Football update: Aztecs withdraw from bowl consideration, conference honors and more

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Courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

Junior cornerback Darren Hall intercepts a pass during the Aztecs’ 29-17 win against Colorado State on Dec. 5 at Dignity Health Sports Park.

by Amber Salas, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State football ended the unprecedented 2020 football regular season last week with a 28-14 loss to nationally-ranked No. 18 BYU. 

The Aztecs ended the season with a 4-4 overall record — including a 4-2 record in Mountain West Conference play. 

The Scarlet and Black were not selected as one of the four MWC bowl game tie-ins, but still had hopes of pursuing an opportunity to play in a postseason bowl game. That quest for a bowl game ended Wednesday night when the Aztecs made the decision to withdraw from consideration. 

Here are this week’s top headlines for Aztec football. 

Aztecs withdraw from bowl consideration after actively pursuing an opportunity

The Aztecs were not originally selected as one of the four Mountain West teams to attend a conference tie-in bowl game. Their school record of attending 10-straight bowl games ended Wednesday night when the team made the decision to withdraw from bowl consideration. 

San José State finished first in the MWC standings with a 6-0 record, followed by Boise State (5-0) and Nevada (6-2). San José State and Boise State will face each other in the MWC championship game on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas. The winner will play in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve. 

The Aztecs ended the season with a three-way tie with Hawaii (4-4) and Fresno State (3-3). Although SDSU’s conference campaign ended at 4-2, the MWC held more value on the team’s overall record due to cancellations, postponements and unbalanced schedules.

The Mountain West tiebreaker rules first consider the head-to-head record among all three teams, however that became complicated as all three teams did not play each other this season. 

Hawaii beat Fresno State, but SDSU beat Hawaii. The conference would then turn to who beat Fresno State, but SDSU never played Fresno State after the scheduled Nov. 28 game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Bulldogs. 

Then, the conference took Nevada into consideration as Hawaii, Fresno State and SDSU played them. Of those three, Hawaii was the only team to beat Nevada which led to Hawaii winning the tiebreaker. 

SDSU was suddenly out of the picture, even though the Aztecs had the better conference record — including a 34-10 win over Hawaii. As a result, the Rainbow Warriors will head to the New Mexico Bowl to play University of Houston. 

Head coach Brady Hoke was not pleased with the decision by the conference. 

“That ticks me off,” Hoke said on Fox Sports San Diego XTRA 1360.  “I don’t understand. There’s about 20 pages of Mountain West bowl scenarios, and what has to happen. I don’t have an answer. I’ll be real honest with you. You could talk about head-to-head, you can talk about all those things. We’re a 4-2 team in the league.”

“Our guys deserve that and I believe that in all my heart,” Hoke said. “I’m not real sure how it came to be from the decision makers.”

The Aztecs had Monday and Tuesday off, but returned to practice on Wednesday in hopes of finding an open bowl opportunity. 

Several teams have made the decision to opt out of bowl games after enduring such a difficult season due to COVID-19. The Aztecs hoped they would be able to fill one of those open spots, however an opportunity never came up. 

Through everything, Hoke wanted to make a decision that was best for his athletes after all they endured this season. 

“I really feel for them and we’re gonna do what we feel is best for them,” Hoke said. 

15 Aztecs earn 2020 Mountain West all conference honors

The MWC announced Tuesday 15 Aztec players earned 2020 All-Mountain West postseason honors. 

The 15 selections are the most an SDSU football team has had since 2001, when the Aztecs had 16 names on the list. 

Five Aztecs received first-team selections, including sophomore defensive lineman Cameron Thomas, junior linebacker Caden McDonald, junior cornerback Darren Hall, senior safety Tariq Thompson and senior left tackle Kyle Spalding. 

Thomas’ selection marks his second straight season as an all-Mountain West first-team member. This season, he recorded 35 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss. He also made four sacks and a pass breakup. 

McDonald joins the all-Mountain West first team for the first time in his career after recording 24 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. The Texas native leads the Mountain West conference in tackles for loss (10) and is tied for third in tackles for lost yards (48). 

Hall received his first team selection after a season of recording 37 tackles, three interceptions for 72 yards and six pass breakups. One of Hall’s interceptions against Colorado resulted in a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown. Hall leads the conference in pass breakups (6) and passes defended (9). 

Thompson received first team honors for the first time in his career, after receiving second-team honors each of his past three seasons with the Aztecs. This season, he led SDSU in tackles (41). He recorded an interception, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. 

Spalding’s recognition marks his first ever all-conference honor. He was the only SDSU offensive player to make the first team. Out of his 555 snaps this season, Spalding only had one penalty. He recorded 31 knockdowns this season, ranking second on the team.

Surviving the unprecedented 2020 season 

In a year like no other, the Aztecs managed to take the field for eight straight weeks to play a full schedule. 

Out of the 12 teams that make up the MWC, three were able to play the full eight game schedule. Hawaii, Nevada and SDSU were the only teams to complete a full eight-game schedule.

This is a result of the Aztecs following strict COVID-19 guidelines, including rapid testing three times a week. 

Hoke announced out of the 4,500 total COVID-19 tests the team administered, only two came back as positive throughout the entire season. 

“We’ve only had two positive tests out of 4,500,” Hoke said. “To me, that is remarkable. I don’t know what you all think, but I know one thing: 18-22 (years old), and to have 4,500 tests is incredible only to have two positive.”

Looking ahead to the future of Aztec football

The Aztecs welcomed 23 new players on Wednesday for National Signing Day’s early period.

Some of the most notable signees include two new quarterbacks Will Haskell and Jalen Mayden. 

Haskell comes to San Diego out of Arizona where he attended Ironwood High School. Haskell completed 60% of his passes for 1,401 yards and 20 touchdowns during his most recent junior season. He is a dual-threat quarterback who led Ironwood High School to the AIA 5A state championship. 

The Aztecs also signed redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Mayden who will transfer from Mississippi State. Originally from Sachse High School in Texas, Mayden played in three games as a true freshman at Mississippi State. He is immediately eligible to play for the Aztecs and will arrive in San Diego next month. 

Hoke is excited about the competitiveness these two new quarterback additions will bring to the program. 

“(Will Haskell is) a guy that will come in and compete along with Jalen (Mayden),” Hoke said. “We like the dual-threat they both give us. Will’s numbers are pretty incredible and (we’re) really excited about Jalen and him wanting to be here.”

The newly signed Aztec class creates competition within the program that will allow SDSU football to continue to grow and develop. 

“We evaluated our needs and think that we have addressed those needs,” Hoke said. “Nothing is ever certain, but we feel very good about the young men we have recruited. We’ve recruited them in a manner that we’re going to create competition at all positions.” 

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