Tag Archives: San Diego State Aztecs

The Mountain West’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Mountain West has taken quite the fall from grace. Just ten years ago things looked great, as it was the dominant non-BCS conference. With TCU and Boise State challenging for BCS title appearances, and Utah and BYU very solid programs as well, there were years the MWC was better than some BCS conferences.

Now, Boise State is the only of those four teams still around, and even the Broncos have fallen back to the pack with former coach Chris Petersen now at Washington. It has left a less interesting conference, albeit one that is much more competitive. San Diego State ran away with it in 2015. Will that change this fall? Here are the ten games that will shape the Mountain West in 2016.

10. Fresno State @ Nebraska (Saturday, September 3)

Fresno State wasn’t very good last year, but Nebraska hasn’t exactly been dominating since joining the Big Ten, either. It’s a long shot, but the Bulldogs would earn the Mountain West a huge amount of respect if they can knock off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on the season’s opening weekend.

9. Utah State @ Boise State (Saturday, October 1)

The unfortunate Chuckie Keeton era is over at Utah State, but replacing him won’t be the Aggies biggest issue. Kent Myers played a good chunk of the season last year and finished with 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He’ll lead an offense with eight starters returning against Boise State in a game between two teams competing for a conference title bid.

8. Nevada @ San Jose State (Saturday, October 15)

These were the only two teams besides San Diego State to even finish .500 in their division last year. The winner of this one will later play the Aztecs with a spot in the conference championship game likely on the line.

7. San Diego State @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, September 17)

Northern Illinois has been the class of the MAC recently, and San Diego State rolled through the Mountain West last year. It may not mean much to most of the country, but this game is for bragging rights over the strength of Group of Five conferences.

6. Boise State @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 24)

Boise State, playing its second consecutive Pac-12 team, gets a bye before this one. The Broncos might be favored and will look for a win to provide the team some momentum and confidence heading into its conference slate.

5. California @ San Diego State (Saturday, September 10)

This is one of the bigger non-conference games among Mountain West teams. The Aztecs will bring in the nation’s second-longest winning streak and look to avenge last year’s 35-7 loss to Cal. It will be much easier with departed Cal quarterback Jared Goff playing on Sundays.

4. Washington State @ Boise State (Saturday, September 10)

Boise State hasn’t been the same team in the past few years that it was when Chris Petersen had them rolling, but the Broncos should improve from their four losses a year ago under third-year coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos knocked off the Washington Huskies last year and will look to do the same against the Huskies’ rival.

3. San Diego State @ Fresno State (Saturday, October 15)

This in-state battle for San Diego State is against one of the few teams to play them close in 2015. The Bulldogs played a close-ish 21-7 game against the Aztecs and now get them at home. With SDSU’s defense not as dominant as a year ago, Fresno could pull the upset.

2. Nevada @ Hawaii (Saturday, October 1)

Hawaii was pretty dreadful last year and didn’t notch a conference win. They return 17 starters this year though so that streak should end at some point. Will it here? If a Nevada team looking to compete for a conference title game spot overlooks the Warriors, they could be in for a long trip back from the islands.

1. San Diego State @ Nevada (Saturday, November 12)

San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last year, allowing just 90 points in eight conference games. Nevada should have a good offense, but its defense will have to improve after giving up 320 yards rushing to the Aztecs in this match-up last year.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Nathan Rupert

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.


We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.


I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.


Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?


Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs. Cincinnati

Question mark: Is San Diego State really any good?

I haven’t seen the Aztecs play.  I’m assuming you haven’t either.  They have a stout defense and they run the ball, but who’ve they played?  There were only two other teams in the Mountain West that finished with more than seven wins.  SDSU didn’t have to play Boise State and beat Air Force by a field goal in the conference championship.  Other than that, the Aztecs used a weak schedule to their advantage, beating up on mediocre conference opponents.  So, how good is San Diego State, really?

Game inside the game: Cincinnati air attack vs. San Diego State pass defense

Cincinnati’s offense ranks third in passing yards per game, which should shock you.  Normally, teams that chuck the ball around a lot do it with one quarterback.   Cincinnati, however, has been splitting time between Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore all season.  Unfortunately, personal reasons will keep Kiel from playing in the game, or even making the trip.  Hopefully, all that alternating throughout the season will pay off.  Moore will have to step in against a secondary that doesn’t allow much.  SDSU comes in giving up only 176 yards per game through the air.  With their starter out and their opponent shutting down what they do best, the Bearcats have their work cut out for them.

