OREGON STATE NEEDED a 20-point fourth quarter and some big interceptions last year to squeak by San Diego State 34-30. What's in store for the Beavs this season against SDSU? Well, for one thing, the Aztec defense should be even better.

Oregon State didn't try to run vs. SDSU last year, they had only 10 rushing attempts. SDSU was rated the 21st best rushing defense last season -- and they should be better than that in 2013.

The SDSU defensive line lost only one starter looked considerably improved this spring -- Dakota Turner moved from linebacker to defensive end and thrived, while Alex Barrett was an anchor at nose tackle. But that's not the big thing.

Rocky Long said three players who didn't practice in the spring, Dontrell Onuoha, Sam Meredith and former USC defensive tackle Christian Heyward, might be the three starters up front.

That should allow for lots of quality rotation and a potentially very good defense. SDSU returns all linebacker starters including perhaps the best linebacker in the Mountain West, Jake Fely.

SDSU loses 12 starters, but are in better position to reload than in a long time. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history. Last year San Diego State started 0–3 before finishing 8-4.

The safe pick is to predict them to finish behind both Fresno State and Nevada but SDSU is a real darkhorse candidate this season to take the top spot because of their defensive front seven.

The kicking game is a big question mark and there are lots of safeties trying to separate themselves from one another to try and diminish the blow of losing two safeties to the NFL. There is promise there with Stan Sedberry and David Lamar but you can expect SDSU to take a step back there. In 2013, SDSU kickers combined to go a woeful 8-16 on field goal attempts.

The Aztec D was ahead of the offense this spring, but projected QB starter Quinn Kaehler missed the spring after offseason elbow surgery. Kaehler passed for 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns this past season, with only nine interceptions in 389 attempts.

SDSU's top unit on offense might be the receiving corps despite the fact they're replacing three starters. Ezell Ruffin is the leader but Larry Clark and Eric Judge had bang-up springs.

The o-line led by Terry Poole lost the majority of the spring battles to their defensive counterparts and will be a major focus in fall camp.

SDSU is expected to pass more in 2014. They use a two running back system -- one big-play running back and one between-the-tackles running back. Donnel Pumphrey (5-9, 170) is the big-play guy, but Adam Muema leaves the tough yards spot with big shoes to fill.

Long has said that spot will come down to Chase Price (5-8, 200) and redshirt freshman Marcus Stamps (6-1). It looks like Price figures to get a lot of carries, provided he can hold off Stamps.

SDSU will be young, and 16 of the 24 recruits from SDSU's heralded 2013 recruiting class could find their way into the two-deeps. And while their inexperience will show, SDSU has taken a big step forward in their athleticism on the recruiting trail.

The tilt this year is in Corvallis, and Oregon State may need that home-field advantage.

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