First look at SDSU Aztecs football schedule

Credit: SDSU Athletics

Credit: GoAztecs

The San Diego State Aztecs 2021 football season features twelve games, the first four against non-conference opponents, while the remaining eight are against Mountain West Conference (MWC) rivals. ESPN ranks the Aztecs 2021 strength of schedule as 124th in the country, which is ninth out of the twelve MWC teams.

Here is a breakdown of the schedule. 

Non-Conference

The Aztecs start their season playing on each of the four Saturdays in September, three at home at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA, and one on the road in Tucson, AZ.

 

September 4th 

Team: New Mexico State Aggies

City: Las Cruces, NM

Conference: Independent 

2020 Record: 1-1 (Spring vs FCS)

Series Record Against SDSU: 1-10-1 (8 game losing streak)

Kickoff: 7:30 pm 

TV: CBS Sports Network

A replica SDSU jersey awaits the first 10,000 fans who make their way to Carson for the Aztecs’ season opener against the Aggies. This encounter will be a rematch from the Aztecs’ 31-10 victory against the Aggies on the road in the 2019 season. The Aztecs used a familiar formula to dominate that game: rush offense (281 yards) and big-play defense (four turnovers and seven sacks). 

The Aggies did not play their 2020 season due to COVID-19 but did play two exhibition games against FCS opponents in the spring. New Mexico State has become a haven for transfers from Power Five conferences, including players from Missouri, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, and Iowa State.

Player to Watch: O’Maury Samuels. The former Michigan Wolverine running back was a four-star recruit out of high school. He will be making his New Mexico State debut against the Aztecs. 

 

September 11th

Team: @ Arizona Wildcats

City: Tucson, AZ

Conference: Pac-12 

2020 Record: 0-5

Series Record Against SDSU: 10-5 (4 game winning streak)

Kickoff: 7 pm 

TV: Pac-12 Networks

This game will be the start of a home and home series between the two teams. Arizona will travel to San Diego to face the Aztecs to start the 2022 season and christen the new Aztec Stadium. The teams last met in 2001.

The Wildcats are not expected to contend for a Pac-12 title this season, coming off a twelve-game losing streak spanning the past two seasons and a new coach at the helm. They were selected to finish 6th (last) in the Pac-12 South Division in the 2021 Pac-12 Conference Media Preseason Poll. It is unclear who the starting QB will be for Arizona at the start of the season. 

Player to Watch: Michael Wiley. While not selected to the first or second team in the Media Preseason Poll, Wiley was named to the 2021 Preseason Doak Walker Award Watch List, the award given to the top running back in the country. The Aztecs’ defense will need to be ready and primed to shut down Wiley and force the Wildcats to beat them via the pass.

 

September 18th 

Team: Utah Utes

City: Salt Lake City, UT

Conference: Pac-12 

2020 Record: 3-2

Series Record Against SDSU: 17-12-1 (5 game winning streak)

Kickoff: 4 pm 

TV: CBS Sports Network

The second of two games against Pac-12 opponents will find SDSU hosting Utah, a Mountain West Conference mate prior to Utah’s transition to the Pac-12 in 2011, in this season’s “Blackout” game. In the last matchup between the teams, Utah won by a score of 38-34, when SDSU’s attempt to upset the 25th ranked Utes led by Ryan Lindley’s 528 yards and four touchdowns fell short. 

The Utes were selected to finish 2nd in the Pac-12 South Division in the 2021 Pac-12 Conference Media Preseason Poll, and several players, such as LB Devin Lloyd, DL Mike Tafua, and OL Nick Ford, were recognized by selection to the Preseason All-Conference First Team. The Utes return 19 starters from last year’s team.

This matchup will be the Aztecs’ most difficult non-conference game, and they will hope to utilize the home-field advantage to victory against a very talented team.  

Player to Watch: Charlie Brewer. The three-year starting QB at Baylor is a graduate transfer and has been named to several preseason national award watch lists and looks to propel this veteran team to a conference championship this season. Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in his career at Baylor. 

