The conclusion to our countdown doesn’t feature a stunner like Georgia Southern over Georgia or Northern Iowa over BYU, but you can take my word that when Cal Poly travels to San Diego State in week one, the Mustangs will be in perfect position to upset the Aztecs. Check the links below to recap the last three parts of our countdown.
No. 1: Cal Poly at San Diego State (August 28)
Chuck Long has had a tough time getting San Diego State going in his two years here, and despite having a fairly veteran offense in 2007, the Aztecs still stumbled their way to a 4-8 record. The Aztecs finished 115th out of 119 FBS teams in total defense last season, allowing a staggering 498 yards per contest, including a “just shoot us now” 241 yards per game on the ground.
Offensively San Diego State has quite a bit of retooling to do, as they lose eight players from last year’s offense, including NFL-bound quarterback Kevin O’Connell and wide receivers Brett Swain and Chaz Schilens. Even more pressing, however, may be the questions at offensive line, as the Aztecs return zero experience at the tackle position and only two starters on the offensive line.
This is not a good storyboard for a team which averaged “only” 25 points per game on offense last year while benefiting from a plus-six turnover margin. I use the word “only” because San Diego State will need to score points in order to even be competitive in the MWC.
Considering how many teams need two to three games to establish an identity on offense, it certainly seems more than conceivable that San Diego State would come sluggish in their opener with Cal Poly.
Cal Poly, on the other hand, is coming off of a successful 7-4 campaign which saw the Mustangs finish 24th in the final Sports Network FCS media poll. Coach Rich Ellerson’s bunch led the nation in total offense during the regular season last year, falling just short of the 500-yard per game mark.
They posted impressive wins over UC Davis (63-28), Idaho State (48-28), and Weber State (47-19) in 2007, while losing close matchups to WAC member Idaho (20-13) and North Dakota State (31-28.)
The Mustangs return ten starters from their record-setting offense in 2008, with the lone graduation loss being offensive lineman Daniel Bradley. Defensively they return seven starters, and while they weren’t lights out last year, Cal Poly did have a dominating defense in 2006.
I like Cal Poly in this matchup for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their recent success against FBS programs, as well as their established offensive dominance. Cal Poly actually beat San Diego State 16-14 in 2006 and would have beaten Idaho last year had it not been for seven fumbles which gave the Vandals a decided edge in the turnover department.
While San Diego State does bring back eight starters on the defensive side of the ball, I really question whether they’ll be improved enough in the first week of 2008 to stop Jonathan Dally and the Mustang offense.
Keep in mind, Cal Poly runs a triple option offense not totally dissimilar to what Air Force runs, and that the Falcons totaled more than 650 offensive yards (!!!) against San Diego State last season.
Even with a comparatively average defense by FCS standards, Cal Poly remains much more experienced than San Diego State’s offense, which will likely struggle controlling the ball as they break in a new quarterback, two new starting receivers, and an overhauled offensive line.
It’s a good thing they don’t put lines out on inter-subdivision games, because if they did I’d put money down on Cal Poly, which is exactly why this is my most likely FCS over FBS upset in 2008.