2011 San Diego State Preview
San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley
San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley
Posted May 16, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - San Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State Aztecs

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rocky Long
1st year
13th year overall: 65-69 
Ten Best San Diego State Players
1. QB Ryan Lindley, Sr.
2. RB Ronnie Hillman, Soph.
3. LB Miles Burris, Sr.
4. CB Leon McFadden, Jr.
5. LB Logan Ketchup, Sr.
6. P Brian Stahovich, Sr.
7. OT Tommie Draheim, Sr.
8. TE Gavin Escobar, Soph.
9. WR Dominique Sandifer, Jr.
10. C Alec Johnson, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Cal Poly
Sep. 10 at Army
Sep. 17 Washington State
Sep. 24 at Michigan
Oct. 8 TCU
Oct. 15 at Air Force
Oct. 29 Wyoming
Nov. 5 New Mexico
Nov. 12 at Colorado State
Nov. 19 Boise State
Nov. 26 at UNLV
Dec. 3 Fresno State

In 2008, Ball State came up with a special season. The offense ripped up everything in its path on the way to a 12-0 start, mostly because the offensive line that finished fourth in the nation in sacks allowed gave QB Nate Davis ten days to throw, and opened up ten-mile-wide holes for small, slippery running back MiQuale Lewis to fly through. The offense averaged close to 460 yards per game and everything worked, then head coach Brady Hoke parlayed the success into the San Diego State job. In 2009, Ball State finished 2-10, the offense finished 114th in the nation averaging 294 yards per game, and the line finished 93rd in the nation in sacks allowed.

In 2010, San Diego State came up with a special season. The offense ripped up everything in its path on the way to a 9-4 season, mostly because the offensive line that finished sixth in the nation in sacks allowed gave QB Ryan Lindley ten days to throw, and opened up ten-mile-wide holes for small, slippery running back Ronnie Hillman to fly through. The offense averaged close to 460 yards per game and everything worked, then head coach Brady Hoke parlayed the success into the Michigan job.

Will the Aztecs suffer the same fate as the Cardinals after losing Hoke, one of the rising stars in college football coaching?

Rocky Long is a veteran of the Mountain West wars, doing a good job of making New Mexico relevant. When he was dumped, the program fell off the map and became one of the worst in America, so in a bit of revisionist history, it's possible that Long really was more than a Point A-to-B coach who couldn't get a team over the hump; he might have been a great coach doing a phenomenal job in a tough situation. At least that's what San Diego State is hoping for.

Long did a great job as the Aztec defensive coordinator last year, taking the 3-3-5 alignment and making it work for an aggressive group that was among the best in the Mountain West at getting into the backfield. More than anything else, though, Long has to keep the momentum growing for a program that has long been seen as a sleeping giant because of its location, recruiting base, and because it's San Diego State, with all the perks that go along with it. The problem is that Hoke has only been the only coach to do jack-squat to rustle up the program. Before last year's 9-4 campaign, SDSU had 11 straight non-winning seasons going back to 1998 when it went 7-5.

Long has work to do with the top receivers gone and with a way-too-thin, literally, defensive front, but he has a superstar quarterback in Lindley, and star home-run hitting back in Hillman, and one of the Mountain West's best offensive lines. The defense has a star playmaker in outside linebacker Miles Burris, and the secondary is full of speed and quickness. Throw in one of the best kicking games in the country, and there are good parts to play around with. But Long has to be Hoke.

San Diego State doesn't just want to be decent; it's a program that wants to start winning Mountain West titles, and more, and become another Utah or TCU. Both of those programs parlayed a strong recent run of football success into BCS conference invites – Utah going to the Pac-12 and TCU off to the Big East next year – and if Long can keep cranking out big winning seasons, the sky's the limit for SDSU.

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. The offensive line is terrific, with four starters returning to one of the Mountain West's best front fives. Ryan Lindley is a backup NFL quarterback, and Ronnie Hillman is a 1,532-yard, 17-touchdown run back who can score from anywhere on the field. But everything about the offense clicked because of two receivers who stretched the field time and again with Vincent Brown, who was drafted by the Chargers, averaging 19.6 yards per grab with 69 catches and ten scores, and DeMarco Sampson, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, averaging 18.2 yards per catch with 67 catches and eight scores. Dominique Sandifer has the same type of talent as Brown and Sampson, but he has to prove he can produce and several other promising targets have to become playmakers.