 

September 25th 

Team: Towson Tigers

City: Towson, MD

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (FCS) 

2020 Record: N/A (7-5 in 2019)

Series Record Against SDSU: N/A

Kickoff: 12:30 pm 

TV: Stadium (Streaming)

An SDSU hat awaits the first 10,000 fans who make their way to Carson for the Aztecs final non-conference matchup against a team it has never faced. Given the rare early afternoon kickoff time, those 10,000 fans will appreciate the hat giveaway. 

Towson will be the second non-conference opponent the Aztecs will face this season which had it’s 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19. Given a chance to play a six-game season in the spring, nearly 75% of Towson’s players voted against making up the season. 

NFL football fans will recognize the last name of the Tiger’s former QB, Tom Flacco, the younger brother of Joe Flacco, Super Bowl Champion with the Baltimore Ravens. Flacco was a two-year starter for the Tigers through the 2019 season and is now playing in the Canadian Football League. Several players will be vying to become the new starting QB for the Tigers in Fall camp. 

Player to Watch: D’Ago Hunter. The junior was named to the 2021 CAA Preseason All-Conference Team as kick returner. While small for his position (5’8, 160), he should see additional time on the field as a wide receiver or running back as the coaches look to utilize his speed on offense. 

 

Conference

The Aztecs bye week falls in between the non-conference and conference portions of the schedule. A departure from previous seasons where the week off fell in the middle of the season, SDSU will face MWC rivals for eight consecutive weeks, including two Friday night contests.

The eight-game conference schedule includes five games against division foes and three against teams from the Mountain Division. On paper, this year’s schedule is favorable to the Aztecs. They will host three of the four highest-ranked teams (Nevada, Boise State, and Fresno State) while playing on the road at San Jose State. In the 2021 MWC Media Preseason Poll released on July 21, Nevada and Boise State were picked to win their respective divisions. The Aztecs have a golden opportunity to defeat both teams at home. 

The three teams in the Mountain Division that the Aztecs are not scheduled to play in the regular season are Wyoming, Colorado State, and Utah State. They could potentially face one of these teams in the MWC Championship Game. 

 

October 9th

Team: New Mexico Lobos

City: Albuquerque, NM

2020 Record: 2-5

Series Record Against SDSU: 15-27 (7 game losing streak)

Kickoff: TBD 

TV: Fox Networks

This will be the first chance for the Aztecs to face their former head coach, Rocky Long, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Lobos. This one should be an emotional game for Long and the Aztecs veteran players he recruited to San Diego State. The teams have not met since the 2018 season. 

New Mexico looks to rebound from a difficult 2020 season in which they had to relocate and play games in Las Vegas due to COVID-19 restrictions in the state of New Mexico. Last season, the Lobos became the first team in FBS history to play an entire season without a home game or a game inside its home state. Following five losses to open the year, they finished the season strong, winning their last two games. 

With the restrictions easing, the Lobos have returned to utilizing their own facilities this season. The biggest question mark on their team will be who becomes the starting QB. The Lobos will have a slew of players vying for the starting position in fall camp, with no front runner identified at the moment. 

Player to Watch: Jerrick Reed II. The super senior safety was named to the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team and will help lead Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 defense. Reed, a First Team All-MWC performer in 2020, led the conference and was tied for eighth nationally with four interceptions.  

 

October 15th (Friday)

Team: @ San Jose State

City: San Jose, CA

2020 Record: 7-1

Series Record Against SDSU: 20-22-2  (1 game winning streak)

Kickoff: 7:30 pm 

TV: CBS Sports Network

The Aztecs’ first Friday game of the season finds them on the road against the defending MWC champions. The Spartans enjoyed a fantastic yet unexpected 2020 season, which included a victory over the Aztecs on the road and culminated in a victory over Boise State in the MWC Championship Game.  Before last season, the Aztecs had defeated the Spartans seven consecutive times. 

In last year’s game, the Aztecs offense outperformed the Spartans offense in most categories, including passing yards, and dominated the time of possession 36 min to 24 min, but three turnovers, including key fumbles by Carson Baker and Jordan Byrd, ultimately doomed the Aztecs in a 28-17 loss. 

