SDSU Aztecs 2016 Football Preview

Credit: SDSU

Credit: USA Today Sports
Credit: USA Today Sports

There hasn’t been much anticipation for SDSU Aztecs football in San Diego for quite some time.

The football team from San Diego State has been average year after year, with little to no support from the city for seemingly ever.

That all appears to be changing, as the team is poised to have one of the best seasons in recent memory. The Aztecs are currently ranked just outside the top 25 in the nation and could have easily been included on the prestigious list.

Their absence from the list will only motivate this group as they look for another conference championship. Coach Rocky Long will surely have this group ready to play as the team returns 14 starters from last year’s squad. That is fantastic, as this group will have a nice cohesiveness about them, and with that, the Aztecs should compete on the football field each and every week.

The team has not been ranked in the top 25 since November 7, 1995. Since becoming a Division-1 school, the Aztec football program has only spent 14 weeks in the top 25. That could all change this season, as the Aztecs will likely be favored to win every game on their schedule. A home matchup against Cal on September 10 will be their toughest test of the year and might be the only game in which the team will be an underdog going in.

Clearly, times have changed in regards to SDSU football.

There are even whispers of the Aztecs eventually joining the Pac-12. Something that seemed crazy not too long ago. The Pac-12 announced last month that they do plan on expanding, and SDSU is on the short list of possible schools. It remains to be seen if it is possible, but the growth of the school’s sports programs is phenomenal, and nothing seems out of the question at the moment.

The SDSU Aztecs Football team won the MWC conference in 2015 with a record of 11-3.

The team started last year by only winning one out of their first four games. It was gut-check time for the Aztecs, and they responded by winning ten games in a row to close out the season, including a win over Air Force in the Conference Championships and a victory over Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl. Their present schedule is not tough by any means, but they cannot afford to be complacent.

San Diego State Aztecs Schedule – 2016

Looking at this schedule, you will see that the Aztecs have a great chance to be very successful this year. All of the teams on their schedule are beatable, but with that, there is a certain amount of pressure. These division games will still be tough and one slip up on their schedule will result in their stock plummeting. The Aztecs must take each and every opponent one game and a time and not over look anyone. The team now has a bullseye on their back, and some of these weaker division teams would like nothing better than to knock off the Aztecs.

Let’s take an brief look at the SDSU Aztecs on both sides of the ball. Starting with the offense which is led by potential All-American D.J. Pumphrey.

Credit: AP Photo
Credit: AP Photo

Offense

The ball will go through the hands of the team’s best player, that is for sure. As D.J. Pumphrey will provide plenty of offense when he is given the rock.

The team has plenty of depth behind him as well as Juwan Washington and Rashaad Penny provide quality backups for the versatile running game. The team will look to take care of the ball on offense and not turn it over. That is their main goal as a unit. The team plays an old-school type of ball with short passes and a heavy running game. It is refreshing to see that type of play in this modern era of the game.

Let’s take a look at some of the key contributors on offense for the Aztecs:

D.J. Pumphrey- (RB)

As mentioned, the ball will be in this man’s hands a lot this season. Reports were that Pumphrey was really close to coming out last season and entering the NFL Draft. He would have surely been selected high, but he chose to remain in school and finish out his senior year. He has a real shot of finishing the season as one of the all-time best collegiate running backs ever. Pumphrey ran for 1,653 yards last season on 340 carries. He scored 17 touchdowns and is by far the focal point if the offense. I cannot stress that enough. At 5-9 and 180 lbs, he is not the biggest back, but he does run tough for his size. He is elusive and productive and everything you want out of a starting tailback. Expect a big year from this young man.

Christian Chapman- (QB)

The young quarterback established himself late last season as the team’s QB of the future. As a red-shirt freshman last year, he played in the first two games of the year for the Aztecs. He then sat for the next nine games in favor of a more veteran player. Maxwell Smith started for the Aztecs during that stretch, but he tore his ACL in the last regular season game of the year against Nevada. Chapman was forced into the starting role, and he performed well for the team. He took care of the ball, and that is what matters most with this offense. He finished the year 29-49 with 436 yards and two touchdowns versus one interception. He also rushed for 72 yards on 16 carries for the year. The Carlsbad High alum is described as accurate and could have a decent year as defensive coordinators try to stop the run. A quality spring has assured he will start the season behind center.

Juwan Washington- (RB/KR)

He red-shirted last season after tearing it up in high school. He rushed for more than 5,000 yards in high school and scored 75 touchdowns. He is third on the depth chart right now but could emerge fairly quickly if he progresses like most think he will. He will probably return kicks some, and it is there where you will see his elusiveness and quickness. He is hard to bring down and has a great motor. He could be the future running back for the Aztecs moving forward (after 2016). Expect the team to play him sparingly in the backfield as they assess where he is as far as his knowledge of the system.

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Rashaad Penny- (RB/KR)

The junior running back is second on the depth chart and gets a decent amount of touches as Pumphrey’s understudy. He has 1,292 all-purpose yards last year and will likely play a major role in the offensive scheme for the Aztecs. He returned 24 kicks for 804 yards last year and is extremely valuable to the team in the special teams department. He has three career returns for touchdowns and is always dangerous in the open field with the ball. He is very shifty and has top-end speed that could also transition to playing time on Sundays. The Aztecs are stacked at the running back position, and this unit will definitely do damage in the MWC.

