2012 San Diego St Preview - Keeping It Going
San Diego State C Alec Johnson
San Diego State C Alec Johnson
Posted May 24, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - San Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State Aztecs

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rocky Long
2nd year: 8-5
14th year overall: 73-74 
Ten Best San Diego State Players
1. CB Leon McFadden, Sr.
2. TE Gavin Escobar, Jr.
3. C Alec Johnson, Sr.
4. LB Jake Fely, Soph.
5. WR Colin Lockett, Jr.
6. S Nat Behre, Jr.
7. OG Nik Embernate, Sr.
8. WR Brice Butler, Sr.
9. RB Adam Muema, Soph.
10. CB Josh Wade, Sr.
2012 Schedule

Sep. 1 at Washington
Sep. 8 Army
Sep. 15 North Dakota
Sep. 22 San Jose State
Sep. 29 at Fresno State
Oct. 6 Hawaii
Oct. 13 Colorado State
Oct. 20 at Nevada
Oct. 27 UNLV
Nov. 3 at Boise State
Nov. 10 Air Force
Nov. 24 at Wyoming

To most, San Diego State going 8-5 will barely raise an eyebrow. After all, 8-5 is a mediocre record, especially considering the year ended with a bowl loss to a Sun Belt team.

But 8-5 is more than just 8-5. 8-5 signaled that the San Diego State program was able to go on even after a transfer of power.

Brady Hoke completed the monster turnaround of a program that didn't seem able to be turned around by going 9-4 in 2010, and Rocky Long came within a bomb of a field goal by Louisiana-Lafayette of going 9-4 in his first year. That was good, but another winning season and a bowl appearance would be even better.

Success has been a relatively new thing for the Aztecs over the last decade.

While they were solid in the late 1980s and dominant in the 1970s, before 2010 they hadn't had a winning season since 1998. Nothing seemed to work even with a slew of coaches with big names and nice résumés flowing through, but Hoke changed all of that and set the wheels in motion. Long might have inherited a good team, and he was able to fatten up by a schedule full of miserable teams – there was only one win over an FBS team, Air Force, that won more than four games – but after the 2000s the program will take a winning season any way it can get it.

This year's team has enough to keep the production going with Long trying to use the same formula. There will be plenty of athleticism, lots of promise and potential, and enough good pieces in place to push for a third straight winning season and make one more big splash before going off to the Big East.

San Diego State is about to join the show, even if it's about as far to the left side of the country as a Big East team can possibly be, so now it's about momentum. There's just enough rebuilding to be done to make a winning season a big deal as yet another step forward. It doesn't have to be an 8-5 season, but coming up with a positive record and going off to a third straight bowl game would get everyone excited about what might be coming when the program goes BCS.

There's work to be done in an offensive backfield that loses QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman, and the line has to come up with major replacements after a terrific year. There's a good base to build around up front, several options to try out at quarterback, and a great-looking veteran receiving corps to help make life easier for the new passers.

The defense has a strong secondary with a star in Leon McFadden to build around. The linebacking corps is full of athleticism and can swarm, while the undersized defensive line has the potential for a good rotation to get into the backfield on a regular basis. Rocky Long's defense always gets around the ball and always produces, and this one should be fine in time.

The weakness will be on special teams with one of the Mountain West's shakiest kicker situations with mediocre coverage teams and returners. The Aztecs will lose at least one game because they'll be worse on special teams, but the team should still be in for a strong season.

Will the Aztecs have enough in the bag to win a Mountain West title before taking off? Maybe not, but they should prove they're here to stay as a winner for the long haul.

What to watch for on offense: Can the receiving corps carry the attack? Former defensive back Colin Lockett turned into a terrific No. 1 target last season and a dangerous deep threat, while Gavin Escobar is among the best pass-catching tight ends in America. Dylan Denso and Ezell Ruffin are big, talented targets, but the real excitement is over Brice Butler, the USC transfer who lit things up this offseason and looks like a potential star. With the quarterback situation in a bit of flux – Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz and big Adam Dingwell are fighting it out – and with the running backs trying to get healthy, the receivers will bridge the gap.

