San Diego State is a football team that is in a familiar spot: headed to another bowl game.
While some area football fans grind their teeth over whether or not to root for the once-San Diego Chargers, the stay-at-home Aztecs continue to produce success.
SDSU (6-1, 3-1 Mountain West Conference), is set to play Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday. They head to Sin City while proving to be a savior for those seeking their football fix.
With a 27-17 win in their most recent outing against San Jose State, on Oct. 19, the Aztecs qualified for a bowl game for the 10th consecutive season.
For a program that not all that long ago would need a couple of seasons — at least — to collect 10 victories, that’s a big deal.
So is racing to a 6-1 record, which only three other colleges can also claim to do in each of the past four seasons: Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
The state of Aztecs football is solid and don’t expect SDSU to go bust at UNLV. SDSU is a perfect 4-0 on the road and the Rebels have yet to yell after a conference game while losing all three.
The charm of the Aztecs is the hallmark of every team coached by Rocky Long: run the ball, play heady defense and expect contributions from special teams.
That was the formula when SDSU disposed of San Jose State. The Aztecs rushed for 260 yards and two scores, kept the lid of the Spartans’ pass-happy offense and displayed a kicking and return game that was keen.
Five Aztecs rushed for at least 25 yards, led by stellar running back Juwan Washington. He’s the latest in the line of standout rushers, falling comfortably behind Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny.
Punter Brandon Heicklen was money in the win over the Spartans as he averaged 45.8 yards on five attempts. Four of his efforts settled inside the 20-yard-line, including three inside the 3-yard-line. His performance was such that he became the fourth Aztec this season to be named the Mountain West Conference player of the week.
Among the fab four to be honored is Rancho Bernardo High product Matt Araiza. The redshirt freshman continues to shine as the Aztecs’ place-kicker.
Cornerback Luq Barcoo was another MW player of the week and he’s starting to get noticed on the national stage as well. Barcoo, a senior from Castle Park High, is an old-school cover corner who’s not afraid to match skills against every team’s best receiver.
He was recently named as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the best defensive back in college football. Barcoo earned his stripes in a win against Colorado State on Oct. 5 when he intercepted passes on three consecutive defensive snaps.
Add all of this up, with Long and his savvy staff concocting their devilish schemes, and the result is a winning brand of football. It’s one that doesn’t come with threats of a team moving away. Or even worse for some, of one moving back.
But securing another bowl bid isn’t scooting Long off his mission.
“Our No. 1 goal is to play for the conference championship,’’ he said.
The Aztecs are in position to do that despite a heartbreaking loss to Utah State and an ankle injury to Washington, their best skill-positioned player. They’ve overcome both obstacles, which will have them bowling in December.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports