MWC Preview: Fast Start Could Send Aztecs to Quality Bowl

Three of San Diego State's four nonconference opponents won at least nine games last season

Posted on July 23, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

Last season the Aztecs started out slow, opening 2-3 with a win over FCS Idaho State.

And they got things turned around, ending up in the Hawai’i Bowl, where they fell to Middle Tennessee by two.

I preview San Diego State’s upcoming season below with a quick look back at last season and an analysis of the offense, defense, and schedule.

San Diego State Aztecs Fast Facts

2022 Record: 7-6
Head Coach: Brady Hoke (36-24 at SDSU)
Offensive Coordinators: Ryan Lindley
Defensive Coordinator: Kurt Mattix
Home Stadium: Snapdragon Stadium (35,000), San Diego, CA
Last Conference Title: 2016, Mountain West

2022 in Review
San Diego State’s scoring splits in wins vs losses were dramatic. In the seven wins the Aztecs scored 26.4 while allowing 12.7 points per game.


In the six losses, the totals flipped to 15.7 points scored per game and 29.7 allowed. When things were clicking, they were definitely on, but when things were off it went south in a hurry.

The offense had issues in 2022. The passing game produced just 181.5 yards per game, ranking 117th in the nation.

Considering they were only averaging 66 yards passing per game after the first five games, that 181 does not look as bad.

The quarterback position was a mess for the first half of 2022, the change in production came when Jalen Mayden was moved from Safety back to QB. In his first game behind center, he threw for 322.

This season the job is Mayden’s from the opening kick after he passed for 2,030 yards in the last eight games of the season and 12 TDs.

He also had 10 passes end up in the hands of defenders, which will need to improve this season.

The Aztecs as a team ended up with a minus-5 turnover margin on the season, they will need to be better at keeping the ball this season.

Mekhi Shaw was the third-leading receiver last season and is the top returnee. He should be a deep threat and stretch the field. Last season the Aztecs ranked 99th in the nation with just 13 pass plays of 30+ yards.

SDSU tight end Mark Redman | @aztecFB via Twitter

If he can supply deep plays, it will open things up underneath for the likes of Raphael Williams to operate.

Perhaps the biggest weapon in the passing game will be TE Mark Redman, an All-Conference talent. The Aztecs will need to get the ball into Redman’s hands as much as possible.

Ryan Lindley takes over as the new Offensive Coordinator and he certainly knows the QB position and will get the passing game working.

San Diego State has had a 1,000-yard runner in 10 of the last 13 seasons. Last season they did not. They averaged 3.96 yards per carry. Jordan Byrd was the leading rusher in 2022 with 390 yards, he is gone this season.

Aztec RB Jaylon Armstead | Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State

That total of 390 was the lowest to lead the Aztecs since 2000. The bulk of the load this season will be handled by Jaylon Armstead and Kenan Christon.

Armstead ran for 313 and 6.0 per carry. Christon should be the starter and see the bulk of the carries early on.

Whoever runs the ball will need to get some help from the line. The unit was not good in pass protection last year and allowed way too many TFLs.

Christon lost 55 yards rushing last season. Cade Bennett is a star at guard and this season he should have some better pieces surrounding him. This should be a much-improved unit, and it needs to be.

The defense was good in 2022, ranking 16th nationally, but still had a few rough spots.

They could not slow down the rushing attacks of Boise State and Air Force as the two teams combined to run for 587 yards against them.

Against Fresno State, it was the pass defense that did them in, allowing 394 through the air.

This should once again be a solid unit. The front of the 3-4 set will be completely new and what the line lacks in size they will make up for in speed.

Garrett Fountain and Dominic Oliver should slide into the two ends. Fountain should produce a lot of pressure and make plays in the backfield.

Aztec LB Cooper McDonald | SDSU Athletics

The linebackers could be the strength of the defense. Cooper McDonald will be a star on the outside.

The former Washington player ended last season with a couple of sacks, five TFLs, and eight QB hurries while splitting time as a starter and backup. He also has good coverage skills and active hands against the pass.

Cody Moon comes to the Aztecs from New Mexico and could be an All-Conference performer playing opposite McDonald. Moon had 105 tackles and 9.5 TFLs for the Lobos last season.

That is quite the OLB duo that the Aztecs will run out there.

Transfer LB Cody Moon | SDSU Athletics

Zyrus Fisseu was another part-time starter in 2022 but should see the bulk of time at MLB in 2023. Vaai Kaho and DJ Herman will also provide depth in the MLB rotation.

The secondary lost Patrick McMorris to Cal in the transfer portal but returns plenty of talent.

Dez Malone will be good at one corner with Noah Avinger on the other side. Cedarious Barfield has a nose for the ball and just makes plays. He will be in on a lot of plays.

Davaughn Celestine, a former walk-on, will join Barfield at the safety spot. Malone and Barfield both have the potential to earn All-Conference nods.

Jack Browning is a weapon for the Aztecs with his leg, both as a punter and kicker. He was 20-25 on FGs with a long of 52 while averaging 46.2 yards per punt in 2022.

2023 San Diego State Football Schedule

Aug 26 vs Ohio
Sept 2 vs Idaho State
Sept 9 vs UCLA
Sept 16 at Oregon State
Sept 22 vs Boise State
Sept 30 at Air Force
Oct 14 at Hawai’i
Oct 21 vs Nevada
Nov 4 vs Utah State
Nov 11 at Colorado State
Nov 18 at San Jose State
Nov 25 vs Fresno State

Three of the four nonconference opponents won at least nine games in 2022 in Ohio, UCLA, and Oregon State.

The good news is two of those three are at Snapdragon Stadium with the only road trip to Oregon State.

The Aztecs have just one win over UCLA in 23 meetings, but since 2016, San Diego State has collected six wins over Pac-12 opponents.

Ohio was a 10-win team in 2022 and will be a tough opener in Week 0.

The entire opening stretch ahead of their first bye week is brutal. Following the non-cons, the Aztecs open MW play with a visit from Boise State and a trip to Air Force.

There is a chance the record might not look really good at this point. Brady Hoke and the staff could have a challenge keeping this team together if they are sitting 1-5 or 2-4 at this point.

They rebounded from the tough open last season, and I’d fully expect this team to fully handle any early adversity that may come. On the flip side, if they enter that bye with a 4-2 or 5-1 mark, spirits will be high.

The back end of the schedule eases with Hawaii and Nevada ahead of a second bye. The four to end the season sees home games with Utah St and Fresno State with trips to San Jose State and Colorado State.

No matter how the Aztecs open after six games, they have a good chance to flip the script and finish strong.

Those two to open conference play could loom large at the end year in just how far the Aztecs find themselves in the Mountain West standings.

If there is not an all-out collapse after a rough start this team will be bowling in December.

—More from Stephen Vilardo—