The San Diego Aztecs have put together back-to-back winning seasons under two different coaches.. After finishing up the 2010 season 9-4 under Brady Hoke (left for Michigan), the Aztecs went 8-5 in the first year under Rocky Long.. They ended up in fourth place in the MWC at 4-3. The Aztecs had a chance to match’s 2010’s win total, but loss to Louisiana-Lafayette 30-32 in the New Orleans Bowl.
Long definitely benefitted from Hoke’s recruiting ability in his first year and he could have his hands full this time around as the Aztecs only have 12 starters returning from last season. They lost their two best players on offense and their three best players on defense.
San Deigo State averaged just under 30 points and 427 yards of total offense behind a well-balanced attack.. They put up an average of 184 rushing yards and 243 passing yards each time out. Unfortunately the offense loses the two players who were responsible for most of the sucess offensively.
Ryan Lindley departs after breaking almost all of SDSU’s passing records, as well as Max Hall’s career MWC record of 11,365 yards. His numbers, while obviously irreplaceable, will eased due to some nice experience at this position. QB Ryan Kantz’ decision to transfer from Oregon State makes Lindley’s departure bearable as they enter the new season.
Running back Ronnie Hillman left early for the NFL and sits third on the school’s all-time rushing list with 3,243 yards despite playing just two seasons. He is another player that is obviously irreplaceable as he posted nice numbers running for 1,711 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. Both sophomore RB Adam Muema and senior RB Walter Kazee will have a hard time to match Hillman’s individual production.
The biggest strength offensively is at receiver, where the Aztecs return their top three pass catchers from last season. Junior WR Colin Lockett, junior WR Dylan Denso and junior TE Gavin Escobar are all very good and capable players. Escobar earned first-team All-MWC honors last season and he has shown that he is definitely the best tight end in the MWC. USC transfer Brice Butler will start at receiver right away.
The offensive line loses three starters, including first-team All-MWC LT Tommie Draheim and third-team All-MWC RT Kurtis Gunther. They have two starters returning in second-team All-MWC C Alec Johnson and senior RG Nik Embernate. Junior LT Bryce Quigley moves to the O-line after previously playing at tight end. He gives them a total of 75 career starts returning up front.
While the offense got a lot of the credit last year, the defense held their own. The Aztecs allowed just 25 ppg on 391 yards of total offense.. The defense returns six starters, but loses three of its top four tacklers, and arguably their three best players on this side of the ball. It becomes almost a given that this team will struggle because of it.
The defensive line loses second-team All-MWC NT Jerome Long and third-team All-MWC DE Larry Gibbs. The unit returns just nine starters from last season, so they will definitely be an inexperienced bunch. Their only returning starter in this 3-3-5 scheme is junior DE Jordan Thomas. Moving into the starting lineup is a pair of sophomores up front in DT Sam Meredith and DE Cody Galea.
The Aztecs lose their best linebacker from a year ago in first-team All-MWC Miles Burris who left for the NFL during the offseason. But they should once again be solid as this unit returns its #3, #5 and #6 tacklers. These are junior AZTEC Nat Berhe, sophomore MLB Jake Feely and junior SLB Nick Tanhaeff.
The Aztecs also part ways with their best player in the secondary from a year ago in first team All-MWC CB Larry Parker. They do return three starters so they should still be good in 2012. Two-time first-team All-MWC senior CB Leon McFadden is the best of the bunch. Also coming back are junior safeties Gabe Lemon and Marcus Andrews.
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Mountain West Prediction – 6th Place
The Aztecs lose their two best players on offense in Lindley and Hillman. They also lose their best player along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. They may have some pieces coming back, but this team is definitely far less talented than they were a year ago. With the Aztecs having one of the toughest road schedules in the MWC, they will have little to no chance to finish in the top half of the Mountain West in 2012.
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