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The Aztecs are reloading after a successful 2021, but doubt that they’ll find answers to their most pressing questions at your own risk.
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After clinching another West division title and winning 12 games for the first time in program history last year, the San Diego State Aztecs will begin anew this spring with a host of new challenges on their plate.
The defense and special teams formula will need to identify some new contributors with Matt Araiza, Cameron Thomas, and Daniel Bellinger, among others, having moved on to chase their NFL aspirations. The good news? The Aztecs have done this before.
The last time we saw the Aztecs on the field, Lucas Johnson was blitzing a somewhat depleted UTSA defense for what turned out to be the program’s first 300-yard passing performance since 2019 (and just its second since 2014). Johnson has moved on to Montana, however, and his primary competition throughout 2021, Jordon Brookshire, has also hit the transfer portal, so getting appropriate long looks at the returning options and fresh faces is surely a top priority for offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski.
Redshirt freshman Will Haskell and junior Jalen Mayden looked solid in garbage time duty against Towson and Utah State, respectively, while incoming recruit Liu Aumavae and Virginia Tech transfer Braxton Burmeister could turn some heads, as well. Burmeister, in particular, is a wild card because, while he started every game for Virginia Tech in 2021, he has never been the most efficient quarterback, completing just 55.7% of his throws for the Hokies (though he did average 7.7 yards per attempt with a 1.5% interception rate).
The quarterback competition will get a lot of headlines, but replacing the offensive line trio of William Dunkle, Zachary Thomas and Dominic Gudino, with 78 combined career starts between them, is just as (if not more) important. Thankfully, Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson and Alama Uluave more than held up in their first full years as starters and return with plenty of momentum at their backs: Crenshaw-Dickson earned the fourth-highest pass blocking grade (75.6) among Mountain West tackles according to Pro Football Focus, while Uluave had an argument as the conference’s best center not named Keegan Cryder.
Young talents and what they do with opportunities to impress could go a long way toward determining whether the spring is a success. Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli and Jonathan Harrison spent time last year as backups to Dunkle and Thomas while Josh Simmons, who headlined SDSU’s 2020 recruiting class as a four-star prospect, and Cade Bennett, a transfer portal arrival from Oklahoma State, may do a lot with their first extended auditions.
It’s unreasonable to expect Jack Browning, Collyn Hopkins, or Devin Delgado, the trio of specialists currently listed on the Aztecs roster, to go out and threaten Araiza’s newly-minted NCAA record for average yards per punt, but avoiding as much regression as possible in the field position game will start with competition in the spring.
San Diego State has had a fair bit of success identifying and developing punters beyond the Punt God in recent years, though. Remember, Tanner Kuljian averaged a very reasonable 45.4 yards per punt back in 2020 and Brandon Heicklen improved his average by seven full yards from 2017 to 2019. If you’re looking for benchmarks that Browning, Hopkins and Delgado could reach, start there.

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