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Let’s get the Chargers prediction out of the way first since that’s the easy one.

The Chargers should win the AFC West and advance to the Super Bowl. They’ll be better than a year ago because the team’s young stars are a year older and former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron won’t be handcuffing the offense now that he’s moved on as Miami’s head coach.

Remember when LaDainian Tomlinson caught that touchdown pass down the hashmarks at Denver? What a beautiful play, and a mismatch with run-stopping linebacker Al Wilson trying to cover LT in space. Did you see such a play again the rest of the year?

Look for new head coach Norv Turner to get LT in space more instead of pounding him into the line. Imagine LT in space running or catching the ball and Michael Turner pounding the ball. Who do you cover if LT and Turner are both on the field at the same time?

So much can happen in a playoff game to stop the Chargers short of the Super Bowl, but look for Turner to get Tomlinson more than nine touches in the second half of a tight playoff game. That’s what happened last year when the Chargers were upset by the New England Patriots.

Now for San Diego State football, and that’s a much tougher prediction.

I’ve seen some nervous Aztecs football coaches prior to a season opener that were quick to snap back when answering a question. By the end of the year, you knew the reason why.

Chuck Long doesn’t strike me as an uptight coach as he prepares to open his second season as the Aztecs’ coach Saturday against Washington State at Seattle. That doesn’t mean the Aztecs are bound for their first bowl game or winning season since 1998.

But it does tell me Long, who has made many changes from his first year, is confident he has this program pointed in the right direction.

I think the Aztecs are capable of a 6-6 season that would end up opposite Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20 at Qualcomm Stadium. Here’s what I like about Long in Year II:

1) The Aztecs were awful last year (their season was lost when quarterback Kevin O’Connell was injured), yet they still won three Mountain West Conference games. SDSU is better this year (providing O’Connell stays healthy) and they’re facing a conference that isn’t as deep as a year ago. The Aztecs can win a fourth or even a fifth MWC game in 2007.

That leaves four out-of-conference games against Washington State, Arizona State, Portland State and Cincinnati to achieve six wins. Portland State is a FBC Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) capable of beating the Aztecs, but after losing to Cal Poly last year, SDSU needs to be able to count this as a win.

So, can the Aztecs get one win out of Washington State, Arizona State and Cincinnati?

The cruel fate of SDSU football, if you look at recent history against BCS schools, is SDSU usually catches schools on the way up.

Look at their series with Illinois and Wisconsin in the 1990s and Wisconsin in 2006. The Big Ten teams were bouncing back and bowl bound the years the Aztecs played them. Other examples are Oregon State, Arizona, and Colorado.

LaDainian Tomlinson

The 2007 Washington State club might be down from recent years, but you have to consider Arizona State on the way up with Dennis Erickson, known for quick turnarounds, taking over this year and Cincinnati is definitely a program on the rise. The Bearcats whipped Oregon State Thursday night, 34-3.

2) The Aztecs again are thin on the offensive and defensive lines, but this year they have two fifth-year senior offensive tackles in Will Robinson and Mike Kravetz and n if Brandyn Dombrowski resolves his eligibility issue n a third fifth-year senior is up front. On the defensive side, they’ve switched to a 3-4 alignment, replacing an undersized lineman with a mobile linebacker. Those are reasons to think play in the trenches will be improved.

3) Kevin O’Connell is a talented fifth-year senior at quarterback and accepted team leader. I like teams with a talented fifth-year senior at quarterback, especially when they’re recognized as the team leader.

I know, I know. I’ve heard doomsday predictions for 2007, and some of them from people that have been more right than wrong about previous SDSU seasons.

Anybody can predict a bad season for the Aztecs. But I keep coming back to this thought: This is a better team than a year ago when SDSU won three games, and I don’t think three additional wins is out of reach.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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