The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

San Diego State probably deserves more credit for playing all of its games away from home

The San Diego State football team has played this season's home games in Carson, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
5 min

On a deliriously loopy long weekend with an Egg Bowl (in Mississippi), an Iron Bowl (in Alabama), “The Game” (in Michigan), a thing they used to call a “Civil War” (in Oregon), an Old Oaken Bucket (in Indiana), a Palmetto Bowl (in South Carolina), an Apple Cup (in Washington), a Governor’s Cup (in Kentucky), a Duel in the Desert (in Arizona) and Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate (in Georgia), among still others, save an eye for another oddball.

On Friday morning adjacent to Los Angeles, they’ll answer an age-old question: If you stage a momentous football game at 9 a.m. on Black Friday at least 115 miles from either campus, will anybody come?

Actually, wait: Nobody has ever really asked that question.

When No. 21 San Diego State (10-1, 6-1) plays Boise State (7-4, 5-2) to help deal with the jumbled Mountain West standings, it could bring a shred of attention to a Group of Five school that hasn’t gotten enough attention this season. While fairness enthusiasts have concentrated on the case of Cincinnati in determining whether college football’s financial underlings will get any respect, that noise may have drowned out San Diego State.

Cincinnati makes history by joining Ohio State in the CFP’s top four

Officialdom says the Aztecs are 5-1 at home and 5-0 on the road.

They’re really 10-1 on the road.

While their new stadium gets built for 2022 on the ground of bygone Chargers and three Super Bowls where Doug Williams threw and Terrell Davis romped and Tampa Bay kept returning interceptions, the Aztecs have bused about 115 miles, again and five more agains, to their “home” games in Carson, Calif., at Dignity Health Sports Park, where the Chargers used to play after they played in San Diego but before they played in the spaceship they and the Rams share nowadays. The Aztecs stay one night in a hotel, as home teams have done forever but just not 115 miles away from home. They did likewise for the abbreviated season of 2020.

If anyone has ever driven or bused up Interstate 5 from San Diego through Orange County to Los Angeles, they might have learned a wise adage: Take the train.

“There at the very beginning of last season, it was kind of a haul,” San Diego State linebacker Caden McDonald said this week. “You could kind of feel it, like, going up there, like, going out of our own way to go play the games. Now, we like it; it’s like a part of our routine. It’s nothing. That’s our home stadium up there, and our fans travel up there and support us. And we have the best fans, too.”

The best fans would make such a trip, yes, but “best” does imply rarity. So as the Aztecs and Broncos get set to go at rational coffee hour, and some San Diegans think they should be playing at the University of San Diego (capacity 6,000), a careful observer might wait for the middle of the second half, for the reveal of a telltale stat: attendance.

Dignity Health Park seats 27,000. San Diego State drew an announced 10,116 to its home opener Sept. 4 against New Mexico State. It drew 11,090 for its win over now-No. 19 Utah, then 7,619 for Towson, 8,387 for New Mexico, 11,034 for Fresno State and 11,821 for Nevada.

What will it draw at 9 a.m.?

And how does one play important football at 9 a.m.?

As two-term San Diego State Coach Brady Hoke — 2009-10, 2019-present — outlined it, the team will eat at 5:30 a.m. McDonald spoke of the usual chicken and spaghetti at that hour, and no one retched, at least not audibly. The whole thing prompted rational questions from Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Is that a lighter meal than it might be on a normal time? How much do you want them to have inside their systems before they take the field?”

“Enough where they’re comfortable that they can play their best,” Hoke said. “You know, it will be a normal pregame meal. And you know, there’s a lot of guys [who] don’t eat that [anytime]. You know, there’s a lot of guys who can’t eat before they play. I was one of those guys. Obviously, I got over it …”

Meep, meep. Here come the UTSA Roadrunners, college football’s other unbeaten team.

As Hoke also explained: “When we winter-condition, we start at 6 a.m. When we do our conditioning in the summer, our guys start at 6 a.m. They lifted this morning, at 5:30.”

And as McDonald said: “Usually, because we play at, like, 8:30 [p.m.], so we wake up and do our stuff all day and just sit in the hotel all day long and just wait, wait, wait, watch football, all day. So this’ll be wake up, and now we’re the team that gets to be watched all day long, and then we’ll be done by 12 or 1 o’clock, and then we’ll have the rest of the day.”

They’ve got it figured out, and they’ve even got the road trip built into a football credo, that of overcoming “adversity,” yet it’s unlikely they’re getting enough credit for playing 11 road games out of 11. The College Football Playoff selection committee actually docked San Diego State two places Tuesday night for getting caught in a taut tussle last Friday at UNLV, leaving it three places behind Utah (8-3), which lost to San Diego State in three overtimes in Carson, in September, both teams on the road.

It’s possible the Aztecs ought to place more highly, just for their trouble, just as it’s possible the fans who do reach their “home” games ought to place more highly as well — in the national consciousness. It would be a fun endeavor for some puckish sort on Friday morning to sit there and count them as carefully as possible, taking care not to omit anyone who might have gotten up to go to the restroom.

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