No. 19 San Diego State can win a 12th game in a season for the first time in school history when it plays Utah State on Saturday in the Mountain West conference championship game at Carson, Calif.
The Aztecs (11-1) have notched 11 wins for the fourth time since moving up to Division I status in 1969. They are playing in the conference title game for the first time since 2016.
Utah State (9-3) has exceeded expectations under first-year coach Blake Anderson. The Aggies have gone 6-0 on the road while reaching the league title contest for the first time since 2013.
Utah State is just 2-13 all-time against San Diego State, however Anderson is just fine with the view of the Aztecs being favorites.
“We’ve been the underdogs in most of the games we’ve played this year and we’ve overcome that and found a way to win nine games and get to the title game,” Anderson said. “It’s been a fun ride.”
San Diego State’s lone loss this season came against Fresno State. The Aztecs responded with four straight wins and dominated Boise State in the second half of a 27-16 win over the Broncos on Nov. 26.
Now the focus is on earning the school’s third win in the Mountain West title contest.
“Really excited for this next step because this is what you play for,” said San Diego State’s Brady Hoke, who was named Mountain West Coach of the Year on Tuesday. “I think there’s a group of guys who want to have a legacy and part of that legacy is winning championships.”
Still to be determined is who starts at quarterback for the Aztecs.
Jordon Brookshire replaced banged-up and ineffective Lucas Johnson late in the second quarter versus Boise State and guided San Diego State to 24 consecutive points to overcome a 13-point deficit. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 192 yards and rushed for 46 yards on nine attempts.
Brookshire lost the starting gig to Johnson earlier this season.
“Adversity is part of the job, playing sports, any position,” Brookshire said. “It is adversity, hardships, and getting through it, and that is what makes players so good. If everything went well the entire time, who knows how good a player could be, but it is that adversity and fighting through things that makes people better.”
Johnson didn’t practice Monday, according to Hoke.
The Aztecs typically win games with defense and special teams and it was no surprise to see linebacker Cameron Thomas named the Mountain West’s top defender and punter/kicker Matt Araiza named the league’s best special teams’ player.
Thomas has recorded 20 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks, for a defense that held seven opponents to 16 or fewer points. Araiza is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award and leads the nation with a 51.5 average and is tied for first with 36 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. He is 15 of 24 on field goals.
Utah State figures to push the pace behind the combo of quarterback Logan Bonner and first-team All-Mountain West wideout Deven Thompkins.
Bonner, who followed Anderson from Arkansas State, has thrown for 3,236 yards and his 32 touchdown passes match the school record set by Jordan Love in 2018.
The 5-foot-8 Thompkins has 87 receptions for a school-record 1,543 yards. He leads the nation in receiving yardage.
“Obviously, he’s an elite player with elite ball skills,” Bonner said of Thompkins to the Salt Lake Tribune. “So I’ll take him any time no matter how big the corner is.”
–Field Level Media