***** NCAA Football Preview - San Diego State Aztecs *****
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Assuming it would be their final season in the Mountain
West Conference, after agreeing to make the jump to the Big East Conference
(while it was still in existence), the San Diego State Aztecs were hoping to
make a significant splash in 2012 and for the most part that's exactly what
Under the direction of head coach Rocky Long in his second season with the
program, the Aztecs failed to get off on the right foot as they bowed to
Washington on the road in the opener, 21-12. Luckily, the team didn't obsess
over the setback instead returning to the field the following week and
demolishing Army in the home opener, 42-7. San Diego State, which had finished
8-5 a year earlier, didn't plan on having to fight hard against North Dakota
in the next outing, but the squad had to scramble just to pick up a 49-41
decision. Unfortunately, that close call signaled more trouble for the Aztecs
as they lost in back-to-back meetings against San Jose State and Fresno State.
The team managed to turn the corner following the wild 52-40 loss to the
Bulldogs by stringing together seven straight victories to close out the
regular season, but the run was not without some significant bumps in the
road. Most notable was the loss of starting quarterback Ryan Katz who went
down with a season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter of the Nevada
meeting. Thankfully, Adam Dingwell answered the bell by throwing three
touchdowns in Reno to help guide the visitors to a thrilling 39-38 overtime
triumph, won on a two-point conversion tossed by Dingwell by the way. The one-
time backup signal-caller went on to lead SDSU to expected wins over UNLV, Air
Force and Wyoming, not to mention a stunner at Boise State (21-19) where few
visitors have triumphed.
At 9-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play, the latter good for a tie for first
in the MWC standings, the Aztecs went to their second straight bowl game under
coach Long, but the result was still the same as the squad fell to former MWC
foe BYU by a score of 23-6 in the Poinsettia Bowl, held in San Diego as it
San Diego State excelled despite having a change at quarterback midway through
the campaign and the combination of Katz and Dingwell throwing for only 175.9
ypg anyway. Instead, it was the running duo of Adam Muema and Walter Kazee who
helped provide a large portion of the unit's 220.7 ypg on the ground, fourth-
best in the league and 20th in the country.
OFFENSE: With more than four decades of both playing and coaching experience
at the collegiate level, Bob Toledo is more than qualified to be a head coach
somewhere, but he has instead agreed to become the offensive coordinator for
"We are thrilled to add Coach Toledo to our staff," Long said in January. "He
has a great football mind and has done a fantastic job of developing offensive
talent. His knowledge of California football will only help our recruiting as
we continue to build our program here at San Diego State."
Toledo will deal with a bit of a mixed bag this year at SDSU, bringing back a
quarterback who had starting experience in Dingwell, but needing to refine the
signal-caller's decision making after he tossed almost as many interceptions
(seven) as touchdowns (eight) during his time under center.
The loss of several key receivers is also a concern. The squad didn't have one
top-flight pass catcher in 2012, but still it would have been nice to carry
over someone who had reeled in more than 20 passes. Colin Lockett is the top
returning receiver after pulling in 20 balls for 293 yards and three
touchdowns. Obviously there will be quite a bit of competition for open roster
The loss of Kazee (822 yards, eight TDs) will be tough to overcome and may
even place more of the burden on Muema, but the latter has already shown that
he can shoulder the load after running the ball 237 times for 1,458 yards and
a team-best 16 touchdowns a year ago.
I'd say he's very, very strong. He's extremely quick," Toledo says of Muema.
"He has good speed. We're going to find out because he's going to get a lot of
opportunities. Our tailback is the guy who's going to get the football."
DEFENSE: While Toledo takes over the offense for the Aztecs the defense, which
brings back as many as nine starters, will remain Long's baby.
Claiming the headlines early on for the unit is Nat Berhe who is the top
returning tackler for the program after recording 94 stops, en route to being
named to the All-MWC Second Team.
"The expectations are very high," says Berhe of the upcoming campaign. "With
all of the starters that are coming back and the seniors that control the back
end (of the secondary), the sky's the limit with this defense and I think we
know it. It's time to really prove ourselves as a top-10 defense."
While Berhe holds down the secondary with the help of Marcus Andrews and Eric
Pinkins (seven tackles for loss and three interceptions), Jake Fely should be
taking care of the action in the middle of the field from his linebacker
position after posting a team-high seven sacks and forcing a pair of fumbles
last year while being named to the All-MWC Second Team as well.
Providing support for Fely will again be Nick Tenhaeff and Derek Largent, the
former being responsible for a team-best 13 TFL, a large percentage of his 52
total tackles in 2012. Largent, credited with a team-high three fumble
recoveries, was second in sacks (6.5) and third in TFL (9.5).
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Aztecs need a new kicker for this year, after the loss of
Chance Marden who nailed 10-of-14 field goal attempts, with a long of 46 yards
in 2012. Now a senior, Wes Feer tops the depth chart at the position as of
early August, but still nothing is written in stone.
In fact, sophomore Seamus McMorrow is making a run for the spot as well, even
though he was the starting punter for the program as a freshman. Again, while
it is still early McMorrow, who averaged 41.7 yards per punt, with 13 of his
41 attempts landing inside the 20-yard line, might not even be the top choice
at punter either. Joel Alesi, who tallied six punts with a long of 56 yards
and had all but two go for a fair catch, has his eyes on the slot as well.
By virtue of averaging 25.9 yards per kick return and bringing back two for
touchdowns, Lockett has all but locked up the position again this year.
Although they need to boost their numbers during punt returns, after averaging
7.6 yards per opportunity in 2012, the Aztecs are ready to give the job to
senior Tim Vizzi once more.
OUTLOOK: Long says he can't dwell on the schedule, which may be a polite way
of saying he's not sure the Aztecs can keep up with Ohio State and Oregon
State, two programs that SDSU will face in September. Then again, the squad
should gain some level of confidence after taking on FCS foe Eastern Illinois
in the opener at home at the end of August.
While trying to get Dingwell up to speed, the Aztecs might be headed for a
bumpy ride from one week to the next in 2013. Inconsistency could be a key
phrase for SDSU this year as it goes from taking on New Mexico State on the
road, to hosting Nevada and then playing at Air Force. A tough home date
versus Fresno State is followed by a visit from New Mexico, Long's former
team, at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Aztecs close the regular season with a trip to UNLV, certainly a winnable
game, but it comes on the heels of hosting Boise State, a meeting that could
significantly sting the potential enthusiasm for coach Long and his crew.
08/23 09:21:24 ET