SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego State is favored by seven points against California on Saturday night, an indication of how far the Aztecs have come under coach Rocky Long.
Now they need to follow through and beat the Golden Bears to extend their winning streak to 12 games and perhaps gain some strong national respect.
The Aztecs believe they have something special this year behind senior running back Donnel Pumphrey and senior cornerback Damontae Kazee.
This game is a big measuring stick for the Aztecs. They lost to Cal 35-7 at Berkeley a year ago in the first game of a three-game losing streak that put them at 1-3. They turned it around and won 10 straight, including the Mountain West Conference championship game against Air Force and the Hawaii Bowl against Cincinnati.
After opening with a 31-0 home victory against New Hampshire, the Aztecs face a Cal team led by senior quarterback Davis Webb. Webb threw for 441 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score in a 51-31 victory against Hawaii in Sydney, Australia.
Long doesn't see much difference in the two teams this year, even though Cal's Jared Goff has moved on to the Los Angeles Rams.
“The quarterback they have now is probably not going to be the first guy picked in the draft, but he's pretty darn good,” Long said. “They didn't take a step backward. I can promise you at quarterback, they didn't take a step backward. So what does that tell you? The two teams are the same teams that played a year ago, so that makes them 28-point favorites.”
Vegas sees it differently, but that's just Long being Long.
Webb expects a tough go against the SDSU defense. “That's one of the things that pops out, how much of a veteran group they do have in the back end,” he said. “So our receivers have a handful and we're looking forward to the challenge.”
Here are some things to look for when the Aztecs (1-0) host the Golden Bears (1-0):
HEISMAN HYPE: San Diego State students don't have a vote for the Heisman, but they're the ones with the best view of a 50-foot banner hanging from a residence hall that proclaims, “Pumphrey for Heisman.” The Aztecs hope that word — and images — of the banner can spread via social media. It hardly has the exposure of the $250,000 billboard Oregon placed near Madison Square Garden in New York to promote Joey Harrington in 2001. Pumphrey is the nation's active career rushing leader with 4,370 yards, ranking him 64th on the NCAA's all-time list. He ran for 98 yards in the Aztecs' 31-0 opening win against New Hampshire. Pumphrey needs 220 yards to pass Marshall Faulk (4,589 yards) on SDSU's career rushing list. Faulk finished second to Miami's Gino Torretta in the 1992 Heisman balloting.
JET LAGGED: After taking a 7,500-mile road trip to open the season against Hawaii in Australia, the Bears welcomed a week off at home to rest up for the rest of the season. The Bears practiced in full pads twice and had two light practice days last week before starting preparations for this week's game against the Aztecs.
“Our focus level really got tuned in coming back from Australia,” offensive lineman Chris Borrayo said. “After this bye week we really got focused back in.”
GO-TO RECEIVER: Webb didn't take long to find a favorite receiver after Cal lost its top six wideouts from a year ago. He completed 14 passes to Chad Hansen in the opener for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Hansen nearly equaled last year's season total of 19 catches and tied for the third best single-game mark in school history.
HEALTHY LINE: Cal expects to get a big boost on its offense when starting left tackle Aaron Cochran is expected to return this week. Cochran sprained his right knee in summer camp and missed the season opener. He will be needed this week against an Aztecs defense that is known for bringing exotic blitzes.
THE SERIES: The Golden Bears own a 4-3 series advantage. The home team has won all seven meetings. Cal has won the last two games, including last year and 42-37 on Sept. 14, 1996. The Bears are just the second Power 5 team to visit Qualcomm Stadium since Sept. 17, 2011, and just the third team from a current Power 5 school to play the Aztecs at home since Sept. 3, 2005.