Player to watch: Donnel Pumphrey, running back, San Diego State

Pumphrey is a little guy at 5’9”, 180 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you.  This guy’s the real deal.  Pumphrey has accumulated 4,173 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career, as he wraps up his junior season.  The Aztec offense, which averages 235 yards on the ground, leans on Pumphrey like few other teams lean on their running back.  Since Cincinnati allows 190 yards rushing per game, Pumphrey is poised for a primetime performance.

X-factor: Turnover battle and time of possession

San Diego State leads the FBS with a +19 turnover margin and holds on to the ball for 32 minutes, 30 seconds, on average.  Obviously, winning the turnover battle and controlling the clock are two big parts of the Aztecs’ game.  If the Bearcats can take the ball away and hang on to it, they’ll be halfway to beating the Aztecs at their own game.

Prediction: San Diego State over Cincinnati, 28-20

Cincinnati is good enough to keep this close.  In the end though, everything working against them will outweigh the Bearcats’ solid play.

Cal Defense: Good As Advertised

Yes we’re only two games into the season, yet I don’t want to, but I’ve got to tip my hat to the Cal defense. The California Golden Bears (2-0) are atop the Pac 12 North and sporting a new-look defense that resides in the top 50 in the nation.  During the offseason and into spring ball, Cal’s defense was a huge question mark heading into the upcoming season. After two games, Cal’s defense has shown up and played the type of inspired football needed to help turn this program into serious contenders in the wide open Pac 12.

Make no never mind that Cal’s first two opponents were less than stellar competition. However, San Diego State posted a winning 7-6 record and earned a bowl bid last season. I say that to say this, it’s not so much the level of competition you are up against; it’s what you do to the level of competition you are up against. Through the first two games, Cal has only surrendered 21 points total and holding its opponents to 311 yards per game. If we’re speaking to Cal’s defense only, they are in the midst of a complete 180 degree turn around.

The most encouraging sign of this defensive shift is that there is no one player responsible for this turn of success. Although the defense has only amassed five sacks, the secondary already has six interceptions. It’s truly a collective defense getting the job done. A defense like this can be quite dangerous. Offenses cannot key in on a particular player; which means offenses have to plan for the entire defensive unit.

The most improvement thus far has come from the secondary. Like I said, the secondary has already picked off six passes through two games. That’s pretty impressive given Cal only picked off twelve passes the entire previous season.  What’s the secret? I’ll give you a hint. It involves eleven guys. That’s it! Team DEFENSE! Last season, Cal was plagued with injuries throughout the defensive line and secondary, which led to little cohesion and chemistry as a group. Although Cal has a new defensive coordinator this year, the X factors have been the players’ ability to remain healthy and a commitment to play team defense.

Next up for the Bears are the Texas Longhorns in Austin. Currently, Texas is in a serious state of flux. After putting a licking on Rice 42-28, they fired their Athletic Director– a mere matter of days later. I’m not sure what kind of affect it will have on the performance of the team, but I know it will have some effect on head coach Charlie Strong; which may indirectly have an affect the team. Not to mention, there’s been a change at quarterback (at least during that game). Tyrone Swoopes , was replaced by freshman, Jerrod Heard. Heard didn’t necessarily set the world ablaze throwing, but it was his running that gives me a little cause for concern. In ten carries, he amassed 96 yards. It’ll be the first time this season Cal will face a duel threat at quarterback. The phrase of the week for Cal’s defense should be,” do your job!” If Cal is able to create a decent to good pass rush, and can stick to Texas’ speedy receivers, Cal should fare well. Offensively, Cal should have a field day versus Texas. Despite the win, Texas was outgained in total yardage 462-277.

Even though it’s outlandishly early to start giving praise, but at the 1/6 mark of the season, Defensive Coordinator, Art Kaufman gets a A. His defense is ranked in the top 50 (49) in the nation. His secondary has half of last season’s interception total (12), and 1/3 of last season’s sack total (16). Because I am a realist, my praise is limited to the first two games only. When conference play begins, we’ll see how the defense holds up. Although it’ll be stiff competition, I’m confident the Bears will show up and turn heads. At this point, Cal is playing with house money, so it’s all the more reason for the defense to play pressure free.

