NCF Nation: Rocky Long

Pregame: Poinsettia Bowl

December, 20, 2012
San Diego State (9-3, 7-1 Mountain West) vs. BYU (7-5)

WHO TO WATCH: Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. There is probably nobody rising faster and higher on NFL draft boards than Ansah, a revelation for the Cougars this season. He has only lived in the United States for a few years, leaving his native Ghana with the hope of playing basketball for BYU. But he was cut twice after tryouts and then found his way to football. Ansah began the season on the bench and only became a starter in Week 5. But when he did, he showed what a force he can be -- and now, Scouts Inc. lists Ansah as the No. 19 player available for the draft.

WHAT TO WATCH: San Diego State's run game versus BYU's defense. The Aztecs have had plenty of success running the ball this season behind Adam Muema, who has 1,355 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. But the Cougars have been outstanding all season on defense -- ranking No. 3 in the nation in total defense and No. 2 in rushing defense. BYU allowed five rushing touchdowns all season and just 2.71 yards a carry, so this matchup will be one of the biggest keys to the game.

WHY TO WATCH: These teams have a bit of history between them, as former conference rivals. BYU holds a 27-7-1 edge in the series and won the last time the teams played in 2010. Also, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and San Diego State coach Rocky Long coached together at two programs. Mendenhall served as defensive coordinator when Long was head coach at New Mexico from 1998-2002. He also worked with Long at Oregon State in 1995 as a defensive line coach when Long was the Beavers’ defensive coordinator.

PREDICTION: BYU 20, San Diego State 17.

Poinsettia coaches downplay history

December, 20, 2012
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- When the BYU Cougars declared their independence and left the Mountain West Conference following the 2010 season, it ended a conference association with San Diego State that began in 1978. Now fate -- and bowl tie-ins -- have reunited the teams when they meet tonight in the Battle of Coolest Coaches First Names Bowl (Rocky and Bronco), also known as the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

In the decades these teams squared off in the WAC and Mountain West, more often than not the Cougars walked away victorious. They owned a 27-7-1 record against SDSU, and that left the folks on Montezuma Mesa feeling a bit, well, emasculated over the years. As a result, a bitter rivalry was forged -- even if it was only recognized by the Aztecs.

"It seems like a lot of teams and programs view us as a rival," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I think that stems from the old WAC and Mountain West, the more history there is, and especially with as a strong of a tradition that BYU has, if you've had a lot of success then you become the team to beat or the team that's disliked. I think coach [LaVell] Edwards did a great job of having an excellent program and BYU is viewed as that wherever you go."

Which is a polite way of saying the Cougars saw San Diego State the same way they saw Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico and every other conference opponent. BYU has one rival, and it plays in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeAdam Muema
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsSan Diego State's Adam Muema, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, faces a BYU defense allowing 2.7.
As for rekindling that "rivalry" tonight, Aztecs head coach Rocky Long isn't going to dig deep into his bag of motivation. Because the truth is, what's the point of trying to motivate players for a phantom rivalry?

"It would just be wasted talk for me to explain it to them," said Long, whose team enters the contest riding a seven-game win streak. "It doesn't mean a darn thing. And I don't think either team feels the rivalry. A rivalry was built up with BYU and everybody else because BYU was so good and so dominant. I think at San Diego State and my former university (New Mexico), those fans always felt there was a rivalry. I bet if you ask Bronco, there is one rivalry in BYU's vocabulary and that's Utah."

That's not to say the two programs didn't share some memorable moments during their three-plus decades as conference opponents. There was the greatest/worst tie ever (depending which colors you wear) in 1991, when Ty Detmer tossed six touchdowns and threw for 599 yards in helping BYU erase a 45-17 deficit. The teams tied 52-52, which gave BYU the WAC crown.

In their final Mountain West meeting in 2010, a potentially game-changing fumble wasn't overturned by replay officials -- and it was later revealed that two members of the instant-replay team in Provo were BYU alums and one was a paid school employee. While it was ultimately ruled as a technical error, it ignited both fan bases and prompted the Mountain West to change its policies regarding alumni in the replay booth.

It didn't help either that during basketball season, San Diego State's student section, "The Show," wore white dress shirts and bike helmets whenever BYU would come to town.