What to watch for on defense: The smallish defensive line. It didn't seem to matter too much last year in the 3-3-5 alignment, but can the linebacker-sized front three hold up against the Washington and Army running games early on? Sam Meredith is a good pass rusher, but at 250 pounds he's hardly a big nose tackle and he's already banged up with a shoulder injury. 275-pound Kenny Galea'i qualifies as the beef up front and it's going to take a regular rotation to keep everyone fresh or else Jake Fely and the linebacking corps will have to do lots of cleaning up.

The team will be far better if … the secondary can hold up and stop a good passing game. Last year the Aztecs were able to beat Washington State despite getting lit up for 368 passing yards and three scores. That was it as far as coming through against teams that could throw. Michigan didn't throw on the Aztecs because it ran for 320 yards and four scores, but almost everyone else who could complete a forward pass ended up winning. San Diego State beat Army, Cal Poly, New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV when all six teams threw for under 150 yards. The Aztecs went 2-5 when allowing more.

The schedule: The Aztecs get the worst break in the conference by missing New Mexico, but the rest of the slate isn't all that bad. They're not better than Boise State or Nevada, so those two games might as well be on the road, while home dates against Hawaii, Colorado State, UNLV, and Wyoming are winnable. The non-conference slate is nice and breezy after starting out at Washington with Army, North Dakota, and San Jose State all coming to Qualcomm.

Best offensive player: Junior TE Gavin Escobar. At 6-6 and 245 pounds he's built a bit like a really big wide receiver, but he can be physical while also stretching the field. With 80 career catches for 1,103 yards and 11 scores, he's a dangerous weapon who can make plays as a deep threat or as a clutch midrange playmaker. He blew up late last year with eight catches for 113 yards and two scores against Boise State, and made six grabs for 125 yards against Fresno State. Now he'll be one of the key parts of a passing game and an offense that needs some reworking.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Leon McFadden. He wasn't the pick-off artist Larry Parker was, and he got toasted a little bit from time to time, but he's fast, talented and good at locking down on most No. 1 targets. Quick enough to be the team's top punt return option and physical enough to make 42 tackles, he can do a little of everything. He only made two interceptions last season and has five for his career, and it'll be tough to get more with most teams likely to stay away from him.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DT Sam Meredith. He won't have to do it alone, but the 6-4, 250-pound sophomore has to be a playmaker in the middle of the three man line to take the attention off the ends. He's not an anchor and he's not going to hold up against the blasting running teams, but he has to try to be disruptive and has to at least be decent when getting double teamed. While he'll be a part of a rotation, the more he can produce, the better.

The season will be a success if … the Aztecs win nine games for the second time in three seasons. The Mountain West might have improved by leaps and bounds with the addition of Nevada and Boise State, but both of those likely losses are on the road meaning the Aztecs are loaded up on winnable home dates. There's no reason to lose to Army, North Dakota, San Jose State, Colorado State and UNLV in Qualcomm to form a nice base of wins. Fresno State, Hawaii, and Wyoming are all beatable.

Key game: Sept. 29 at Fresno State. It's the Aztecs' first Mountain West road game and the lone trip outside of Southern California from September 8 to October 20th. If the they can beat the Bulldogs in Fresno, there's no reason to shoot for anything less than 6-1 before going on the road to face Nevada while being deep in the hunt for the Mountain West title.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 3rd Quarter Scoring: San Diego State 110 – Opponents 22
- Sacks: San Diego State 28 for 191 yards – Opponents 11 for 92 yards
- Penalties: Opponents 78 for 644 yards – San Diego State 60 for 534 yards
- 2012 San Diego State Preview | 2012 San Diego State Offense
- 2012 San Diego State Defense | 2012 San Diego State Depth Chart