Thus far, I’m pleased with Cal’s defensive effort. They play with confidence, aggression, and most of all, they’re playing with pride. All attributes aforementioned are incredibly contagious. It’s not just one player out there playing with moxy or swag; it’s the entire unit. As my old defensive coach used to tell us, “On defense, I better see eleven hats on the ball! If not, your asses will be runnin’ sidelines until the cows come home!” and he meant it! Looking back, it was a healthy, non-debilitating fear that allowed us to perform as well as we did. It was motivation. As much as we hated running sidelines after practice, we cherished the gang tackling of an opponent and pummeling them to oblivion.  I’m not sure if Cal’s defense is playing with some kind of incentive, but the gratification of being recognized as a worthy defensive unit, nationally, is well worth its weight in gold. And the Golden Bears are about to cash in.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @VirgoAssiassin.

The End of an Era: Brady Hoke

And so the end of the Brake Hoke regime has come and sooner than anyone would have expected it. The University of Michigan announced that head coach Brady Hoke would not be returning for next season. What seemed like a good fit between coach and school in 2010 has fallen apart, resulting in the firing of both former athletic director Dave Brandon and now head coach Brady Hoke.

Perhaps Hoke just wasn’t ready for this kind of spotlight just yet. His successes before were at Ball State and San Diego State, hardly household names outside of their respective areas. There was not nearly as much pressure to succeed nor the national scrutiny. At Ball State and San Diego, simply bringing in superior talent would be enough to win games in weaker conferences.

But we can’t pretend like Hoke just suddenly forgot how to coach. Even with slightly superior talent at his previous stops, that doesn’t guarantee 10-win seasons like he managed to produce. His first year at Michigan he won 11 games. That doesn’t just happen by accident. He also did it mostly with guys recruited by someone else for a different system. Hoke coached those kids to Michigan’s first bowl win since 2008 before starting to really bring in his own players.

That is one thing that Hoke did well in recruiting. No matter what his overall record might reflect, Brady Hoke was a hell of a recruiter. He brought in top-tier talent after talent, year after year. His recruiting classes were always highly ranked by both ESPN and Rivals. His teams at Michigan were never starved for talent.

That is also where Brady Hoke fell short. Despite bringing all this highly coveted talent, they did not develop. Very few players showed noticeable improvement while Hoke presided over the team. The much maligned quarterback Devin Gardner is the best example. A highly coveted player that had been brought in by Hoke’s predecessor, Gardner never really seemed to improve from year to year.  This is not all Hoke’s fault but since he is the man in charge, he takes the blame for it.

In a way, Gardner and Hoke’s careers are very similar to one another’s.

Brady Hoke and Devin Gardner
Brady Hoke and Devin Gardner

Each of them arrived in Ann Arbor with a lot of hype.  Gardner was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and Brady Hoke was being hyped as the second coming of legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler. Early on in their careers at Michigan, both of them lived up to the hype. After taking over for Denard Robinson halfway through 2012 and into the start of 2013, Gardner was putting up big stats. Hoke started his first season with 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl win. For Michigan fans, it was a dream come true.

Then things started sliding backwards. Gardner began to become prone to turnovers. Michigan began to lose. They went from 11 wins to 8, to 7 and finally to 5. Gardner’s stats continued to drop even to the point where he was benched for a game in favor of Shane Morris. Gardner’s health also began to deteriorate at the same rate as Michigan’s win totals.

However, there is one thing that cannot be taken away from Brady Hoke or Devin Gardner: they were both all about the team. Hoke always did his best to protect his player from the media, never blaming them for anything. He always put the blame on his own shoulders and the gave credit to the players for success. Devin Gardner’s commitment to the team can be demonstrated by his performance against Ohio State in 2013 when he gutted out a broken foot to lead the Wolverines to within a 2-point conversion of a win.

Although this is the end of his time here at the University of Michigan, this is not the end for Brady Hoke. The man will coach again somewhere, of that there is no doubt. He is simply too good of a recruiter to go unhired. Hoke may just need to go cut his teeth on a program that is less of a national focus but bigger than his previous teams. Perhaps somewhere like a Kentucky or a Virginia, someone in a Power 5 conference.

I, for one, will be a little sad to see Brady Hoke go. As far as coaches go he wasn’t the greatest but he was far, far from the worst. The one thing that everyone said about him was how good of a person he was. Players, the media, the administration and the fans all talked about what a good guy he was and that’s rare. Todd Graham of Arizona State is very poorly thought of, as is Nick Saban at Alabama. Hoke was a good ambassador for both the school and the sport and for that I thank him.

Brady Hoke was definitely out of time at Michigan but I was to remind fans of one thing: getting a better coach isn’t a sure thing. Things can get much, much worse.