San Diego State 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Mountain West
2022 RECORD: 7-6 (Went to the Hawaii Bowl against Middle Tennessee and lost 25-23)
CONF. FINISH: 2nd place (5-3)
HEAD COACH: Brady Hoke enters his 5th year of his second stint at SDSU. He is 36-24 in this second span and 101-84 overall.
FIVE ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Jr./QB Jaylen Mayden (59.5%, 2,030 yards 12 TD's 10 Int's); Sr./TE Mark Redman (21 catches 233 yards and 2 TD's, 2022 1st Team All-MW); So./OG Cade Bennett (2nd Team All-MW); Jr./CB DezJohn Malone (39 Tackles, 5 pass breakups, 3 Int's, 3rd team All-MW); Sr./K/P Jack Browning (20-25 fg's longest 52 yards, avg 46.1 yards per punt, named 1st team All-MW as a punter).
THE NEWCOMER: Sr./DT Samuela Tuihalamaka 6'1 305lbs, (Oklahoma State transfer) Had 23 tackles and 4 tackles for loss. His athleticism and quickness make him an ideal fit in DC Kurt Mattix system.
The Aztec offense was slow to start last season. The running game took time to get going which is uncharacteristic of a San Diego State team. The Aztecs are 54-2 when rushing for more than 200 yards. This year the Aztecs will have more new faces than old names. The group will be led by Kenan Christon Jr., who in 13 games last season rushed for 261 yards. This year those numbers should increase by a large margin. The offensive line is full of sophomores and talented ones at that but it's still a learning curve at the beginning of the season.
There is a lot of optimism for the offense and also a lot of mystery with only six starters back. While the new offensive coordinator is a familiar name for San Diego State fans: Former Aztec QB Ryan Lindley. The question is what will his offense look like? Mayden does need to drop the interceptions if the Aztecs want to arrive at the MWC title game.
Defensively the Aztecs have eight starters back. The secondary will be the most feared. The safety portion is called "Warriors". They have two back in Cedarious Barfield a senior and Davaughn Celestine. They combined for 99 tackles, five pass breakups, and two interceptions. This group will be a no-fly zone in the Mountain West. With cornerbacks Dezjohn Malone, Noah Avenger, Dallas Branch along with Texas transfer JD Coffey, the secondary has great depth and guys that will make life difficult on opposing wide receivers. The defensive line lost a lot of names but added talented transfers like Samuela Tuihalamaka from Oklahoma State. Pair that with Tutu Alualu and this group will be able to neutralize opposing rushing attacks. They are going to have to find some new sack leaders as Michael Shawcroft and Jonah Tavai are gone. Both players combined for 17 sacks last season.
THE KEY GAME AND WHY
This is more about stretches. San Diego State opens conference play with Boise State and then plays Air Force the week after. This is a tough stretch, especially given the Aztecs non-conference opponents with MAC contenders Ohio, UCLA, and Oregon State. Playing two Pac-12 schools and then jumping into conference play with the top two preseason favorites is not an easy task. If Hoke's squad is thinking MWC title game, they have to be able to navigate injuries in non-conference play and then try to avoid an 0-2 start in conference play.
THE TOUGHEST GAME AND WHY
Nov. 16 at San Jose State. The Spartans battling the Aztecs. How things go early on in conference play may determine if the Aztecs stay in the Mountain West title game hunt. They have won nine out of the last 10 meetings against San Jose State. The last time the Aztecs lost to the Spartans was in 2020, a 28-17 loss. This is a challenging game because both teams are looking for a MWC title. With the talent amassed at San Jose State, this will be a critical matchup as both teams may be vying for a top spot in mid-November.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
The Aztecs are contenders in the Mountain West. The problem is their schedule — the schedule rotation did them no favors. They will see the top four contenders. SDSU opens with Air Force and Boise State, then will see San Jose State and Fresno State at the end of the season. This team at the very least will need to go 3-1 in those games to get the conference title game. If they are 2-2 or worse the Aztecs will not make the Conference title game.
The Aztecs are contenders no doubt. The question is are they better than the talent amassed at Boise State, San Jose State, Air Force, Fresno State? The Mountain West looks really competitive this season and there are five teams you could make a case for as MWC Champ. The Aztecs will be in the mix and an exciting team. They will fall to UCLA but will beat Oregon State in the non-conference, that's one prediction. Ultimately SDSU will be in the top half of the conference but will fall short of the title game and will be in a bowl game in 2023.
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