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August 26, 2011

Mailbag on the Mesa

Editor's note: Every Friday ASR Publisher Edward Lewis will answer some questions from fans about the Aztecs in this weekly mailbag. Send questions to edwardflewis@yahoo.com, @EdwardLewisASR on Twitter, post questions on the message board or put questions on ASR's Facebook page.


David: Let's assume the worst of our wide receivers. Let's say they really are just too young and end up being a below-average group. Will our stellar tight ends be able to make up for it? In other words, if the WRs don't step it up, does our passing attack still have a shot?

San Diego State won't have Randy Moss-like highlights from Vincent Brown or DeMarco Sampson anymore and it won't have a pair of 1,000-yard guys on the outside who make it to the NFL this year either, but it also doesn't have you and me lining up in the slot on Saturdays. Have the receivers dropped a boatload of balls this camp? Yes. And do they struggle sometimes with routes and recognition? Yes. But these guys are Division I athletes. Dylan Denso has as good of hands as anybody on the team and Colin Lockett has speed for days.

But, for the sake of this answer, let's say both of them end up being the worst receivers in all of football. Tight end Gavin Escobar catches at least one 30-yard-or-more pass per practice, tight end Bryce Quigley makes one catch where the people in attendance audibly say, "Wow," and Ronnie Hillman and the other backs, including fullback Chad Young, have hauled in more passes than I can ever remember seeing an Aztec offense have. Sure it won't be as explosive or as Sportscenter Top 10 worthy, but SDSU will have an effective passing attack this year. If anything, Ryan Lindley's completion percentage should go up, because I expect a lot less 40-yard bombs to double-covered Megatrons now and a lot more 10-yard digs to Escobar and Alston Umuolo. Things will be fine.


Jake: Before camp, you said Khalid Stevens was your best candidate for breakout star on this SDSU team. After watching camp, would you change that pick? And do you have an offensive guy?

I wouldn't necessarily change that pick, although I might pull back the throttle just a little bit on Stevens. He still should have a very solid year, but I didn't see him make any interceptions or do anything really crazy to show me that he will be an All-Mountain West guy by the end of the season. So I'll switch that pick to Leon McFadden. And yes, I know, he's already broken out and is already an All-MW guy. But McFadden looks like an absolute animal out there. The way he closes on deep balls, the way he recognizes routes and the way he breaks up passes is just special. I could see him not only having around five interceptions this year, but I could also see him having a Nnamdi Asomugha-like effect, where teams just don't throw at him. Ever. And in Rocky Long's blitz-happy defense, if the Aztecs can have one guy who can shut down half the field like McFadden should be able to do this year, he becomes that much more valuable.

As far as offense goes, I'll say receiver Ezell Ruffin eventually breaks out and goes off. But he still needs a couple games under his belt before things finally start to slow down for him. He should have a wonderful second half of the year. But for the full year, I'll go with Escobar. And again, I know he's already broken out to SDSU fans. But I think this is the year he gets recognition on the all-conference team. He and Lindley just have a special chemistry on the field, and with the guys on the outside being a little less reliable, Lindley lights Escobar up all practice long. I could see him easily doubling his 29 catches for 323 yards and four touchdowns from last season.


Tony: You've been doing a great job keeping us updated on the injury front, but which injury do you think will hurt SDSU the most this season?

As a recap, here are the guys battling injuries: Josh Wade (Achilles), Larry Gibbs (foot), Kenneth Galea'i (knee), Larry Clark (knee) and Jake Fely (leg). All of those guys except Wade should make a return to 100 percent very soon for the Aztecs. So it would be easy for me to call Wade, who's out for the season, the biggest loss for SDSU. But Larry Parker and King Holder have really stepped up their play since Wade went down. So while it will hurt SDSU, I don't know if the Aztecs will feel it that much.

My answer to this question will be Clark. He was clearly, at least in my opinion, the best of the three incoming freshmen receivers. He was huge, he had big hands and he caught the rock well. But once he dislocated his kneecap, he lost all valuable camp practice time, and essentially will be forced to redshirt this season. By the time he gets to 100 percent and fully acclimates himself into the offense, I believe it will be too late for him to consider burning his redshirt. Which is bad news for SDSU, because Long told me he plans on playing at least one of these true freshmen wideouts this year. And I believe he could have had the biggest impact of the three.



Kevin: With all the talk we've seen with conference alignment, does SDSU have a shot at moving to the Pac-12? The program already has ties to the conference (the men's soccer team competes in the Pac-12), and a resurgent basketball program could add to the push. Maybe Boise State and SDSU join together? Thoughts?

Out of all the crazy scenarios and hyperbolic "what ifs," I think this situation is the most plausible, feasible and reasonable scene for San Diego State. It makes complete sense geographically and monetarily, it doesn't require the Pac-12 to fly in teams from thousands of miles away and it also allows fan bases to travel and spend money at all kinds of Pac-12 locations.

You have to be careful to not open up a Pandora's Box explanation of why it all makes sense here, because this answer could get up to about 1,000 words. But the short story is this: When the rest of the conferences in the country begin forming their own little Pangaea, you can bet the Pac-12 is going to want to get in on that action. And given SDSU's recent resurgence in almost all of its sports and its up-and-coming education perception, I believe the Aztecs would be an easy add for the conference.


Talk more SDSU sports with Publisher Edward Lewis on ASR's premium message board!


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