The presumed start of the season is getting closer with each passing day and with it the arrival of fall camp. As each team heads towards organized practices to prepare for the season, we are going a bit meta this week. The question is what is the biggest question for each team as they enter fall camp? (Disclaimer: You can’t choose: will there be a football season. So I suppose it’s really what is the second biggest question for each team).
The biggest question for San Diego State football in 2020 is who will their starting quarterback be? The favorite is redshirt sophomore Carson Baker who saw limited action in 2019, but the dark horse for the position is Georgia Tech’s dual threat transfer Lucas Johnson. The offense is almost entirely intact from a year ago and has tremendous potential as long as the Aztecs can receive decent play from their QB.
Another question that must be answered is how will the linebacking corps impact the defense? Kyahva Tezino and Troy Cassidy have now departed and leave Andrew Aleki as the only returning LB with significant playing time last season. SDSU has some impressive incoming true freshmen at the position but they will need time to adapt to the D1-level and the defensive scheme. Even with these question marks, San Diego State football will be fun to watch in 2020.
For UNLV, there are a lot of questions surrounding the team in year one under Marcus Arroyo. But, the biggest question, as has been one of the biggest questions about the program for a while, is at starting quarterback. Who will their quarterback be when they play the 2020 season? Right now, it appears it is between Justin Rogers and Kenyon Oblad. Justin Rogers could add another dynamic to the Rebels’ offense if he is eligible to play this season after transferring from TCU. Oblad showed some flashes last year in eight games, but he was not consistent enough to show he deserved the starting job.
Things at the position got complicated when Armani Rogers elected to transfer from UNLV to Ohio University. If you look at UNLV the past few years, if they got a little bit more production at the quarterback position, they might have reached a bowl game or two and Tony Sanchez might still have his job. In the Mountain West, an elite or good quarterback can lift your team up above most in the conference, so if Arroyo can pick the right guy, UNLV could turn things around as a program. Another thing to look at UNLV is if these highly touted recruits Arroyo has brought in can produce. There are talented members on defense coming into UNLV, so good they appear to be playmakers that can elevate the Rebels on defense. If those recruits can pay off for UNLV, just like with quarterback, those recruits can turn the Rebel defense around.
I will be taking Utah State this week. This one is pretty easy, the biggest question for the Aggies has to be quarterback. As Wyoming learned a few years ago, first round quarterbacks don’t grow on trees. Jordan Love is a significant loss and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. A few weeks ago, it appeared as if Henry Colombi would be the clear starter. Well, things changed when the Aggies landed grad transfer Jason Shelley. Colombi has now decided to transfer to Texas Tech. Is Shelley the guy for the job? I’m not so sure, but Utah State may not have a choice.
The biggest question for New Mexico entering this season is just how good can they be? Many of the players on the 2020 team were a part of both a 3-9 campaign and a 2-10 season, and to top it off the Lobos were picked to finish last in the Mountain West by the media last week. We have seen before how Danny Gonzales and company can get the best out of players that everyone else isn’t high on, and Lobo fans should expect the same, starting with this season.
The roster is loaded with talent, speed, size and strength. Daevon Vigilant and Bryson Carroll and running back; Jordan Kress, Elijah Lilly and Jay Griffin at receiver; Marcus Williams at tight end, and I still haven’t gotten to the defense which will have the same aggressiveness that Lobo fans grew accustomed to during Rocky Long’s tenure as head coach. The schedule does appear, on paper, to be a daunting 11-games, but given the fact that Gonzales gets his players to play hard every snap, the question will be just how many of those 11 will the Lobos put in the win column.
A week ago, the biggest question for the Falcons was the defensive back positions other than Milton Bugg. Both safeties and their spur linebacker who acts as a fifth defensive back in passing situations have graduated, as well as their best “cover” cornerback. The safeties look fairly well covered by James Jones, who was a former starter who had to sit out a year for injury, and highly rated recruits Trey Taylor and Corvan Taylor. The second cornerback will be decided in the fall between several upperclassmen who have been on the team for a few years: David Eure, Demani Hansford, and brothers Elijah and Elisha Palm.
Of course, with the announcement of DJ Hammonds suspension, now the big question mark is quarterback. It’s not certain at this time if the suspension will last all season, but for now we have to assume it will. My previous posts have mentioned the three most likely replacements, Warren Bryan, Chance Stevenson, and Zach Larrier. I’m sure the winner of the competition will do a fine job, but the ability to distribute the ball widely and effectively was a Hammond strength, and the ability to see the field is important in the Falcon offense. If anyone thinks the Falcons will fall apart, keep in mind that last year the third string quarterback, Mike Schmidt, came in against Hawaii with virtually no previous playing time and produced 120 yards rushing with 3 TDs, and 147 yards passing with 1 TD. In 2013, the Falcons had four different quarterbacks with playing time due to injuries, and they produced a total of 693 yards rushing with 10 TDs and 1197 yards passing with 8 TDs. Hammond last year produced 553 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns and 1316 yards passing with 13 touchdowns. It’s true the 2013 team was a losing team, but that was largely due to a defense that gave up an average 490 yards per game and 40 points per game. A combination of average quarterback play and reasonably good defense can still produce a successful season.
I’ll go with San Jose State this week. They had a mildly successful season last year (or majorly successful compared to the previous two years). Now the question will be can they build or sustain it this season?
The Spartans lost a lot of seniors, including quarterback Jose Love who made their offense go. They still return almost all of their talented wide receivers plus a few running backs, so the talent is there at the skill positions. If Nick Starkel and/or Nick Nash can hold their own at the QB position, the cast of players around them can make the transition as smooth as possible. I’ll have my eye on SJSU and their offense this year.
The biggest question for Wyoming in 2020 is their defense. In the 2017 season, Wyoming ranked 23rd in Total Defense in the FBS. In 2018, Wyoming was even better, finishing 19th in Total Defense. At that point, Scottie Hazelton left Wyoming as defensive coordinator to go to Kansas State (has since been hired at Michigan State). In 2019, Wyoming took a slight step backwards, finishing 43rd in Total Defense. That was with Cassh Maluia & Logan Wilson leading the defense as seniors before they were drafted into the NFL this spring. Also, Wyoming is once again replacing their defensive coordinator since Jake Dickert went to Washington State to head the defense for Nick Rolovich. Dickert also took AJ Cooper (Defensive Run Game Coordinator & Defensive Ends Coach) & John Richardson (Cornerbacks Coach) with him to Washington State. As such, Wyoming has experienced some heavy turnover in their defensive coaching staff. Whether Wyoming can continue to field a strong defense going forward is the biggest question mark for a Cowboys team that has relied heavily on their defense in recent years.
For Nevada, I think the biggest question heading into fall camp is the offensive line: Has it improved? The group underwent major struggles last year, ranking as the eighth-worst offensive line in the nation per Pro Football Focus. They graded in the top-70 in terms of its pass-blocking grade, but allowed the 14th-most pressures and ranked as the fourth-worst run-blocking unit. The rushing attack averaged just 3.4 yards per carry — its lowest mark since 2000 — after averaging 4.6 in 2018. Nevada nearly doubled its sacks allowed in 2019 (33) than in 2018 (17). Bill Best enters as the program’s new offensive line coach after Angus McClure, who spent a total of three years with the Pack, departed for Cal. With all five starters on the line returning — led by tackles Miles Beach and Nate Brown — the offensive line, dubbed “The Union” by legendary Nevada coach Chris Ault, will have to undergo improvement if Nevada looks to compete for its first ever conference title.