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The perception is that it's time for San Diego State coach Tom Craft to guide the Aztecs to a bowl game. Otherwise, his tenure might not stretch into a fifth season in 2006.
The Aztecs have boasted about their recruiting classes the past three Februarys, and the populace, when not apathetic, is tired of excuses and always being told better days are ahead.
In the six seasons since the formation of the Mountain West Conference, the Aztecs are the only one of the eight founding members not to appear in at least one bowl game. This continues San Diego State's dubious record of participating in just three bowl games (all losses) since the 1970s.
For the Aztecs to be bowl-bound this season, they need to settle on a quarterback, see star running back Lynell Hamilton return to form and have several new defensive starters step up to replace the core of a defense that ranked eighth in the nation in total defense two years ago.
San Diego State needs to decide on a quarterback. Sophomore Kevin O'Connell and redshirt freshman Darren Mougey are set to battle for the position. Both can make plays with their legs as well as their arms.
O'Connell started the final five games of last season but missed spring drills after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder. The injury opened the door for Mougey, and the former Arizona high school star had a sensational spring.
Hamilton is back after missing last season with a badly broken ankle. He was the '03 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year. Hamilton looked as good as new in the spring but will have gone 22 months between games when the season opens.
Seniors Jeff Webb and Robert Ortiz form one of the better receiver tandems in the Mountain West. Big things are expected from junior college transfer Tyrell Smith and sophomore Chazeray Schilens.
Senior center Jasper Harvey is expected back from a university-issued suspension that caused him to miss last season. The left side, manned by senior tackle Chris Pino and senior guard Taylor Schmidt, should be strong.
The big task will be replacing a four-star quartet of linebackers that included three-time first-team all-conference pick Kirk Morrison and the Mountain West's top safety tandem.
Freddie Keiaho takes over Morrison's role in the middle, while Joe Martin will be counted on heavily as one of the starting outside linebackers.
Senior Marcus Demps will be the free safety after moving to cornerback last year. Senior Reggie Grigsby is the lead choice at strong safety. There's a strong desire to see senior Jacob Elimimian recapture the form that allowed him to intercept a team-high four passes in '03. He was a nonfactor last year after an academic suspension sidelined him for eight weeks.
Junior tackle Jonathan Bailes is a two-year starter on the verge of becoming a star. Junior tackle Emil Metroka was a sensation during spring drills before tearing a knee ligament in March. Sophomore end Antwan Applewhite is athletic and has the potential to become a standout. Senior end Kurt Kahui is solid.
Punting was a sore point last season, never more painful than a third-quarter sequence against Wyoming when three punts by two different punters traveled a total of 25 yards.
Sophomore Michael Hughes was left home that disastrous weekend because of his own struggles, and he's the only scholarship punter in the program.
Sophomore Garrett Palmer had his moments but finished just 12-of-21 on field goals, but needs to be more consistent this season.
This season, the Aztecs might need to make a rare bowl appearance for Craft to keep his job. The Aztecs must have success at replacing the core of a defense that was able to keep games close in recent seasons despite offensive struggles.
Avoiding an 0-3 start against a schedule that starts with UCLA, followed by road trips to Air Force and Ohio State is a must. If the Aztecs play well on the road, they could surprise the MWC. That elusive bowl bid, however, still seems out of reach.