But none of that matters. Two years removed from being conference foes, it's ancient history.

"These guys don't remember it, nor do they really care," Mendenhall said. "And until you mentioned it, I didn't remember it. There is so much that goes into every year. There are certain folks that have an exceedingly vibrant passion for looking for something to invest their energy and emphasis in and those are the ones who keep it alive.

"I think any time there is time before games or extra time before games, to build intrigue, anything can be viewed as to add some more value or slant as to why this particular game has significance. It's really just two good teams playing as hard as they can. In terms of anything rivalry-wise, that's certainly not viewed from our perspective. We're just preparing for a really good team."

So that leads us to the real storyline in this game: SDSU's running attack versus BYU's staunch defense. The Aztecs (9-3, 7-1 MWC), playing in a third consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history, are paced by running back Adam Muema. He's a top-20 runner nationally with 1,355 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He faces a BYU squad that ranks third nationally in total defense, fifth in scoring defense and second against the run. The Cougars (7-5 as independents) pushed Boise State and Notre Dame to the brink (worth noting that SDSU beat Boise) and they topped Utah State, which finished the season 11-2 and ranked 22nd.

Long and Mendenhall also have a history. Mendenhall was Long's defensive coordinator for four seasons at New Mexico and the two remain good friends. But like the imaginary rivalry, we shouldn't read too much into that, either.

"All the other stuff doesn't mean a thing," Long said. "Bronco isn't going to catch any passes. I'm not going to carry the ball. It's going to come down to the only people who matter. And that's the players on the field. We're glad the fans are into it. But the combatants, they are just going to go out and play football."
Looks like Dillon Baxter is going to be looking for another football team -- again.

The once-heralded USC running back recruit has been dismissed from San Diego State just six weeks after transferring from the Trojans, according to Brent Schrotenboer of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Aztecs head coach Rocky Long confirmed Baxter's removal Wednesday, saying "he's no longer part of the program."

Long said players in his program have to meet certain expectations and that it's better to "split ways" with Baxter.

Long said the move was made for "various reasons" but declined to talk about those reasons.

According to a source, Baxter, 20, had issues with class attendance and falling asleep in study hall. He also has a baby, which added stress to his schedule.

When reached by phone, Baxter said he couldn't talk about his dismissal.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Baxter would not have been able to play withthe Aztecs this season anyway. He could have hung out with the team during spring ball, but last week Long announced that Baxter would be "held out" of spring ball to focus on personal and academic issues.

Baxter was no stranger to trouble when he was at USC. He was suspended for two games his freshman season and had trouble showing up to class. And, of course, there was the golf-cart incident. He also frequently complained about his lack of playing time.

In his two turbulent years with the Trojans, Baxter had just 68 carries for 281 yards and one rushing touchdown. A four-star recruit coming out of Mission Bay High in San Diego, Baxter was ranked 117th on the ESPNU 150 list in 2010 after setting a state record with 76 touchdowns in 2009.

There's no immediate news on what Baxter plans to do yet. As the article points out, he'll be eligible for the NFL draft next season. But without any college resume to speak of and a 747 full of baggage, it's going to be tough for him to get looks. As someone who covered Baxter in high school and saw his potential, it's another sad chapter in a college career that never really got started.
Louisiana-Lafayette is making its first bowl appearance in 41 years. Until last season, SDSU hadn't won a bowl game in 41 years. How's that for numerological coincidences? The Aztecs faced plenty of questions this season after Brady Hoke left for Michigan and former New Mexico coach/SDSU defensive coordinator Rocky Long took over. But Long has the Aztecs matching last year's regular-season record, which they capped with a 35-14 win against Navy. Louisiana-Lafayette, with new head coach Mark Hudspeth, is enjoying just its third winning season since 1995.

WHO TO WATCH: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman is the No. 3 rusher in the country, averaging 138 yards per game. He averages 5.7 yards every time he touches the ball and has found the end zone 19 times on the ground. He’s one of the most dynamic runners in the country with a 99-yard rushing touchdown and a 71-yard receiving touchdown to his credit. He's explosive, shifty, and the comparisons to former SDSU great Marshall Faulk have been more than warranted.

