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San Diego State expert previews the Arizona game, makes a score prediction

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It’s officially Game Week for Arizona, which on Saturday will visit San Diego State in the 2022 opener for both teams.

This will be the first game played in Snapdragon Stadium, the Aztecs’ home field, which is a scaled-down version of the old Padres/Chargers stadium. That’s not all that’s different about SDSU, which blew out Arizona 38-14 last season.

To better understand what the Wildcats will be facing in their opener, we reached out to Jeffrey Carter of SB Nation sister site MWCConnection. Here are his respectful answers to our flippant questions.

AZ Desert Swarm: San Diego State came to Tucson last season and steamrolled the Wildcats in Jedd Fisch’s home debut, but a good number of the key contributors from that Aztecs team are gone. How’s the outlook of this squad compared to the 2021 version?

Jeffrey Carter: Aztec outlook is positive as their system is built around replacing instead of rebuilding. Defense will be strong again with leaders Keshawn Banks and Jonah Tavai on the line, Caden McDonald at LB and Patrick McMorris at the Aztec position. Both Tavai and McDonald have their brothers playing alongside them this year as transfers (from Hawaii and Washington, respectively).

Offense will rely on Chance Bell and Jordan Byrd at RB, Jesse Matthews, is all-league at WR. Also at WR are Tyrell Shavers and Brionne Penney. They lost TJ Sullivan to a season-ending injury.

QB Braxton Burmeister started at Virginia Tech last year and was effective. He will be relied on improving a passing game and making few mistakes. He only had four picks last year.

The casual college football fan might not know of Braxton Burmeister, but plenty of UA fans do thanks to his two times being committed here before ending up at Oregon (and then Virginia Tech, and now SDSU). How does he fit in with this offense, and what are the expectations for this journeyman quarterback?

He will be expected to manage the offense, balanced, but run focused. Make no mistakes, cause no harm and be a consistent passer. He should thrive in the short to mid level passing game considering the talent of his receivers.

Gone is a 1,000-yard rusher in Greg Bell, who ran for 125 yards and a TD at Arizona, and several offensive linemen. Will the run game still be a big part of the offense, and if so who are the key guys to look out for?

Bell and Byrd should lead the run game. Several other new players should contribute including Jaylon Armstead. The Aztecs live by the run. Stop them and it forces them into an uncomfortable position.

Four Aztecs made the first team of the Mountain West preseason squad, with senior DB Patrick McMorris picked as the co-defensive player of the year. Is that the better side of the ball for SDSU, at least going into the season?

The Aztecs are definitely better on defense. They should be top ten in several categories and have some strong players contributing. They are probably best overall defense in the league along with Boise and San Jose.

Was last year’s 12-2 record a byproduct of coach Brady Hoke benefitting from a veteran-laden squad left behind by Rocky Long, or is his second time in San Diego looking to be better than the first? What do the fans think of him?

I don’t know a lot about Hoke but he’s done things right. The foundation laid by Long is obvious. Last year was a special year and would have been better without losing a lot of players due to COVID for the league championship game. There is a huge increase in excitement for opening up Snapdragon Stadium. The Aztecs played in LA the last two years. Expect the stadium to establish a home field advantage.

Prediction time. Does Arizona spoil the first game at Snapdragon Stadium, or does SDSU knock off another Pac-12 school? Give us a score pick.

I see a much improved Wildcat team. Coach Fisch is a great coach and has a good roadmap plan. The Aztecs I feel are also improved and will be motivated to knock off a Pac-12 team again. My score prediction is 35-21 SDSU but the game will be pretty evenly matched. Think the time of possession will be the key factor.