the talent to get there. Two weeks later, the Aztecs welcome the Oregon State Beavers to their home field as they try and knock off a Pac 12 contender who should be very strong in 2013.
Once they get into their conference schedule, the Aztecs catch some breaks. SDSU will get both the Fresno State Bulldogs and Boise State Broncos at home which should give them an edge against their MWC rivals but will have to avenge a loss from 2012 when they travel to take on the San Jose State Spartans. In all, their conference slate pans out very favorably for them, getting their most difficult opponents at home.
It will be challenging but the opportunity is there for San Diego State to improve on their nine-win total from 2012. Will they be able to put it all together and capitalize on that opportunity?