SDSU’s football program is coming off its most successful stretch in history. Quietly, the Aztecs are becoming one of the more relevant programs that is not in a major conference. We have seen teams that aren’t in a Power Five conference reach very high in the rankings in previous years. It usually takes some credibility from the year before to rise in the rankings for those teams.
Western Michigan for example, went undefeated last season, but never finished higher than their 15 ranking at the end of the regular season. They went on to lose in the Cotton Bowl to Wisconsin 24-16.
The Aztecs started the 2016 season unranked. After starting the season with three victories, including one over the University of California Bears, they climbed to 19 in the top 25. Unfortunately, they lost that same week to South Alabama 42-24. SDSU finished the season on a high note, reaching their goal of becoming MWC champions, and following it up with a convincing bowl game win over Houston. Donnel Pumphrey also reached the title of NCAA’s all-time leading rusher.
Now lets explore what needs to happen for the Aztecs to make it to a New Years Six bowl.
This year the Aztecs more than likely will fall somewhere in the preseason top 40. I’m guessing around 35 or so, although that may be a little biased. We could surely see them climb into the top 25 after week two, and if not, almost definitely after week three. The season begins against UC Davis at Qualcomm on Saturday, September 2nd. The Aztecs should take care of business no problem against them.
The next two games have the potential to make or break the Aztecs’ season. The Aztecs travel to Tempe, Arizona to face Arizona State. The Sun Devils were not a very good team last season, finishing 5-7, while losing their final six games. They play in the Pac-12, which is a competitive conference, and the Aztecs will face them on the road. Arizona St doesn’t project to be any better this year, but it is still a difficult task to win against them on the road.
The following week the Aztecs face their second straight Pac-12 team when they host Stanford. Stanford is no doubt a much better team than Arizona State. Stanford may be one of the best teams in the nation, even after losing star running back Christian McCaffrey. Stanford is ranked in the preseason top 25 at 14. Luckily, the Aztecs will play them on their home turf. Hopefully there is a huge turnout to support the Aztecs this game. If the Aztecs upset Stanford, they will without a doubt be in the top 25. ESPN gives Stanford an 84.4% chance to win this game.
At this point, the Aztecs would be 3-0, beating likely their toughest competition of the season.
The Aztecs then travel to Colorado Springs to face a tough Air Force Falcons squad. Air Force always plays opponents tough. In high elevation, stopping their triple-option attack will be a tough task for Rocky Long’s defense. With a victory here, the Aztecs 2017 campaign is off to a tremendous success, being 4-0, with three of those victories against very respectable teams.
The team catches a nice break the following two weeks, hosting Northern Illinois, and then playing @ UNLV. In both of those games, the Aztecs will be favored substantially.
Assuming two victories there, the Aztecs will stand at (6-0). Their ranking would could be in the top 15, or at least near it. The Aztecs then face a very tough game against Boise State. Luckily, the two best opponents the Aztecs face in 2017 will be at home. If Boise State is undefeated at this point in the season, they would likely be ranked in the same area as the Aztecs. Boise State faces just as tough competition through the first six games of the season, including games at Washington State and BYU. It would be a battle of two unbeaten teams, which would make noise on the national level.
If they can squeeze out a victory against Boise State, the Aztecs will be in a very good position to run the table. The Aztecs next four opponents had a combined record of 18-33 in 2016. They will play Fresno State (1-11 in ’16) at home, followed by playing at Hawaii (7-7), then at San Jose State (4-8), and then Nevada (5-7) at home. The Aztecs’ record would be 11-0 at this point and could very well be in the top 10 in the nation.
The final game of the season is against New Mexico, which will be played in San Diego. New Mexico is a tough program that finished 9-4 last year, while winning their bowl game.
With an undefeated season, the Aztecs would likely be the favorite to play in a New Years Six bowl, regardless of the outcome of the MWC championship game. That’s only if there is no other undefeated team not from the power five conferences.
In the Mountain West Championship game, the Aztecs are the favorite to represent the West division, while Boise State is the favorite from the Mountain division. Last year, Wyoming was the representative as they won the three-way tiebreaker with New Mexico and Boise. I see the winner of the Mountain division as a toss-up between every team not named Utah State. It could easily be Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico, and even Wyoming again.
An undefeated season isn’t the only likely scenario for the Aztecs to make it to a New Years Six bowl. They could make it with one loss, and maybe even two if they’re lucky.
A scenario could be the Aztecs finished MWC champions with a record of 12-1. SDSU will likely be the favorite to represent the group of five, as long as they win at least two of three against Arizona St, Stanford, and Boise St, while running the table, and also end up MWC champs.
Things that would help the Aztecs reach a New Years Six Bowl during the regular season would be:
-Stanford finishing the season a high top 25 team
-Arizona St being better than expected
-Mountain West teams winning games not against the Aztecs
-Boise State starting the season 6-0
-Another group of five team does NOT go undefeated
A lot does need to happen for this to become a reality. The Aztecs have a ton of potential, and what needs to happen is definitely possible.
Regardless, it will be an entertaining and enjoyable season for the 2017 San Diego State Aztecs.