SDSU Should Win MWC West This Season
So here’s a “not-way-too-early” prediction for the 2014-15 Mountain West Conference: the West Division will be a three-horse race between San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State. Nevada could be a wild card team with quarterback Cody Fajardo returning for his senior year, but Hawaii is a long way from its BCS-buster days in the mid-2000s and UNLV couldn’t ride the momentum of its program-best season and recruited poorly. The Rebels are also banned from 2014-15 postseason play for academic reasons.
Of those three contenders, the odds-on favorite would have to be the SDSU Aztecs for two simple reasons:
1. Fresno State and SJSU Lose Their Offensive Centerpieces
Let’s start with the Bulldogs. They lose 71.6 percent of their total offense to the 2014 NFL Draft. Yes, I’m talking about Derek Carr. And 1,718 of his 5,082 passing yards went to another NFL prospect, Davante Adams. The Bulldogs had two more 1,000-yard receivers last year, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper. Burse will graduate and Harper will return for his senior year, but he’s rehabbing from off-season core surgery. Starting running back Josh Quezada also returns for his senior year and could very well eclipse 1,000 yards this year. But man oh man, it’s tough to maintain the same level of success when you lose a significant chunk of what made you so good.
The Spartans also lose their dynamic quarterback-receiver duo: David Fales and Chandler Jones. Fales completed over 64 percent of his passes for 4,189 yards, and Jones caught 1,356 of those. SJSU does, however, return two stud freshmen: receiver Tyler Winston, who won MWC Freshman of the Year, and tight end Billy Freeman. It appears that Joe Gray, a freshman next year, will lead the Spartan offense. Can Winston and Freeman produce the same numbers with a freshman quarterback in the pocket?
SDSU is the only team that retains most of its offensive centerpieces: it loses Adam Muema, but Quinn Kaehler and top receiver Ezell Ruffin both return for their senior years. Kaehler accounted for 54.4 percent of SDSU’s total offense last year; he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 3,007 yards -- 1,136 of those to Ruffin. Look for their chemistry to continue to grow as they become a top quarterback-receiver unit in the conference.
2. SDSU Has the Best Defense of the Three
All three teams’ secondaries are below average at best. CBS Sports ranked San Diego State No. 93, San Jose State No. 82, and Fresno State No. 111 at the end of last year. Surprisingly, the three teams had defensive backs earn First Team All-MWC Honors, but SDSU’s and SJSU’s will graduate. Don’t expect any of these secondaries to make a quick turnaround.
SDSU and Fresno State had impressive run defenses, though. CBS Sports ranked SDSU No. 21 in this category, with Fresno State landing at No. 38 at the end of last season. The Aztecs return all but one player from that run-stifling unit: they return three senior linebackers and recruited JUCO transfer Pearce Slator (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) to immediately fill the one hole on defensive line. Two Aztec linebackers, Jake Fely and Derek Largent, struggled with injury last year—and the run defense still ranked 21st overall. Imagine what it could do with consistently healthy linebackers? The Bulldogs lose linebacker Patrick Su’a, but keep almost all of its run-stopping unit. Expect it to finish second to SDSU’s defensive, like this year.
Football can be extremely complex, full of intricacies that seem innumerable. But in the end, the winning equation is simple: good offense plus good defense equals a win nine times out of 10.
I never liked math, but it seems like SDSU has the best pieces for that winning equation.