San Diego State had success for the first time in a very long time last season. So how is that going to impact what happens in 2011?
“It will be interesting to see how our players handle that,” first-year coach Rocky Long said. “Last year, people didn't know what to expect and as the season went along, we got better and better. There are higher expectations. It's how our players are going to handle that. Are they going to embrace it or are they make them nervous and uptight?"
"It’s all about your coaches and how they have you prepare and the way you go about things leading up to a football game," linebacker Miles Burris said. "From my experience the past couple years, we never went into a football game not confident or thinking we were going to lose. We went in with the same mindset. For me, it’s not winning and losing making you feel differently going into a game or a season. You go out that week of practice and prepare as hard as you possibly can and be as confident as you can be."
The confidence is higher, no doubt. The Aztecs went to a bowl game for the first time since 1998, beating Navy in their home stadium in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl to cap a 9-4 season. Now they will try for back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1995-96.
"Confidence almost had to be manufactured and built from within," quarterback Ryan Lindley said. "Now we know we’ve done it. We’ve made it happen in some games. There’s no level of perfection. We have a ways to go to be where we want to be and be Mountain West Conference champions."
There are those who wonder whether the program will be able to maintain its winning ways with a new coach in charge. Brady Hoke left after just two seasons for Michigan, and the Aztecs decided to promote Long, their defensive coordinator. Long had a history of winning at New Mexico, which has been awful since he resigned after the 2008 season.
Long is not new to being a head coach, and he was a part of the staff that helped turn the program around. His players wanted him to be promoted, and they have faith that he will keep the program moving forward.
"Last year, it was something to feel proud of, being a part of a program that’s changing," cornerback Leon McFadden said. "That was one of my main reasons to come here, because I felt the coaching staff could turn around the program. We are moving on with coach Long. He's a very competitive coach, and that motivates us to go out there and compete in everything we do."