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  • Running back Donnel Pumphrey leads an upstart San Diego State side that could make a bid for a New Years Six bowl. The Aztecs check in at No. 24 in SI's 2016 college football preseason Top 25 rankings.
By The SI Staff
August 09, 2016

Team breakdown

Offense

Key returning starters: RB Donnel Pumphrey, G Nico Siragusa

Make no mistake about it, SDSU will run the ball until someone stops them. The skill positions are solid, but quarterback Christian Chapman must pose a threat in the passing game if the Aztecs want to make it to a New Year’s Six bowl game. 

Defense

Key returning starters: LB Calvin Munson, CB Damontae Kazee, S Malik Smith

The secondary is the team's strongest unit, with Kazee and Smith, both potential All-American candidates returning. The 4-2-5 defensive scheme will rely heavily on the linebacking corps, but they also have the potential to be outstanding. The defensive line has depth, but must replace two departing starters. 

Superlatives

Leader in rushing: Pumphrey. He will get his customary 300 carries as the workhouse again this season. 

Leader in receiving: Pumphrey. He'll be targeted as much as any receiver on the team.

Leader in sacks: Munson. The linebacker will be in the opponents backfield often, and should record double-digit sacks.

Leader in interceptions: Kazee. He's is a legitimate All-America candidate, who tied for second in nation with eight picks in 2015.

Opposing coach's take

“Think Stanford on offense. What they want to do is bludgeon people; you are going to see a lot of two-tight-end, two-back sets. It’s unusual, and teams have a hard time defending it. The passing game [led by sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman] is average at best, but it doesn’t need to be great, because the offense is in a lot of third-and-twos. They’ll try to con trol the clock and wear you down, so you have to be ready for a bar fight. The problem is running backs Donnel Pumphrey [a senior] and Rashaad Penny [a junior] are so good that they can take it to the house at any time.

Schematically, they are a little bit unusual on defense too with that 3-3-5. [Coach] Rocky Long has been running a version of it forever. The difference is, they are so physical and they play so fast, I don’t know if there is a team in America that pursues the ball better. Scheme counts for something, but what makes them great is the effort, the heart and the passion that they play with. There isn’t anyone on their defense that’s intimidating, but when the ball’s snapped, they fly around like you wouldn’t believe. I think San Diego State could be the Houston of this year.

Aaron Ontiveroz/Getty Images

X-factor

For the Aztecs to grow, at least one go-to receiver must emerge. While 6' 3", 205-pound junior Christian Cumberlander has the size and tools, the likelier candidate is 6-foot, 180-pound junior Mikah Holder, who pulled down 24 passes for 439 yards last year. He’s the team’s top returning receiver, but he needs to become more reliable.

Schedule

Date Opponent
Sept. 3 New Hampshire
Sept. 10 California
Sept. 17 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 1 at South Alabama
Oct. 8 UNLV
Oct. 14 at Fresno State
Oct. 21 San Jose State
Oct. 28 at Utah State
Nov. 5 Hawai'i
Nov. 12 at Nevada
Nov. 19 at Wyoming
Nov. 26 Colorado State

Top 25 rankings

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