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2021 San Diego State Football Season Preview

Can the Aztecs right the ship after ending the year 1-3?

NCAA Football: Colorado State at San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Disclaimer: I won’t claim to know the ins and outs of the San Diego State football program, so I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge is limited, but it wasn’t intentional.

The Aztecs, like most teams last season, had an unpredictable and inconsistent year in 2020. They started off with two extremely convincing wins, scoring over 30 points and allowing under 10 in both games. Although they played UNLV and Utah State, so it may have been fools gold, and a close loss against San Jose State proved that the jury was still out on the Aztecs. They bounced back with a big win against Hawaii before dropping a nailbiter to Nevada. Following a canceled game that was supposed to be against Fresno State, San Diego State lost a game to Colorado, which was scheduled at the last minute. Then they closed out the year by beating Colorado State and then dropping the finale to BYU. It was almost a tale of two seasons for the Aztecs. They began the year 3-1, had a de facto bye when they weren’t able to play a game to the pandemic, and then dropped three of their final four games to go 4-4.

Looking ahead to 2021, SDSU looks to rebound. They are in the second year under coach Brady Hoke, and overall, should be more familiar with the offensive system. Also, they look to reload on defense (especially in the secondary) and hope to be healthier overall. Remember, in the West Division, there is always a chance to win.

Offense

Reason for Optimism: Heading into the 2021 football season, the Aztecs a bulk of their starting lineup from last season. The running back unit should be the team’s strength once again, with Greg Bell leading a group featuring Jordan Byrd and Chance Bell as well. The senior-heavy offensive line brings a wealth of experience and tight end Daniel Bellinger is as reliable as they come in both the run and passing game. They bring in two highly-rated transfers at QB and WR to instill life into the passing attack, plus have an incumbent deep-ball threat, Jesse Matthews.

Cause for Concern: The offensive line wasn’t quite a strength last season. Greg Bell is a big-time talent but was hurt last year. The passing game is always a huge question mark, and bringing in highly talented players won’t help that if they can’t execute within their scheme. Speaking of the offensive scheme, the transition to a spread offense may have hurt the effectiveness of their ground game, as they tried to do too much rather than continue with what worked.

Key Stat: 6. That is how many passing touchdowns the SDSU quarterbacks threw for last season, which was spread between three different quarterbacks. The inconsistency and ineffectiveness hampered the offense and made it too one-dimensional.

Wildcard: Tyrell Shavers. The wide receiver who transferred from Mississippi State. If he can carve out a role, he has the potential to transform the passing game, giving the Aztecs a legit #1 go-to wide receiver. He excels after the catch and is great in the open field. He can give the offense another look.

Defense

Reason for Optimism: The defensive line is the biggest strength on the defense for San Diego State. Cameron Thomas has been a bonafide stud the past two seasons and is in a prime position to do so again. The front six also has an all-conference level playmaker in Caden McDonald. The secondary is inexperienced but is reloading with the talented recruits from the past few classes.

Cause for Concern: The defense spends a lot of time on the field, thanks to the inconsistency of the offense. The linebacker unit was light on production last season, and it is unknown if they can take a step forward. The secondary was the strength of the defense last season, and they lost all of their key players. Almost all of the starters are inexperienced and untested.

Key Stat: 2. That was the number of defensive touchdowns the team scored last year. Granted, it was over a six-game period, but for a team with an offense that struggled, it puts more pressure on the defense to contribute to putting up points. That number will need to at least double if the defense wants to make its mark and aid the offense and add to the win column this season. There may be better stats, but it’s one that sticks out.

Wildcard: The biggest wildcard to the defense for San Diego State is their secondary. Will they reload or struggle? A player like Cedarious Barfield could emerge as the leader for the new group, or he could be exposed. Top recruits like CJ Baskerville, Noah Avinger, and New Zealand Williams could be talented enough to play and make an impact immediately, or they could struggle to adjust to the college game.

Schedule

Saturday, September 4th vs. New Mexico State

Saturday, September 11 @ Arizona

Saturday, September 18th vs. Utah

Saturday, September 25th vs. Towson

Saturday, October 2nd BYE

Saturday, October 9th vs. New Mexico*

Saturday, October 15th @ San Jose State*

Saturday, October 23rd @ Air Force*

Saturday, October 30th vs. Fresno State*

Saturday. November 6th @ Hawaii*

Friday, November 13th vs. Nevada*

Saturday, November 20th @ UNLV*

Saturday, November 26th vs. Boise State*

* denotes a conference game

Best Case Scenario: 9-3. The Aztecs go 3-1 in their out-of-conference schedule, splitting the two PAC1-12 games and taking care of business in the other two games. In conference play, they beat New Mexico, Fresno State, Hawaii, and UNLV handily and then go 2-2 against San Jose State, Air Force, Nevada, and Boise State. The offense becomes a major factor, and they don’t miss a beat on defense and special teams. SDSU wins the west and plays a competitive game in the conference championship.

Worst Case Scenario: 4-8. San Diego State goes 2-2 in their OOC games, losing to the PAC-12 teams and beating New Mexico State and Towson. They get run off the field against the four top of the league teams (San Jose State, Air Force, Nevada, and Boise State) and go .500 in their other four conference games.

What’s Probably Going to Happen: 7-5. The Aztecs look like world-beaters in their first and fourth OCC game but struggle to score against the PAC-12 teams. In conference play, they go 5-3. True to form, San Diego State will pull an upset against SJSU or Nevada to inspire confidence but will suffer a surprising defeat to Fresno State or Hawaii in the process. They make a bowl game with little issue.