The Spartans were selected to finish 2nd in the West Division behind Nevada and ahead of SDSU and have three defenders on the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team. For the Aztecs to have success in this matchup, their offensive line will need to do a great job blocking up front to open up running lanes for the Aztecs’ backs. 

Player to Watch: Cade Hall. The junior defensive lineman was selected as the 2021 MWC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and one of 35 players named to the 2021 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award Watch List. He was selected as a 2020 All-American after recording ten sacks and was named the MWC Championship Game Defensive MVP. His father, Rhett Hall, played defensive lineman for eight years in the NFL in the 1990s and won a Super Bowl with the 49ers. 

 

October 23rd

Team: @ Air Force Falcons

City: Colorado Springs, CO

2020 Record: 3-3

Series Record Against SDSU: 19-17 (8 game losing streak)

Kickoff: 4 pm

TV: CBS Sports Network

Although Air Force holds the edge in overall record, the Aztecs are currently on an 8 game winning streak, including the victory in the 2015 MWC Championship Game. This matchup will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2018. Air Force was picked to finish 3rd in the Mountain Division and did not have any players selected on the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team.  

Player to Watch: Demonte Meeks. The linebacker, who opted out of last season due to COVID-19, is back to play his senior season. In 2019, he was named Second Team All-Conference, and was a tackling machine, averaging eleven tackles per game in the last three regular-season games. The Falcons are very pleased to have him back to lead the defense in 2021. 

 

October 30th

Team: Fresno State Bulldogs

City: Fresno, CA

2020 Record: 3-3

Series Record Against SDSU: 25-30-4 (1 game losing streak)

Kickoff: 7:30 pm 

TV: CBS Sports Network

This season’s battle for the “Old Oil Can” Trophy will be played during SDSU’s Hall of Fame Weekend. This matchup will pit the two teams selected to finish 3rd and 4th in the West Division this season. While the Bulldogs were picked 4th behind the Aztecs, unlike SDSU, they did receive one 1st place vote. 

The Aztecs won the last matchup between these teams in 2019. Last season’s matchup was canceled due to COVID-19 contact tracing within the Bulldogs football program and was not rescheduled. 

The Bulldogs offense is returning almost all of its production from last year, which led the MWC in total offense. The Aztecs’ defense will have its hands full, slowing down the Bulldog’s weapons, and may need to rely on its offense to put up more points than usually required for victory. 

Player to Watch: Ronnie Rivers. The super senior running back, who was First Team All-Conference in 2020, is very likely to break all of Fresno State’s rushing records at some point during the upcoming season. He has been named on the Preseason Doak Walker and Maxwell Award Watch Lists. The Aztecs will have their hands full defending against this explosive and versatile back. 

 

November 6th

Team: @ Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

City: Honolulu, HI

2020 Record: 5-4

Series Record Against SDSU: 11-22-2 (1 game losing streak)

Kickoff: TBD

TV: Fox Networks

While the Aztecs have had great success against Hawaii in the past, the Rainbows were on a two-game winning streak until the Aztecs beat them 34-10 last season behind a dominant performance. Led by Greg Bell, SDSU rushed for 326 yards. Their defense recorded seven sacks and three turnovers, including a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown by Segun Olubi.

Hawaii hired former Arizona State Head Coach Todd Graham in January of last year. Known as an offensive genius, Graham’s impact on the program was hampered last season by the lost practice time due to COVID-19 restrictions. Hawaii was 78th in the country last year, averaging 384 yards per game.

The Rainbow Warriors had three players selected to the 2021 Preseason MWC All-Conference Team, including LB Darius Muasau and CB Cortez Davis. 

Player to Watch: Calvin Turner. The super senior hybrid running back/wide receiver was selected as a punt returner in the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team. Turner is an explosive player who can make plays as a rusher and receiver on offense in addition to his kick return prowess. After transferring from Jacksonville University, Turner led the Mountain West with 11 total touchdowns in 2020 and was named Second Team All-Conference at wide receiver in his first season at Hawaii. One of his eleven touchdowns last season came on a 75-yard catch and run against the Aztecs.  

