SDSU, Boise State expected to make run in Mountain West
SAN DIEGO (AP) — One week after the NFL’s Chargers announced they were relocating to Los Angeles, San Diego State gave a five-year contract extension to coach Rocky Long, who said the Aztecs were more than up to the challenge of winning over the suddenly spurned fan base.
The best way, naturally, is to continue on the course Long has put them on.
The Aztecs are coming off consecutive 11-3 seasons that included Mountain West Conference championships and bowl victories.
They were ranked in the final poll for the first time, finishing at No. 25 in The Associated Press Top 25.
“I think we’ve got a really good team,” the 67-year-old Long said. “I think we’re going to play well and I think we’ve got a chance to win another conference championship.”
To do that, they’ll likely have to get past Boise State. The Aztecs didn’t face the Broncos the last two regular seasons or in the Mountain West title games.
SDSU was the unanimous pick to win the West Division again and the Broncos were picked to win the Mountain Division.
The Aztecs will host the Broncos on Oct. 14. They could very well meet again for the league title.
San Diego State returns only one starting offensive lineman, right guard Antonio Rosales, so the unit will have to quickly gel to open holes for Rashaad Penny, who replaces all-time NCAA rushing leader D.J. Pumphrey, and protect quarterback Christian Chapman. Penny, the two-time MWC postseason special teams player of the year, ran for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns last year behind Pumphrey, who gained a school-record 2,133 yards. Pumphrey set the FBS career rushing record with 6,405, passing former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne’s mark of 6,397 yards.
Hawaii was picked to finished second behind the Aztecs, based on a 7-7 finish and a victory against Middle Tennessee State in the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbows had losing records each of the previous five seasons. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai and defensive back Trayvon Henderson were picked to the preseason all-conference team.
Boise State returns eight starters, including quarterback Brett Rypien and receiver Cedrick Wilson, from a team that went 10-3 and lost to Baylor in the Cactus Bowl. The Broncos have reached double digits in victories twice in coach Bryan Harsin’s three seasons.
Colorado State has high expectations, and not just because of a new campus stadium. The Rams were picked to finish second in the Mountain Division, receiving six first-place votes and 135 points in the preseason poll, behind BSU’s 21 first-place votes and 161 points. The Rams return 13 starters, including quarterback Nick Stevens and receiver Michael Gallup. Although the Rams finished 7-6, they won four of their last five regular-seasons games, including embarrassing SDSU 63-31 in San Diego.
Although defending Mountain Division champion Wyoming is picked to finish third, the Cowboys have star power. Quarterback Josh Allen was named the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year while defensive back Andrew Wingard is the Defensive Player of the Year. Allen threw for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns and ran for 523 yards and seven TDs. Wingard had 131 total tackles. SDSU’s Penny is the Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, but his impact will come as the Aztecs’ featured back.
Jeff Tedford returns to Fresno State, where he played quarterback and once served as an assistant coach. He is a former head coach at Cal, where he twice was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year, and was Oregon’s offensive coordinator for four seasons.
Nevada’s Jay Norvell is in his first job as head coach, but he’s been an assistant in a BCS national championship game with Oklahoma and a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders.
San Jose State’s Brent Brennan also is in his first head coaching job. He was an assistant coach with the Spartans from 2005-2010.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Maybe Utah State’s Matt Wells, who is coming off consecutive losing seasons after posting winning records his first two years.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Boise State at San Diego State, Oct. 14; Air Force at Colorado State, Oct. 28; Boise State at Colorado State, Nov. 11;
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson