In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
San Diego State Aztecs
2014 Record: 7-6 (5-3 in MWC)
Head Coach: Rocky Long (.522)
Returning Starters: 15/24 (7 OFF/7 DEF/1 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 74th
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 12 @ California
- Sept. 26 @ Penn State
- Oct. 3 v. Fresno State
- Oct. 23 v. Utah State
- Oct. 31 @ Colorado State
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE AZTECS
San Diego State is a program that feels like it should be far more dominant than it has been over the past 25 years. Despite the advantage of location in a talent-rich state and the offer of football just below the top tier of competition, the Aztecs have been unable to translate those advantages into anything more than a share of the 2012 MWC title in the last year before expansion allowed for a definitive championship game.
San Diego State has been good enough to go bowling each of the past five years, winning between seven and nine games every season in the process. What they have not been, yet, is good enough to sweep in and take the next step toward greatness. That could all change this season as the Aztecs prepare for a year where several statements are begging to be made in road encounters withPower Five competition, and they enjoy the benefits of being placed in the weaker of the two Mountain West divisions. SDSU enters the year on pace for a sixth straight bowl game, with a chance to make it the biggest postseason game in school history.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE AZTECS IN 2015
San Diego State is almost guaranteed to qualify for the Mountain West championship game by default, with Fresno State and Nevada serving as the closest of a quintet of distant challengers in the MWC West Division. After missing out on the championship game last year due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with Fresno State, the Aztecs should be able to take care of business in conference play well enough to reach that game. And as long as the dream of a conference crown remains alive, so too does the Access Bowl dream for any MWC team still in the hunt for league honors.
SDSU will be able to make a push for the league thanks to the return of seven starters and nearly three-quarters of the total tackles from a defense that ranked 28th in takeaways and 13th in points allowed in 2014. Calvin Munson, the junior linebacker named as the MWC preseason defensive player of the year by Athlon Sports, could have a big year after a jack-of-all-trades sophomore campaign where he intercepted four passes, forced two fumbles, hit the quarterback four times, and made 83 total tackles. Munson will lead a dangerous unit that will cause fits for opposing offenses all throughout the season.
WHAT COULD COST THE AZTECS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
While the MWC West is San Diego State’s for the taking, they also drew a tough assignment with Utah State, Colorado State, and Wyoming as their interdivisional opponents in conference play this season. The conference championship is still certain to go through the Mountain Division’s champion — most likely at the Smurf Turf of Boise State, given that a MWC Mountain title for the Aggies or Rams would also come thanks to victory at the expense of SDSU in the regular season. Wherever it is held, though, the championship game is almost certain to take place on the road for the Aztecs.
The fact that San Diego State also has to play on the road against ascendant California and Penn State teams also makes the margin for error that much smaller. Other mid-major conference champions are likely to have at least one Power Five victory on their resumes, making it that much more imperative that the Aztecs nab at least one game against the Golden Bears or Nittany Lions. Even if they manage to prevail in the Mountain West, the lack of a statement could also prove the undoing of the Aztecs in the selection committee beauty contest between Group of Five champs.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
The season opener against the Toreros of FCS San Diego is a near-guaranteed victory for the Aztecs, allowing them to get warmed up ahead of the trip to Berkeley the following weekend. With Cal on the rise, San Diego State will fall to 1-1 as they return south. The home game against South Alabama affords some opportunity to recover, and SDSU should be 2-1 ahead of the trip across the country to Happy Valley. The game will likely be a battle of defenses, and the Aztecs’ superior turnover margin could make the difference in a statement game. As a result, San Diego State enters October at 3-1 in the standings.
The new month opens with a chance to build conference momentum against Fresno State, Hawaii, and San Jose State. Wins in all three of those contests are entirely possible and worth expecting. The last two games of the month will make or break the Aztecs as they play Utah State and Colorado State on the 24th and on Halloween. A split is the most likely result there, with San Diego State rounding into the final month of the regular season with a 7-2 record that has them at 4-1 in league play.
Wyoming and the two Nevada schools complete the regular-season schedule. The Cowboys could cause a scare after expending so much effort on preparing for the Aggies and Rams at the end of the previous month, UNLV should be a walkover even with the game in Las Vegas, and Nevada might provide the biggest opportunity for a final defeat. Even then, a 9-3 record should be enough to get the Aztecs into the MWC championship game against Boise State. The 10th win of the season won’t come there, but it should arrive in a bowl game as the Aztecs win their second contest of the year in Sin City.
PREDICTED RECORD: 10-4 (6-2 in MWC)