 

November 13th

Team: Nevada Wolfpack

City: Reno, NV

2020 Record: 7-2

Series Record Against SDSU: 6-7 (3 game winning streak)

Kickoff: 7:30 pm 

TV: CBS Sports Network

This season’s Homecoming game is against the team picked to win the West Division and includes quarterback Carson Strong, the pick for 2021 MWC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Strong, who is flying up NFL Draft boards and projecting as a potential 1st round pick, looks to build on last season’s success and cement his 1st round draft pick status. In addition to Strong, wide receiver Romeo Doubs and tight end, Cole Turner also made the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team along with kicker Brandon Talton.

Last year’s matchup ended with a thrilling 26-21 victory for Nevada, in which the Aztecs offense scored all 21 of its points in the first half behind a strong performance by Lucas Johnson and held Nevada to its fewest points and total yards for the season up to that point. After a gift interception by Darren Hall deep in Nevada territory, the Aztecs offense failed to convert on a 1st and Goal opportunity from the four-yard line in the final seconds that would have won the game. 

The Aztecs will need to end their three-game losing streak against the Wolfpack if they plan to win the division and play in the MWC Championship Game. 

Player to Watch: Dom Peterson. On a team that is loaded on offense with the NFL caliber players mentioned above, this senior defensive tackle should not go unnoticed. Peterson is getting his own share of love from NFL Draft scouts and experts after collecting 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss in his career to date at Nevada. 

 

November 20th

Team: @ UNLV Rebels

City: Las Vegas, NV

2020 Record: 0-6

Series Record Against SDSU: 10-20 (2 game losing streak)

Kickoff: 7:30 pm 

TV: CBS Sports Network

In last season’s matchup, the Aztecs cruised to a 34-6 victory behind a dominant 287-yard rushing performance and a defense which recorded fourteen tackles for loss and five sacks.       

This year’s matchup will be the Aztecs’ first opportunity to play at Allegiant Stadium, the home of the Las Vegas Raiders, which will also host UNLV Football home games. After finishing 0-6 with an average loss margin of 20 points per game, UNLV did not receive much love at the MWC Media Days. They were picked to finish last in the West Division and did not have a player named to the All-Conference Team.

Player to Watch: Tyleek Collins. The senior wide receiver and kick returner is one of 57 players on the 2021 Paul Hornung Award Watch List, the award given to the most versatile player in the country. Collins will look to become a bigger factor in the offense this year as a receiver and rusher to go with his kick return abilities. 

 

November 26th (FRIDAY)

Team: Boise State Broncos

City: Boise, ID

2020 Record: 5-2

Series Record Against SDSU: 3-3 (1 game losing streak)

Kickoff: 9 am 

TV: CBS

The last game of the conference schedule is an early morning game on Friday after Thanksgiving against the team picked to win the Mountain Division. It is very possible that these two teams meet again the following week in the conference championship game. In addition to the Aztec Stadium mini replicas that will be handed out to the first 10,000 fans, this is a scheduled “Redout” game, encouraging Aztec fans in attendance to wear red. 

The Broncos will be looking to return to the MWC Championship Game to avenge their loss to the Spartans last year. They will do it with new coach Andy Avalos, who takes the reins after Bryan Harsin left to become the head coach at Auburn. 

The Broncos had four players named to the 2021 MWC Preseason All-Conference Team, including three on offense. 

Player to Watch: Khalil Shakir. The strongest positional unit for the Broncos is their receiving group, led by Shakir, an All-Conference performer. He looks to build on his great season last year, in which he made 52 catches with six touchdowns in only seven games. He is a speedster who can also make plays out of the backfield as a runner.

 

December 4th

MWC Championship Game

Kickoff: TBD

TV: Fox

The Aztecs hope to be playing in this game to have the opportunity to win their 22nd conference championship. The last time they participated in the title game was in 2016, when they beat Wyoming in Laramie 27-24 to win back-to-back conference championships. In the previous year, the Aztecs defeated Air Force at home, also by the score of 27-24. 

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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America's Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.

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