Mikah Holder- (WR)

The Oceanside High product has emerged as the go-to wide receiver for the Aztecs. He played in all 14 games (11 started) last season as a sophomore and caught 24 balls for 439 yards and six touchdowns. I know the yards and receptions do not look impressive, but the Aztec system is run-heavy, so the passing numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. He has decent size at 6-0/180 lbs and has also returned punts for the team in the past. He returned six punts last season for 45 yards. He could be in store for a breakout as teams scheme to stop the run against the Aztecs. Watch him closely.

Arthur Flores- (C)

The 6-5/305 lb center did not play a single snap for the football team before the 2015 season. As a junior last season, he started the first game of the year and never looked back. He has really developed recently and the club is excited to have him return in the middle of the offensive line. The Denver, Colorado native is an early projected finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is given out to the Nation’s best centers. The growth from this young man is truly exciting, and he could be huge as the Aztecs attempt to pound the ball continuously at their opponent.

Nico Siragusa- (OG)

The anchor of the line who assisted in the Aztecs rushing for a school-record 3,266 yards last season. He is a Mater Dei High School alum and has a huge body and an even better form and technique. At 6-5/330 lbs, he is a beast on the line and has a bit of a nasty streak about him. He will not be pushed around, and he motivates his teammates to elevate their game to the next level. He has started 28 games for the Aztecs on the line and is the only lineman to have started a game on the line for the past three seasons. Siragusa is an early favorite for all MWC conference honors once again.

Credit: News Center SDSU
Credit: News Center SDSU

Defense

This is a tough defense to go against if you are an offensive-minded team. Kazee shuts down your best receiver while Barrett clogs up the running lanes, leaving the safeties and linebackers to run wild. The Aztecs defense finished fifth in the nation overall in defense last season. They were seventh against the run and seventh in scoring allowed. You will not have an easy day facing this defense.

Eight starters are returning on defense, and that leads you to believe that this unit can actually get better. If they can stay healthy, they have a great shot to be a top-10 defense in all of the nation.

The 10-game winning streak the team ended the season with was much to do with the defense and the pressure they put on the opposing team’s offense. In eight out of the 14 games the Aztecs played, the defense forced at least two turnovers. They attack, and they are always around the ball. Let’s take a quick look at some of the key contributors on the Aztecs defense as they look to repeat as MWC Champions.

Damonte Kazee- (DB)

The reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year is poised for another great season. Kazee is a shutdown type of corner, and he will surely be playing on Sundays next year around this time. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He has unfinished business and is focused on taking this Aztec team into history. He does not have great size at 5-foot-9, but opposing offensive coordinators stay away from his side of the field. He recorded eight interceptions last season and 5.5 tackles for loss. He leads the defensive secondary and is exciting to watch. Enjoy him, Aztec fans, because he will be gone soon and be on to bigger and better things.

Malik Smith- (S)

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Smith recorded 77 tackles last season and five interceptions while helping lead the much improved Aztecs secondary. He recorded 11 tackles in one game alone against South Alabama. He is not afraid to get his nose dirty, and he provides excellent leadership while on the field. He has been a three-year starter for the defense, and he is well aware of the positioning and schemes the Aztecs try to utilize.

Alex Barrett- (DL)

This young man recorded five and a half sacks last season and also intercepted two passes. The senior is always in the right place at the right time and is a very physical presence on the defensive line. He is 6-3 and 255 lbs and is extremely quick and agile for his size. He played defensive end last season last season a little bit for the Aztecs when they had an injury at the position. He will be a tackle to start the season and is very stout against the run.

Calvin Munson- (LB)

Led the Aztecs in tackles last season with 98 and also led the team in sacks with 9.5. He also returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He is an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and has a nose for the ball. Munson is a senior and is a sure-handed tackler. The big man is very athletic, as he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 31st round of the 2013 draft. He even pitched for the Aztecs baseball team in 2015. He will be all over the field on game day; you will notice him.

Kameron Kelly- (S)

An ultra-athletic talent, Kelly has found his way on the team in the safety position. He recorded 58 tackles (37 solo) last season for the Aztecs in 13 games started. He totaled three tackles for loss and defended three passes. He also contributed to the team by picking off two passes for the Aztecs secondary. The team has talented played all over the secondary and a very stout line. They will be a tough team to score points against. Kelly is a junior and could be poised for a breakout year. Keep an eye out for him.

Billy Vaughn- (DB)

A special teams monster, he had led the Aztecs in tackles (21) the past two seasons while on coverage during punts and kickoffs. He battled a knee injury early in camp but is well-positioned to resume duties with the first team. He looks to share the cornerback position opposite Kazee with Derek Babiash. Vaughn lost some valuable playing time last season because he violated team rules. He was suspended by the team and missed the first six of the 2015 season. The ability is there for this young man. He could be a candidate for a breakout season, as he has clearly matured. Or at least the Aztecs hope he has as they position themselves for a great 2016 season.

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