Aztecs Primed For Historic 100th Anniversary Season: A Preview

·6 min read

Aztecs Primed For Historic 100th Anniversary Season: A Preview

San Diego State has a lot to celebrate in 2022, but in between accolades and milestones the Aztecs must take care of business.

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After 50+ years of games in the cavernous San Diego Stadium, the Aztecs will finally play at home before a sold-out crowd.

San Diego, CA – For two seasons the Aztecs played their home games 113 miles north of SDSU’s campus in Carson, California.  Now the Aztecs return home- to their TRUE Mission Valley home- to the brand new Snapdragon Stadium.

Prior to their temporary home of two years, Dignity Health Sports Park, the Aztecs played at SDCCU; formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium, formerly Jack Murphy Stadium, formerly San Diego Stadium.  The Aztecs could never, EVER fill the cavernous 70,561 seat multi-sports venue, even when superstar future NFL Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk graced the field as tailback. Rarely could the Padres or Chargers sell out the monstrous stadium.  It just was too damn big.

The”Murph,” as some called San Diego Stadium, indelibly left its mark. It was the only venue to host the Super Bowl and World Series in the same year (1998).  Yet, it was an imperfect venue for Aztecs football.

Before San Diego Stadium: from 1935 to 1966 the Aztecs played on the Mesa in the Aztec Bowl.  Thirty years later, in 1996, Viejas Arena was built literally into the center of the Aztec Bowl.

1966 would mark the last season the Aztecs sold out their own football venue, when maximum seating capacity was just 12,592.  At the time, the Aztecs were seriously contemplating constructing a 45,000 seat stadium on campus, however San Diego Stadium was announced, and ultimately became the one-stop destination for the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs.

Going back even before 1935, the Aztecs played football at Balboa Stadium, dating back to the team’s inception 100 years ago- a time that even pre-dated the Aztecs spirit warrior and the scarlet and black university colors.

This season, after five-plus decades: Aztecs football hosts its own bespoke venue.  $310,000,000 was spent on 35,000 seat Snapdragon Stadium. The stadium is designed to be expandable up to 55,000- large enough for an NFL team, or a major NCAA bowl game.  The stadium represents a massive investment for the future of Aztecs football and SDSU Athletics.

Snapdragon Stadium will eventually be surrounded by a Mission Valley SDSU campus extension enabling the university to increase total enrollment from 36,000 to 50,000.  The College Area atop the Mesa will connect to the Mission Valley campus by way of a light rail.

What To Expect This Fall

The Aztecs open 2022 on the heels of a 12-2 season, one in which they lost the Mountain West Championship to Utah State, after 20 starters were sidelined due to Covid. After the non-climactic loss to the Aggies, SDSU went on to the Frisco Bowl in Texas and hammered the UTSA Roadrunners 38-24. Who knows what may have been, had Covid not struck.

This fall, the Aztecs keep the momentum, with many returning players and with some additional imported talent, as they celebrate the program’s 100th Anniversary.  SDSU kicks off their second century in style.

Now, whether conference re-alignment becomes a part of this historic year remains to be seen, but it could further punctuate the special season.

SDSU has been known for its powerhouse defense, elite run game, and “very” special teams. SDSU wins consistently even with an underwhelming offense.  The role of quarterback has been something of a novelty to the team, and even the most staunch Aztecs fans are hard pressed to refer to any of our quarterbacks in the modern era as “elite.”  Sorry, guys.

This year, however, might be a departure from convention.  The Aztecs have the combination of two highly talented passing play callers- one a veteran, the other a rookie, while managing the absence of a 1,000-yard tailback.

Let’s take a closer look.

Offense

This season, Virginia Tech graduate transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister will call plays for the Aztecs.  He’s from San Diego, and he started all 12 regular-season games last year, passing for 1,960 yards with 14 touchdowns and four picks. He is P-5 battle hardened.

His backup will be redshirt freshman Will Haskell. There’s a lot of sizzle with Haskell.  Rumor has it there’s some steak along with it.  He is athletic, and he will play a big part in the evolving powerhouse offense program.

Both veteran and rookie stand to benefit from the dazzling dexterity of senior wide receiver Jesse Matthews  who made 57 catches for 642 yards and nine touchdowns, along with senior Tyrell Shavers.  Shavers, a 6’6″ wide receiver transfer from Mississippi State, has length and will be the second point man.

The run game will be led off by seniors Chance Bell who ran for 341 yards, and four touchdowns and Jordan Byrd who managed 246 yards and three touchdowns.  USC transfer Kenan Christon suits up for the Aztecs.  Also, 220-lb redshirt freshman Jaylon Armstead will be in the roster at Running Back University this fall.

Defense

Last year the Aztecs ranked 12th in total defense (324.4 ypg) and 17th in scoring defense (19.8 ppg).  The team sallies forth without Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Thomas, who went third round in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Arizona Cardinals.  Three other starters have graduated, but the transfer portal has yielded some strong talent in turn.

Two transfers are siblings of existing Aztecs. Senior Justus Tavai (Hawaii) joins brother Jonah Tavai on the defensive line.  In addition, junior Cooper McDonald (Washington) joins fan favorite Caden McDonald at linebacker.

Call it double trouble.

Notably, Patrick McMorris is a first-team All-Mountain West safety who led the Aztecs last season with four picks, helping the Aztecs’ reach a conference-high 17 interceptions. The Aztecs have a deep and formidable secondary this season.

Specialists

Junior Jack Browning backfills Matt Araiza, a.k.a. Punt God, who went sixth round in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Buffalo Bills.  Araiza set a national record with a 51.2-yard punting average. The Aztecs have done extremely well with punting, place kicking and field goal productivity (don’t forget Araiza’s predecessor, John Baron II), and Browning continues that legacy.

Browning turned heads last year with a surprise 13-yard touchdown run during a faked field goal attempt when the Aztecs defeated Hawai’i.  The play rattled the ‘Bows- players and fans alike, and blew up social media.

All-MW kick returner Jordan Byrd is capable of going coast to coast.

So, perhaps the second century of Aztecs football opens up with a surprise offensive air assault capability, and maybe the Aztecs start to augment their offense to match its elite defense (like what Brian Dutcher has done with men’s basketball in recent years).

The Aztecs are expected to achieve another 10-win season.  Is it possible for them to match- or even beat last year’s 12-2 season?  It’s not unimaginable. The Aztecs will have an incredible amount of momentum this fall.  They kick off the season at home in their new stadium on Sept. 3 against Arizona.

The Aztec Nation congratulates San Diego State on their historic 100th Anniversary, and the debut of the amazing Snapdragon Stadium.

 

 

 

Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire