SAN DIEGO — Don't tell San Diego State coach Rocky Long that the Poinsettia Bowl against BYU — at the Aztecs' home field, Qualcomm Stadium — is a home game.
"It's a special deal for our team to be playing in front of our home crowd," Long said Thursday. "I also know how well BYU is followed. If anyone thinks there's going to be a home field advantage, I'm guessing that's going to be wrong. Half of that crowd will be for us, and half that crowd will be for them. I think it's a neutral site, other than we've played in that stadium more than they have. I hope we outnumber them. It would be really nice if we outnumbered them. But I've been in these games against them before and it's usually a 50-50 stadium."
Poinsettia Bowl officials are expecting a crowd of about 40,000 when the Aztecs and Cougars meet on Dec. 20. The attendance record for the Poinsettia Bowl, 48,000, was set two years ago when SDSU faced Navy. The Aztecs won, 35-14.
"I heard ticket sales are going well. Two years ago, we had a record crowd," Long said. "Hopefully we break that record. I think our players wanted to come to this game all along. It gives our fans a chance to watch us play. Everybody on our team loves San Diego, or they wouldn't be here Our team plays better when there's energy in the stadium. Whenever you get a big crowd, there's energy."
This marks SDSU's third consecutive bowl appearance after a 12-year bowl drought.
"It's an honor and a reward for having a good year," Long said. "Going to a bowl game should be a good experience. We want to win, but the emphasis on winning comes from a different angle when you're in a bowl game. It had been a long time since San Diego State had been to a bowl game, and now this is our third straight. Hopefully, it's a habit that everyone considers every year to be a bowl year."
Asked about BYU's offensive struggles this season, Long replied, "I think they're really good on offense. People try to compare them back to the years when they threw 50 times a game (BYU actually threw 51 passes against San Jose State and 50 against New Mexico State). They're not that kind of offense anymore. They're more of a pro style offense, where they want to run the ball and use play-action pass. Their quarterbacks are really good athletes that like to scramble around and use their feet. BYU was one of the first programs to spread you out and throw it around the ballpark and threw it 50-60 times. I think they're very good on offense. People that say that are just people that are used to seeing what it was in the past. They play offense to their defense, because their defense is one of the top-ranked defenses in the country. A smart coach will have the offense tailored to the strength of the defense."
News came this week that the seven Catholic-affiliated basketball members of the Big East Conference are contemplating departing the league. How will this impact SDSU, which was set to join the Big East next season, along with Boise State?
"I don't think that has anything to do with football," Long said. Conference alignment will be unsettled for a while, he added.
"Division I college football is going to five or six major conferences and they're going to have a tournament," Long said. "And I think it's going to happen real soon. You have to be associated with one of those conferences or associated with those kinds of teams to be considered to go into that mix. Here, we want to be able to compete for a conference championship as well as a national championship. The only way to do that, in my opinion, is to be associated with those leagues that are going to be in that tournament. I think they're developing as we speak. It's not over yet. I think there's going to be a lot of teams moving around over the next two or three years before they get to the tournament On ESPN the other day, they had a mock-up of a 12-team tournament if it were this year, and as soon as TV starts talking that way, guess what? It's getting ready to happen When I say those conferences are going to break into five or six super conferences and be in a tournament, I think it's all going to be football-related."
When asked how SDSU would fare if it were a member of the Pac-12, Long said, "I think we'd be just fine. I think we'd be in a bowl game. I don't know if we'd be playing for a national championship, but I bet you we'd be in a bowl game and have a winning record."