Note: For 11 straight days, I’ll post a brief team preview for each school in the Mountain West (except Boise State). I’m going in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the West Division.
SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS
Coach: Rocky Long
Record: 25-14 (three seasons), 90-83 overall (14 seasons)
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Last year: 8-5 overall, 6-2 MW
Last bowl: 2013 Famous Idaho Potato (W, 49-24 over Buffalo)
Returning starters: 6/4/2 (offense/defense/specialists)
Story line: The Aztecs are co-favorites in the West Division with Fresno State — not because they have an abundance of returning talent, but because of the grit they have shown in conference play. They have beaten Boise State each of the past two years and lost to Fresno State in overtime last year. Long expects a wild race in the West. “All you have to do is look at last year,” he said. “UNLV they beat the crap out of us last year. San Jose did they not beat Fresno last year?” Long worries that his team may get complacent after reaching four straight bowl games. He doesn’t have any players left who experienced the program when it was one of the Mountain West’s worst. “We’ve proven the way we run the program gives us a chance for success,” Long said. “ There were always people to remind them that we’re not guaranteed to be good that if we don’t keep the same attitude and keep working hard, there’s a chance we’ll be 2-10 again. We don’t have any of those guys in the program now. The guys in the program now have known nothing but success and nothing but bowl games. We’re at a critical point right now.”
Star player: Sophomore Donnel Pumphrey inherits the feature role vacated by Adam Muema, who rushed for 1,244 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Pumphrey was more productive on a per-carry basis. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns on less than half as many carries — finishing with 752 yards. Pumphrey, who is 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, also made 22 catches for 234 yards and two more scores.
Quotable: “That was totally a coach’s issue. As a head coach, I handled that game completely wrong. I had basically told them if we beat Boise we were in a bowl game. So we did, and so they figured they were in a bowl game and all of a sudden that game didn’t become quite as important.” — Long, on losing 45-19 to UNLV a week after beating Boise State
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