WHAT TO WATCH: Long is one of the gurus of the 3-3-5 defense. The Aztecs will be put to the test by Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Blaine Gautier, who has a very respectable 20 touchdowns to five interceptions. The extra safety will likely be tied up trying to cover tight end Ladarius Green (485 yards, seven touchdowns), who is a mismatch for most defenses at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds. SDSU’s defensive scheme is high risk, high reward. Louisiana-Lafayette can find the holes and beat the steady stream of exotic blitzes, there are points to be scored.

WHY TO WATCH: The opportunity for the rest of the nation to see Hillman play should be reason enough. He’s a bona fide NFL talent. Expect a relatively high-scoring affair with two explosive offenses. There are plenty of playmakers on both sides which should make this one of the more entertaining non-BCS bowl games.

PREDICTION: SDSU 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 24. From a pure talent standpoint, the Aztecs have the edge. An NFL-caliber running back and an NFL-caliber quarterback (Ryan Lindley) always make for a difficult backfield to defend. Playing in their home state will be a nice edge for the Ragin' Cajuns, who will have a clear advantage in crowd support. But that won’t be enough to stop all of SDSU’s weapons.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

December, 4, 2011
San Diego State Aztecs (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (8-4)

Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

San Diego State take from college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: The Aztecs are going to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1966-67. Last season, Brady Hoke led the Aztecs to an 8-4 record before they throttled Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl. Defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Rocky Long matched that record as the Aztecs overcame a 21-point deficit in their season finale to top Fresno State.

Quarterback Ryan Lindley's numbers are down a bit, but that's to be expected when your top two receivers from last season are drafted into the NFL. So the Aztecs have been relying on Ronnie Hillman, one of the nation's top running backs, who rushed for 1,656 yards this season and 19 touchdowns.

With injuries to the receiving corps -- the Aztecs lost three potential starters before the season even started -- converted defensive back Colin Lockett has stepped in as the top receiving threat, tallying 46 catches and five touchdowns on the season. Tight end Gavin Escobar leads the team with seven touchdown catches.

The offensive line, which returns four starters from last season, is one of the best in the country, ranking 10th nationally in sacks allowed.

Linebacker Miles Burris is a bona fide play-maker who should be playing on Sundays next season. Defensive lineman Jerome Long is having an outstanding season, as is defensive back Larry Parker, who leads the Mountain West Conference and is tied for third nationally with seven interceptions.

Louisiana Lafayette take by Matt Fortuna: First-year head coach Mark Hudspeth began his campaign with the Ragin' Cajuns with a bang. Their 6-1 start was the best in Sun Belt history and followed a 3-9 campaign from a season ago. Two losses to end the season tempered that a bit, but the season still showed much progress.

Hudspeth replaced starting quarterback Chris Masson with Blaine Gautier, and Gautier delivered by throwing for 2,488 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Gautier has passed for 300 or more yards in a game four times this season. His 20 touchdowns this season are tied with Jake Delhomme for most in school history in one season.

Five true freshmen have started for the Cajuns, both running backs are first-year players and receiver Harry Peoples and safety Jemarlous Moten have been impact junior-college transfers. Moten earned conference defensive player of the week honors in the regular-season finale, recording two interceptions and returning one for a score, the team's seventh pick-six of the season, tying an NCAA single-season record set by Tennessee in 1971.

Weekend rewind: Non-AQs

October, 31, 2011
Taking a look back at Week 9 for the non-AQs:

Southern Miss flying high: Plenty have taken notice of the Golden Eagles this season following a 7-1 start. They are now ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings for the first time since 2004, and have gotten off to its best start since 1996. After getting a big challenge from UTEP on Saturday, going into halftime tied at 10, Southern Miss scored 21 points in the second half and shut the Miners out in the fourth quarter to win 31-13. The defense, which has had its share of letdowns the last several seasons, has shown major improvement. Southern Miss has allowed just a touchdown and three field goals over the last two games, and held its fourth opponent of the season to under 100 yards rushing. Southern Miss went undefeated in October for the first time since 2000 and have emerged as the favorite to win the East in Conference USA.