What to watch for on defense: More of the 3-3-5. Rocky Long's unique defense might be a bit unconventional, but it works. It relies on speed and athleticism and all 11 positions, and while power running teams, at least in theory, should be able to pound away, it doesn't always work out that way. Now the alignment will be put to the test with major turnover up front and in the secondary. There's athleticism and there are plenty of good prospects, but it might take a little while for everything to jell.

The team will be far better if … the turnover margin can improve. Ryan Lindley might be a great quarterback, but he throws lots and lots of interceptions giving away 39 over his first three seasons. Fumbling wasn't an issue, losing just eight, but the defense didn't do its job. Considering the 3-3-5 is supposed to be disruptive and is supposed to come up with lots of big plays, it only forced 16 turnovers with mere six forced fumbles and only ten picks. The offense is going to be a little worse, and the defense isn't going to be as strong, so to have a shot at winning nine games again, the Aztecs have to own the turnover margin.

The schedule: Rocky Long's Aztecs have an interesting schedule, but a manageable one. An opening day game against a decent Cal Poly team should be a good tune up for non-conference games against Army and Washington State before the fascinating date at Michigan against former head coach Brady Hoke and the Wolverines. In conference play, the Aztecs have two showdown games in the middle of the year, but to start in Mountain West action for them, with the TCU battle before going to Air Force. There's a nice, cushy stretch against Wyoming and New Mexico at home before a trap date at Colorado State. Can SDSU avoid looking ahead to the home game against Boise State? That might be the key to the Mountain West season.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Ryan Lindley. At 6-4 and 220 pounds with a great arm and good poise, he'll be on the NFL radar if he can show he can make the passing game shine even though his two star targets, Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, are gone. He has thrown for 9.537 career yards with 67 touchdowns, and while he throws too many picks, giving away 39 so far, and he doesn't have too much in the way of mobility, but he's a top passer who's good enough to carry the offense at times all by himself.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Mile Burris. The 6-3, 235-pounder went from being a nice all-around linebacker to a devastating force into the backfield with a team-leading 80 tackles to go along with a 9.5 sacks and a whopping 20 tackles for loss. He's not a blazer, but he has a terrific burst from the outside and he could turn out to be the Mountain West's best linebacker. On a team that lacks a slew of sure-thing defensive playmakers, Burris is the leader and the star to work around.

Key player to a successful season: Junior WR Dominique Sandifer. There were some scouts who put Sandifer on the same level as Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson going into last year. While Sandfier is one of the team's fastest players and has tremendous skills, he only caught 23 passes for 263 yards and didn't score. He's a home run hitter who didn't hit any home runs, but that has to change for the Aztec offense to shine. The 6-0, 190-pounder has to be the deep threat that Brown and Sampson were, and he has to be consistent.

The season will be a success if … The Aztecs go back to a bowl game. There's no excuse to not come up with a winning season with winnable games against Cal Poly, Army, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado State, and UNLV to potentially form a nice base of wins. But for the good season to be great, a few upsets have to come, like over Fresno State at home or over Washington State. The Aztecs aren't going to be nearly as good as they were last year, but if they can go bowling again, it'll show that this might just be a rebuilding year and that things aren't going to fall off the map without Brady Hoke.

Key game: Oct. 8 vs. TCU. No, San Diego State isn't as good as it was in 2010, but TCU won't be, either. Coming off what'll be a much-ballyhooed game at Michigan, the Aztecs have to gear up for the Mountain West opener and make a statement right away at home against the mighty Horned Frogs. With a trip to Air Force to follow just five days later, a big upset could be a must to avoid a rough start to the conference slate.

2010 Fun Stats:
- San Diego State Scoring: 1st 100, 2nd 129, 3rd 106, 4th 120.
- Sacks: San Diego State 28 for 202 yards – Opponents 9 for 75 yards
- Third Down Conversions: San Diego State 80-of-172 (47%) – Opponents 71-of-204 (35%)

- 2011 San Diego State Preview | 2011 San Diego State Offense
- 2011 San Diego State Defense | 2011 San Diego State Depth Chart
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