Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 52: San Diego State
Coach: Rocky Long (17-9, entering fourth season at SDSU; 82-78 overall)
2012 record: 9-4 (7-1 in Mountain West Conference, tied for first in MWC)
Look back: With many holes to fill after a strong 2011 season, it was no surprise San Diego State got off to a sluggish 2-3 start in 2012. However, Rocky Long's team found its bearings and won seven consecutive games to close out the regular season. Thanks to a 39-38 overtime win at Nevada, the Aztecs tied for first place in the Mountain West standings. San Diego State faced BYU, pitting Long against his former defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall. The Aztecs faltered, losing 23-6 in the Poinsettia Bowl played in San Diego. Despite the bowl loss, it was one of the best seasons in school history. It was San Diego State's first conference championship since 1998 and first time the program played in a bowl three consecutive years.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 9
Defensive starters lost: 2
Key losses: QB Ryan Katz, Walter Kazee, TE Gavin Escobar, WR Brice Butler, CB Leon McFadden
Top returnees: RB Adam Muema, QB Adam Dingwell, WR Colin Lockett, DB Nat Berhe, LB Jake Fely, LB Derek Largent, DL Sam Meredith, OL Bryce Quigley
Strengths: Long faced the tough task of filling major roles on his roster, including that of four-year starting QB Ryan Lindley and record-setting RB Ronnie Hillman. Transfer QB Ryan Katz stepped into the starting role and was seamlessly replaced by Adam Dingwell, who won all four of his starts when Katz was sidelined due to an injury.
The team carries over far more talent from the highly successful 2012 season.
RB Adam Muema, who earned second team All-Mountain West honors last season, is back. He was second in the league with 1,458 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 237 carries. Muema became the ninth player in San Diego State history to record two 200-yard rushing performances during the same season, earning 202 rushing yards against San Jose State Sept. 22 and a career-high 255 rushing yards at Wyoming Nov. 24. DB Nat Berhe is the Mountain West's top returning tackler after racking up 94 total stops last season. Look for San Diego State's defense to continue its steady improvement during Long's tenure, returning nine starters who have had time to learn Long's unique attack.
Weaknesses: The Aztecs once again will be searching for a new starting quarterback. While Dingwell performed well when he was needed in 2012, junior college transfer Quinn Kaehler and Jake Bernards have challenged him for the top job. While Long has always fielded strong rushing teams that play aggressive defense, San Diego State still needs to improve its passing attack. The team ranked No. 103 nationally with 175.9 passing yards per game last season.
Outlook: The Aztecs' tough nonconference schedule, including games against Ohio State and Oregon State, should prepare them well for the Mountain West schedule.
Aug. 31 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 7 at Ohio State
Sept. 21 Oregon State
Sept. 28 at New Mexico St.
Oct. 4 Nevada
Oct. 10 at Air Force
Oct. 26 Fresno State
Nov. 2 New Mexico
Nov. 9 at San Jose State
Nov. 16 at Hawai‘i
Nov. 23 Boise State
Nov. 30 at UNLV
San Diego State Aztecs ranked No. 52 in Sentinel's preseason college football countdown
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