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireHouston QB Case Keenum is on the cusp of breaking the NCAA career passing yards record.
Arkansas State red hot: The two best teams in the Sun Belt are quite unexpected -- Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, under two first-year coaches. The Red Wolves are bowl eligible with Hugh Freeze leading the way after a 37-14 win over North Texas. This is a program that posted back-to-back 4-8 seasons before Freeze took over. They have one bowl appearance as an FBS team, back in 2005, a 31-19 loss to Southern Miss. They now lead the Sun Belt at 4-0, with a huge showdown against Louisiana-Lafayette (7-2, 5-1) looming Nov. 12.

Keenum watch: Case Keenum threw a whopping nine touchdown passes in a 73-34 win over Rice, passing Graham Harrell for the most career touchdown passes in FBS history. Keenum now has 139, five more than Harrell had from 2005-08 at Texas Tech. Next up on the Keenum assault of the NCAA record book -- the career passing yards record. Keenum now has 16,805 passing yards to rank second in NCAA history. He needs 268 yards Saturday against UAB to pass Timmy Chang, who holds the mark of 17,072 yards set from 2000-04 at Hawaii.

Upset of the week: Wyoming 30, San Diego State 27. The Cowboys scored 30 first-half points behind true freshman quarterback Brett Smith, who scored two passing and two rushing. One of those scores came on third-and-goal from the San Diego State 26. Then Wyoming had to hold off a furious comeback. Ronnie Hillman ran for 224 yards -- including a 99-yard touchdown that was the longest play from scrimmage in school history. But it was not enough. Kicker Abel Perez had a tough game, missing field goal attempts from 39 and 27 yards in the fourth quarter, along with an extra point as well. Coach Rocky Long said the first half was “as bad a defensive performance in the first half as I've been associated with.” Wyoming, 18-point underdogs going into the game, moved to 5-2 on the season but needs two more wins to become bowl eligible because two of its victories came against FCS teams. Still, the Cowboys have a shot with New Mexico and Colorado State left on the schedule.

Close calls: Akron. The Zips came oh so close to beating Central Michigan after Clayton Moore drove the team 56 yards and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Marquelo Suel as time expired. Rather than go for the tie, they went for the win. But Moore threw incomplete on the 2-point conversion and Central Michigan won 23-22.

Idaho. Hawaii kicker Kenton Chun made a 35-yard field goal with 32 seconds to play to give the Warriors a 16-14 lead. Idaho nearly pulled the upset, but Trey Farquhar missed a 53-yard field-goal attempt with 8 seconds left. Idaho dropped to 1-7 and 0-4 in the WAC.

Colorado State. UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring ran for a 5-yard touchdown 1:20 left to give the Rebels a 38-35 win. Pete Thomas tried to rally the Rams, but one of his passes was tipped and intercepted at the UNLV 28-yard line with 35 seconds left. Also of note in the game, Phillip Payne set the school career touchdown receptions record with 25. Colorado State, a team many thought had a shot for a bowl game this season, dropped to 3-5.

Helmet stickers

Patrick Edwards, WR, Houston. Edwards had seven receptions for 318 yards and five touchdowns in a 73-34 win over Rice -- the best receiving performance for any player this season. Edwards leads the nation with 11 touchdown receptions. Also in the game, Tyron Carrier returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, the seventh of his career. That ties the NCAA mark for kickoff returns for touchdown, set by C.J. Spiller at Clemson.

Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. White had nine catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-35 win over Ball State to become Western Michigan's career receptions record holder at 261. He also went over 1,000 yards this season, making him only the third receiver to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in school history.

Jonathan Anderson, S, TCU. Anderson finished with a career-high and team-best 17 tackles (11 solo) and recorded his first career interception in a 38-28 win over BYU. Anderson, who came off the bench to replace the team’s leading tackler, Tekerrein Cuba, had the team's highest tackle total since 2004.

Alonzo Harris, RB, ULL. Harris had a career-best 189 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry in a win over Middle Tennessee.

Lampford Mark, RB, Nevada. Mark had 185 yards on eight carries for a 23.1 yard average in a 48-34 win over New Mexico State. He got all those yards after sitting out the first three quarters, then posting two runs of 80 yards or more.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
This week's sorry slate of Big Ten games tested my what-to-watch detective skills. Are there really 10 things to watch around the league on Saturday?

