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Why the Aztecs Are Hard to Appreciate: Let Us Count the Ways

San Diego State’s version of a football renaissance, it would seem, was more a fleeting moment than an era of prosperity.

The Return to Glory came in December 1986 and lasted about as long as a cut Christmas tree.

In the aftermath of that Western Athletic Conference championship in 1986, it was convenient to conclude that the 5-7 record of 1987 was an aberration. As it is turning out, the championship season was the aberration.

Consequently, SDSU’s greatest thirst likely will go unquenched once again. And all it really wants is what everyone really wants.

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I’m not talking about a Heisman Trophy candidate at each of the skilled positions or a wall of granite for a defensive line or the Olympic 4x100 relay champions in the defensive backfield . . . though any or all of those might be helpful.

I’m talking love.

This program would like to be appreciated and applauded and supported, flawed or not.

Unfortunately, SDSU football is proof that love isn’t blind. Consider that the Aztecs have averaged 37,867 empty seats for four home games.

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Obviously, another season has gotten away from the Aztecs, 1-5 and exiled by the schedule-maker to play four of their final five games on the road. The way things are going, the road might be a better place to be.

A few factors must be considered when pondering what has transpired thus far in 1988 and what might transpire down the road.

Mathematics

Presumably, an institution of higher learning would excel in this field, particularly its more primitive forms.

But the football players are having problems here. The confusion has nothing to do with algebra or calculus, or even counting on their fingers.

In fact, it has nothing to do with taking two numbers and, from them, determining a third.

Instead, it has to do with assembling 11 players and causing them to appear simultaneously on the field. This, as I understand it, is the recommended number.

What has happened, though, is that SDSU keeps showing up with 10 or 12 at a time, possibly attempting to confound the opposition with different looks. Unfortunately, a team with 10 players on the field is outnumbered, and a team with 12 is penalized.

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Perhaps the Aztecs should add yet another assistant coach . . . a counting coach.

Local Recruiting

An image problem could be developing here.

Much was made in the spring of 1987 when the Aztecs successfully recruited local heroes Tommy Booker, Scott Barrick and Patrick Rowe.

SDSU had suddenly become a place to go and glow for San Diego County stars.

This could have been a glorious beginning to a nice chapter in SDSU football history. It would have heightened the profile in the county, and induced other talented players to stay home.

There was a catch, however. The phenoms had to phenomenate.

It does no good when this year’s blue-chippers go to an SDSU game and see (a) wide receiver Rowe catching fewer than 2 passes a game; (b) running back Booker carrying only slightly more than 4 times a game, and (c) Barrick attempting fewer than 2 passes a game.

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This is no way to sell future recruits, who might be excused for saying: “If those guys ain’t playing, we ain’t staying.”

Holding the Line

On the day Denny Stolz was hired as coach in late 1985, Athletic Director Fred Miller said: “He’s a former defensive coordinator, which was essential in our search. When you examine successful programs . . . you’ll notice they are strong defensively.”

This program, which is not looking too successful right now, is one of the worst in the nation defensively.

The problems is that schemes do not make tackles. Players do.

A big problem defensively is with the big guys. SDSU has recruited 13 players as defensive linemen over the course of the past 3 years and only one of them, Pio Sagapolutele, is playing.

Injuries have hurt, of course. Todd Coomes was a starter this season before being injured. Others have been injured, some have quit, one or two have been run off and others simply have not played.

In essence, SDSU has either recruited poorly in this key area . . . or been cursed with the worst of luck.

Expectations

For some outlandish reason I cannot fathom, there were those who thought the Aztecs would contend for the WAC championship this year.

One of them happened to be Fred Miller, who concluded a radio commercial with the assertion that the Nov. 5 game with Brigham Young would likely be for the championship.

The boss is the wrong guy to be expecting more than he is getting. He was expecting too much, but the program has dipped so low that it would be unsuccessful when measured against much more sensible expectations.

A 2-9 or 3-8 record seems likely, and under any mathematical analysis that does not add up to much credibility in the community . . . nor much chance of being applauded and appreciated.


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