San Diego this season has bolted out to a 6-1 start after two straight losing seasons. The six wins already assures the Toreros that they will have a winning season despite having four games left to play.
Coach Ron Caragher’s team has gone from the middle of the Pioneer Football League standings to a team that just might be playing for a conference championship.
Right now, the Toreros and Jacksonville look to be on a collision course to their yearend meeting in San Diego to see who will win the PFL.
What has been the Toreros turnaround?
San Diego had two losing season at 4-7 in 2009 and 5-6 last year. Before that, San Diego was at or near the top of the PFL standings every year since 2003.
San Diego won the outright or shared the conference title in 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Of course, USD had a coaching turnover and arguably the best player ever to play for the school. Both of those individuals are now in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh was the coach during three of those years as was quarterback Josh Johnson.
Harbaugh is now the coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Johnson is the backup quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Coach Caragher’s team is now with his recruits as he is in his fifth season. This might be a cause for the turnaround for the team.
Who have been the key contributors to this year’s team?
This past season the Toreros won four of their final five contests to finish with a winning Pioneer Football League record of 5-3. The team returned 44 lettermen and 12 starters from last year's squad that was paced by All-America defensive end Mario Kurn. He led all FCS players in sacks with 17.
The Torero defense also had cornerback Al-Rilwan Adeyemi collect 6 interceptions, lead the league in scoring defense (16.1 ppg), rushing defense (67.1 ypg), and total defense (265.0).
This year’s team is doing just as well. Kurn has 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. But the San Diego defense has also received good help from fellow end Blake Oliaro, who has 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
The leading tackler thus far has been linebacker Zach Dunaj, who has 47 tackles with 4.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
The offense has been led by a combination of rushing and passing. Kenny James has led the team with 706 yards rushing with six touchdowns.
The passing game has been headed by Mason Mills. He has passed for 1766 yards and an astounding 19 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions.
His leading wide receiver has been Sam Hoekstra, who has 45 receptions for 470 yards and five scores.
Who does San Diego have left to play this season?
The Toreros play Campbell this week on the road and then have an off week before traveling to Dayton. USD will have their final two games at home against Marist and what I mentioned earlier against Jacksonville, which looks like the PFL championship game.
Earlier, USD had their only loss to the Great West’s UC Davis 31-3. Their best win likely came last week against Drake, who had been selected as one of the PFL favorites. USD won the game 31-24 in a back and forth contest.
I believe that the Toreros will be able to win their three games up to the final contest against Jacksonville. While I don’t believe either team will make the playoffs, there may be a lack of seven DI win teams this year so it would not be too surprising if the winner of the PFL got in.
While this might be surprising to FCS fans, going from a losing record to a possible conference crown is something more surprising. That is just what San Diego has done this year.
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CSN WEST GAMES OF THE WEEK
Cal Poly (3-3, 1-0 GWC) at North Dakota (4-2, 1-0), 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Last year, these two teams played a great contest in San Luis Obispo where the Mustangs defeated the Fighting Sioux 22-21.
Running back Jake Miller has been the main offensive weapon for the Sioux, rushing for 100-plus yards and at least two touchdowns in each game since Week 3 when he began to play more.
For Cal Poly, quarterback Andre Broadous has been a threat both rushing and throwing the ball. He has rushed for 11 touchdowns and passing for another three thus far.
There are questions on the strength of schedule for UND as they have played two lower Division I teams but they did defeat Southern Utah three weeks ago on the road. This game should provide a good test to see where UND is at. I think the home field will help UND. I will take the Sioux by a point like last year in a defensive struggle.
North Dakota 17 Cal Poly 16.
Sam Houston State (6-0, 3-0 SLC) at McNeese State (3-3, 2-1), 8:00 p.m. Eastern
This is likely the game of the season in the Southland Conference. The Cowboys have dominated the league play in past years and even defeated the Bearkats last year in this game, 33-24.
I think that this year, however, SHSU is the more dominate team. I like running back Tim Flanders to get back to his earlier running dominance.
I will take the Bearkats by a touchdown despite having to go to one of the toughest venues in FCS to play in Cowboy Stadium.
Sam Houston State 27 McNeese State 20.