You bet, and here they are.

Brady Hoke
David Dermer/Getty ImagesMichigan coach Brady Hoke will face his former team, San Diego State, in an emotional game this Saturday.
1. The Brady Bowl: Michigan coach Brady Hoke goes up against his former team as San Diego State visits the Big House. There's a lot of familiarity on both sides, and it will be interesting to see the coaches match wits, particularly longtime colleagues Al Borges (Michigan's offensive coordinator) and Rocky Long (San Diego State's head coach). The Aztecs players will be geared up to face Hoke, and the Wolverines much match their intensity.

2. Miller time or Cup 'o Joe: Ohio State coach Luke Fickell was noncommittal Tuesday about his starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Colorado, although he seemed to lean toward true freshman Braxton Miller. Fickell wants more big plays from the offense and Miller can provide them. He also elevates the risk for mistakes, committing two turnovers in the loss to Miami. Miller clearly is Ohio State's future at quarterback, but Fickell needs to win now as his own future is in doubt. It'll be interesting to see what the young coach does with his signal-callers.

3. Illini defense to be tested again: Illinois' defense carried the team to a signature win last week against Arizona State. Vic Koenning's unit faces another test Saturday against Western Michigan and talented quarterback Alex Carder, who ranks 12th nationally in passing efficiency. If the Illini don't tighten up a bit in the secondary or pressure the pocket like they did last week, Carder will capitalize. Illinois also must avoid the letdown factor against a team it lost to in 2008.

4. Blackshirts look for boost: We're still waiting for the Nebraska defense to live up to the lofty expectations placed on the unit -- both inside and outside the program -- entering the season. The Blackshirts have allowed 68 points in their past two games and rank in the middle of the pack nationally in most major defensive statistical categories. The Pelini brothers will look for a more polished performance against 3-0 Wyoming before a much tougher game next week at Wisconsin.

5. The Bison are coming: Most games against FCS opponents are glorified practices, but not for Minnesota. The Gophers lost to South Dakota last year and North Dakota State in 2007, and they barely escaped against South Dakota State in 2009. Jerry Kill might be the perfect coach to prepare Minnesota for a rematch with North Dakota State, as he spent a lot of time at the FCS level and knows how motivated those teams are to face the big boys. The Bison are ranked No. 6 in the latest FCS poll and provide a significant challenge for Kill's Minnesota squad.

6. Hillman vs. Denard: Two of the nation's most dynamic ball carriers will share the field Saturday at the Big House. San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, the nation's second-leading rusher (165.7 ypg), will test Michigan's defensive front seven. Michigan will counter with -- who else -- Denard Robinson, who has been brilliant with his feet despite some ups and downs as a passer in the first three games.

7. The McGloin-Bolden saga: Will Week 4 finally provide some clarity in Penn State's seemingly never-ending quarterback competition? Most Nittany Lions fans certainly hope so. Coach Joe Paterno wants to be fair to both Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin, both of who have had their ups and downs in the first three games. "I don't know what I'm waiting for,'' Paterno said this week. Maybe a touchdown pass. Penn State is one of only three FBS teams not to record a passing touchdown in the first three games.

8. Young lines under the gun: Michigan State and Indiana both will send relatively inexperienced offensive lines onto the field Saturday. Injuries have taken their toll on the Spartans' line, and junior-college transfer Fou Fonoti needs to step up at tackle in place of Skyler Burkland. Despite a flurry of false-start penalties last week, Indiana plans to start several freshmen offensive linemen in its first true road game against winless North Texas.

9. Iowa's green-out: Iowa fans excel at color coordination, but you'll see plenty of green mixed in with black and gold on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. The school is encouraging its fans to wear green as a tribute to former safety Brett Greenwood, who remains hospitalized after collapsing Sept. 9 during a workout. It's a great idea and I hope to see plenty of green in the grandstands.

10. Bucky Badger's pushups: Wisconsin scored 70 points or more three times last season, and the Badgers could close in on the plateau Saturday against FCS South Dakota. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring (45 ppg) and total offense (505.7 ypg). Although Bret Bielema likely won't take many chances with his starters a week before Nebraska comes to town, his team should produce plenty of points -- and pushups for its beloved mascot.

