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linly Nov 17 '17

All signs are indicating that when Utah State travels to face San Diego State in October, the contest will be key to the division title hopes for a pair of Mountain West contenders.

The Deseret News caught up with Tod Leonard, who covers San Diego State football for The San Diego Union Tribune, to discuss who's in line to become the Aztecs' starting quarterback, as well as other personnel situations with the season quickly approaching.

DN: We've seen the MW media poll that predicts the Aztecs will win the league's West Division title. What are the expectations for the team this season?

TL: Obviously, with the poll results, the expectations are pretty high. SDSU has never been picked to win the division before. I think that's a combination of some rebuilding for other teams in the West Division and the fact that the Aztecs have the best running back in the conference in Donnel Pumphrey and the best defense in the West. And they have a respected, well established coaching staff that only got stronger this year with the addition of former UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck (now special teams coach) and former Air Force offensive coordinator Blane Morgan (quarterbacks coach).

DN: How is the quarterback competition shaping up for San Diego State, and who appears to have the inside track for the starting job?

TL: After spring, the coaching staff favored Kentucky transfer Maxwell Smith. He's not very mobile, but they liked his size at 6 foot 4, his pocket presence and his accuracy. Smith played as a freshman in the SEC before injuries derailed him, and they're hoping that experience carries him through carolina panthers team store nicely in the MW. The surprise in spring was the mediocre performance of Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues, who sat out last season and was the presumed starter for 2015. But Rodrigues struggled with accuracy and was overcome by redshirt freshman Christian Chapman, a San Diego area product. Head coach Rocky Long said the QB competition is still open in fall camp, but it's hard to imagine that Smith won't be the cheap browns jerseys starter come the opener.

DN: What makes Donnel Pumphrey so dangerous, and who are some of the other players to watch on offense?

TL: Pumphrey is so small he looks completely unimpressive out of pads. With them on, he's quick, is far better running inside than anyone thought he'd be, and when he gets some separation outside it's hard to catch him. The Aztecs will look to use him even more this season, especially as a receiver nfl shop ravens in the slot or coming out of the backfield. SDSU has a tremendous table of running backs, including redshirt freshman Rashaad Penny, who looks like the has all the skills to be the next Pumphrey. He's a threat on kick returns.

DN: Who are the players to watch on defense and special teams?

TL: Outside linebacker Calvin Munson, who wasn't even tabbed to start last fall, ended up being pushed into duty and was easily the team's breakout performer. His teammates named him defensive player of the year, and he also pitched relief for the baseball team in the spring. Jake Fely is the SDSU fireplug who is going into his sixth season because of injury problems. He's fun to watch. And then the Aztecs return three strong players on the defensive line and all five DBs in their 3 3 5 defense. They were one of the best pass defenses in the nation last year, and they should only be better with all of their experience. One of the safeties, Malik Smith, is probably the team's top NFL prospect.

TL: Receiving and offensive line are the big question marks. The offensive line lost a center to dismissal and another returning starter to a six game suspension. They'll have a new left tackle, a new center and another new guard. The fill ins seem pretty good at run blocking, but pass protection against their own defense in camp has been shaky. SDSU's pass game was pretty dismal last year because it had tampa bay buccaneers shop an injured senior quarterback in Quinn Kaehler who was, at best, a game manager, and he was working with very young receivers. The receivers definitely need to step it up, as the young DBs did last season. They've got a lot of good skill guys there, but they need to run better routes and be more physical.

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