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San Diego State Football: Aztecs can't seem to make the next step up the college football ladder

It seems as if whenever this program is ready to take the next big step forward, it takes the same sized step back.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Is it fair to call San Diego State -- a team that has made a school-record four straight bowl appearances -- complacent?

Yes, the Aztecs have set a standard since the hiring of Brady Hoke and Rocky Long that the team should reach a bowl game every season, but the bowl games that the Aztecs have played in (Poinsettia Bowl twice, New Orleans Bowl and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) are not the kind of bowl games that attract a whole lot of national attention, or attention from recruits.

It seems as if every time this program is ready to take the next step in becoming a powerhouse, they're halted.

For example, after last season's blowout win against Buffalo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, it looked like SDSU was on their way to something special with walk-on quarterback Quinn Kaehler leading the team to an 8-5 record, and a dynamic backfield consisting of Donnel Pumphrey and Adam Muema.

That vision of something special was short-lived when Muema jetted for the NFL, and most know how that story ended.

Even with the departure of Muema there was a lot of optimism for SDSU this season as it was returning Kaehler, Pumphrey, Ezell Ruffin and the defensive mind of head coach Rocky Long.

The Aztecs came out and stomped Northern Arizona University in the team's opening game, and were then given an opportunity to play a ranked power-five conference team on the road in North Carolina, on ESPN.

SDSU had control over the Tar Heels all game until they squandered a lead in the second half, and questionable play calling kept them from coming back.

Even after the devastating loss SDSU was able to rattle off three wins in the next five games, and it took control of first place in the West division of the Mountain West. The only thing standing in their way was a matchup against the University of Nevada, who the Aztecs had success against the past two seasons.

Well, the one player who's literally 'carried' the Aztecs all season, Pumphrey, had his worst game of the season, fumbling the ball twice and rushing for 86 yards and no touchdowns. The team spoiled a solid defensive effort, and lost to the Wolf Pack.

Now, sitting at (4-4, 3-2 MW) SDSU has a tough hill to climb, and will more than likely need to win out, along with Nevada losing a game or two, to have a chance at playing for the MW title.

Even if the Aztecs win out, they will be looking at another bowl appearance in the likes of the Poinsettia Bowl, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or New Orleans Bowl.

Long has been quite outspoken on the huge gap that exists between power-five conferences and non-power-five conferences. But what can the Aztecs do to address the unbalanced power in college football when it seems like every each of the last few years they've taken just as many steps back as they have forward.

By no means is the complacency of the program placed square in the cross-hairs of Long and the coaching staff. A lot has to do with external factors like injuries and the overall competitive balance in college football today.

There's a lot to still be excited with for SDSU. It has one of the most elusive and exciting running backs to watch in the country, a NFL-caliber receiver (Ruffin) and one of the more exotic defensive schemes in the NCAA.

What they don't have is hope. Hope that they will move on to bigger and better things, like play for an NCAA championship, or a bowl game that will command national media attention.

College football is sailing into a new era with the playoff system and the development of the power-five conference. It looks as if the boat is sailing away without SDSU.