Andrea Adelson talks with the coach about the upcoming season.

MWC Day 1 wrap

July, 26, 2011
LAS VEGAS -- Here are some notes and quotes from Day 1 of Mountain West media day:

The biggest talk of the day was the arrival of Boise State and the imminent departure of TCU. To the surprise of no one, the Broncos were tabbed the preseason favorite to win the conference, a position they were quite accustomed to in the WAC.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen said: “Preseason polls are saying we’ve got some good players coming back. I don’t think it says anything about the team we have. We do have some good players but what we have to do is we have to develop our young talent. We have some older players who have played a lot of football and then we’ve got a gap between some guys who haven’t played and need the experience, need the knowledge. Our job as coaches is to narrow that gap.”

The Horned Frogs are the defending league champs, but have a new starting quarterback in Casey Pachall. Many believe the game between the two schools in Boise on Nov. 12 will decide the conference championship. Of course, that game was originally scheduled to be played in Fort Worth. But once TCU announced it was leaving for the Big East, the game was switched to Boise.

TCU coach Gary Patterson has voiced his displeasure on the matter, and said Tuesday he initially felt TCU was being treated as if it had already left the conference.

The Horned Frogs have a tough slate of games, and open MWC play in Week 2 -- at Air Force. That comes a week after opening at Baylor in a Friday night game on ESPN.

“The mark of a great football team is how you do on the road,” Patterson said. “You have to go on the road, every year we’ve ever had a great season, we’ve always started on the road.”

One thing is for certain in the game between the two teams -- Boise State won’t be wearing all blue uniforms. As part of its entry into the league, Boise State administrators agreed that the school wouldn’t wear its traditional blue jerseys and blue pants on the blue home field.

The MWC board of directors felt the all blue uniforms gave the Broncos an unfair advantage.
  • Air Force was tabbed to finish No. 3 in the conference and could be a dark horse contender in the league, especially if the Falcons pull off the upset of TCU to open conference play. They return eight starters on a solid defense, along with Tim Jefferson, Asher Clark and Jonathan Warzeka on offense.
  • San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley looked like a new man walking around media day, appearing much bigger in the upper body. Even Patterson took note, saying Lindley looked transformed. San Diego State coach Rocky Long said this about his veteran quarterback: "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s smart. He’s got a great arm and he’s got accuracy. What else do you want? The leadership role started toward the end of last year when he had complete confidence in his own ability and complete confidence in the system. That’s why we have not changed the system."
1. Now that toxicology reports have established that Aaron Douglas of Alabama and Austin Box of Oklahoma died of accidental overdose of painkillers, let us hope that their deaths are not in vain. Here’s hoping that every team doctor at every level of college football uses Douglas and Box to remind student-athletes that painkillers must be taken carefully. Here’s hoping that doctors plead with players in any form of chronic pain to ask for help, regardless of a culture where asking for help is a weakness.

2. This is a compliment, if you think about it. The active coach who has the most wins despite a losing record is Bob Toledo (76-97 in 15 seasons at Pacific, UCLA and, now, Tulane). Not far behind is first-year San Diego State coach Rocky Long (65-69 in 11 seasons at New Mexico). Greg Schiano of Rutgers qualified for this list when the Scarlet Knights went 4-8 last season. That made Schiano 59-63 in 10 seasons. There is a would-be runaway winner: lurking near qualification is Mike Price at UTEP (169-167).

3. BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, my guest on the ESPNU College Football Podcast this week, is uncommonly mature for a sophomore who just turned 20. He’s already married. He’s already established himself as a starter. He’s already started four losses, two more than he lost on a three-time state champion at Skyline High near Seattle. The most mature thing about Heaps is that he leads an offense with guys in their mid-20s who left BYU for two years on an LDS mission, and they follow him. That’s maturity.
We are profiling city schools that compete in a market alongside an NFL franchise. Up next:

School: San Diego State
Location: San Diego
Enrollment: 34,000
Bowl appearances: 5
NFL first-round picks: 5
Losing seasons: 19
10-win seasons: 4

Source: ESPN Stats & Info (Note: Numbers date back to 1936, the first year of the AP poll. NFL numbers date back to 1970.)

The good: Everything is in place for San Diego State to emerge as one of the top non-AQ schools in the nation. The location is hard to beat -- San Diego has some of the best weather in the country, and the school is a short drive from the downtown Gaslamp Quarter. Being in California is obviously a huge plus, with the fertile recruiting ground the Aztecs have to choose from -- even with competition from AQ schools. Don Coryell showed exactly how much success can be had at San Diego State -- his “Air Coryell” offense essentially revolutionized the game. Coryell went 104-19-2 from 1961-72, and helped the school make the move up from Division II to I-A. He won three bowl games, had a record 42 players drafted and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Coryell left for the NFL and became the first coach to win 100 games on the pro and collegiate level. Some 36 coaches have come from the Coryell coaching tree. The San Diego State locker room is named for Coryell and is one of the largest areas in the Aztecs Athletics Center. Marshall Faulk had tremendous success, too, finishing second in the Heisman race in 1992 despite being on a mediocre team. Faulk is slated to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame later this summer.

The bad: San Diego State has not been able to consistently realize its true potential. The Aztecs made a bowl game in 2010 for the first time since 1998, beating Navy in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Last season marked the first winning season since 1998 as well. Coach Brady Hoke, who spurred the turnaround, left for Michigan in the offseason and former New Mexico coach Rocky Long is now in charge. Long had success at New Mexico, a program that has dipped to become the worst in the nation since his departure, so hopes are high that a breakthrough is coming. Though San Diego State plays at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers, the school rarely sells out its home games and averages about 34,000 a game. The stadium is in need of $80 million in maintenance and repairs over the next seven years. There is still much debate about whether the Chargers will decide to stay in the stadium, get a new site in San Diego or leave altogether. The Chargers’ lease runs through 2020 but there is an option to break the lease with an early termination penalty. There is no question the Chargers want a new stadium, but there has been little movement in that direction. If the Chargers do move, then the city would have to figure out whether it is worth maintaining the stadium just for Aztecs games and the two bowl games the city hosts.
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."
San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley has a pretty long to-do list for this summer:

1. Work with new receivers

2. Work on becoming a better leader

3. Work on mastering the offense

Lindley has been through plenty in his Aztecs career, but how well he does everything on his to-do list will go a long way toward determining what type of season his team has in 2011. Granted, not everything will be on his shoulders. But Lindley is skilled enough and smart enough to know that he is a big key in the offense.

[+] EnlargeRyan Lindley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAztecs QB Ryan Lindley makes good decisions and is dangerous in the medium-range passing game.
He is coming off the best season of his career, having thrown for 3,830 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He finally got help from his running game in the form of Ronnie Hillman, and had his always-reliable receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, who both went over 1,000 yards.

But much is different in San Diego this season. Brown and Sampson are gone. Coach Brady Hoke is gone, along with offensive coordinator Al Borges. So Lindley has taken it upon himself to step up as a leader, not only to help break in his new receivers, but to rally his teammates as well.

"It’s been a new experience," Lindley said in a phone interview. "The quarterback position is a leadership role, but the past three years I’ve been playing there’s been a strong senior leader in the receivers room and this year they’re young. There’s not a senior in the group. I stepped up a little bit, to take on more of a vocal role, getting these guys ready and letting them know what it takes to compete."

Lindley tried out several different styles with his receivers during practice. He got on them when they made mistakes, but then realized it would be much better to just pull them aside and explain what they did wrong.

"There’s a time and place to get in a guy’s grill, but you have to understand and remember they’re younger guys working their way in," Lindley said. "As long as they’re not making the same mistake over and over, there's no reason to get on a guy like that."

Among those who could fill in nicely is Dylan Denso, who had a breakout spring. Dominique Sandifer could also be a go-to player. Also, San Diego State could utilize the tight end position even more. Gavin Escobar had a great season as a true freshman in 2010, and Alston Umuolo is back from injury.

For Lindley, all these changes come with a new coordinator in Andy Ludwig -- the third coordinator he has played for in his San Diego State career. But the offensive scheme remains relatively the same. In fact, new coach Rocky Long had Ludwig keep the same terminology so his players would not have to learn an entirely new offense. Ludwig has added in his own wrinkles, though, and Lindley wants to be as in sync with his new coach as possible.

"I need to get into Coach Ludwig’s head and know what he’s going to call. When a quarterback can know and anticipate what the coordinator is going to call, it works best," Lindley said. "With Coach Ludwig, it started to come at the end of spring. With film study, by fall camp I’m highly confident we’ll have that down."

Blue turf unfair?

April, 19, 2011
New San Diego State coach Rocky Long voiced a long-held opinion of many when he said this about Boise State on the Mountain West coaches spring conference call Tuesday:

[+] EnlargeBoise Field
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesBoise State's trademark blue field was installed in 1986. The Broncos are 69-2 on the turf since 2000.
"I think they ought to get rid of that blue turf. I think it's unfair."

The blue turf seems to be a topic of conversation every year. The Broncos installed it in 1986 as a way to generate some publicity. Well, that plan has worked and Boise State has trademarked the blue turf and will not allow another Division I school to use that color. Opposing fans mock it, and opposing coaches have said it is difficult to play on the field -- especially when the Broncos also wear blue uniforms. It is an unquestioned home-field advantage -- Boise State is 69-2 there since 2000 and never lost a WAC game at home. Will that streak continue when Boise State joins the Mountain West this season?

Long was later asked a follow-up question about why he was against the field. He said, "People think I’m crazy when I say this, but it takes a visiting team a while -- maybe a quarter or so to get used to it. You track the ball differently and everything else."

Boise State coach Chris Petersen was asked about the advantage of playing on blue turf. He said it was no different than when his team plays on a green field because they are so used to being on blue turf. But he did not discount having an advantage at Bronco Stadium.

"Certain places have a mystique that make it harder to play, whether it’s the stadium size or the ambiance of the stadium," he said. "If it’s an advantage, great."

The Broncos play San Diego State in San Diego on Nov. 19. Guess we will have to wait a year to see how the Aztecs do on the blue field.

Spring rewind: San Diego State

April, 13, 2011
Time to check in on San Diego State, which is trying to build on a 9-4 season -- its best since 1996. With a new coach in Rocky Long and new coordinators, the spring was mainly used to get comfortable with the new staff, schemes and build depth.

Questions answered: One of the big ones is how Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hillman would adjust to new coordinator Andy Ludwig. Ludwig does have a different coaching style, but San Diego State will still run a pro-style offense, with plenty of runs and play-action. But where the key in 2010 was getting the run game established, it is the reverse in 2011 because of inexperience at receiver. Teams are going to load the box and dare Lindley to beat them. Lindley does not have Vincent Brown or DeMarco Sampson to rely on, and he has been mistake-prone at times. Getting that balance going again is going to be huge. Alec Johnson has moved from left guard to center to replace Trask Iosefa. Emilio Rivera is penciled in to start at left guard.

Questions unanswered: Receiver. Losing Brown and Sampson is going to hurt. No receiver that is currently on the roster caught a touchdown pass last season. Brown and Sampson combined for 18. Dominique Sandifer and Dylan Denso are most likely to replace them. Also in the mix are redshirt freshmen Jay Waddell and Ezell Ruffin. Sandifer missed most of the spring with a groin injury. Long was not overly impressed with his receivers early in camp. It is obvious somebody is going to have to step up quickly for the Aztecs to have any shot at building on 2010. Rob Andrews and Jake Fely are competing to start at middle linebacker.

Spring stars: Denso did stand out, especially in the spring game. He ended up catching four passes for 66 yards -- tops among all receivers -- and had a 19-yard touchdown reception. Lindley told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Denso "has been a rock." Lindley will need more of the same come fall.

Of note: Defensive end Perry Jackson was dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Meanwhile, cornerback J.J. Whittaker re-injured his knee. Long is hopeful he will return in the fall. Whittaker was a highly prized recruit who chose the Aztecs over Arizona, but redshirted last season with a knee injury. Fullback Anthony Miller has decided to transfer... San Diego State could have a two-way player in Leon McFadden. The all-MWC defensive back took some reps at receiver this spring in case he is needed, given the inexperience at the position.