Who’s back: Nine of the 13 teams in the Big Sky Conference allowed more than 200 passing yards per game in 2015, and with several top quarterbacks returning, more of the same can be expected this fall. Cal Poly’s secondary was hindered by injuries most of last season, and it will likely feature at least two new starters when the Mustangs begin the season at Nevada. Junior safety B.J. Nard is an all-conference talent who will be counted to make tackles near the line of scrimmage and limit big-play opportunities. Fellow juniors Kevin Griffin and Jerek Rosales are projected to start at the cornerback spots, and junior Aaryn Bouzos is listed as the starter opposite Nard. Those three played in 11 games last season.
Who’s new: The Mustangs don’t have a single senior listed on the 16-person preseason depth chart. Redshirt freshman Kitu Humphrey impressed in practice last year and another strong showing in fall camp could land him in the starting lineup. Starter or not, Humphrey will bring another physical presence to the back line that will be hard to keep off the field. Junior college transfer Dominic Frasch and redshirt freshman Kam Dennis will likely be used in “nickel” formations, when Cal Poly needs five defensive backs in likely passing situations.
Tim Walsh’s take: “We really have four or five safeties that I really feel comfortable with. B.J. Nard is going to start, but who starts at the other safety? That’s gonna be a tough battle.”
Projected depth chart:
LCB: Jerek Rosales, 6-1, 191, jr.; Dominic Frasch, 5-10, 185, jr.; Kam Dennis, 6-0, 190, rfr.
LS: B.J. Nard, 6-2, 212, jr.; Aaron Johnson, 6-2, 190, soph.; Kitu Humphrey, 5-10, 185, rfr.
RS: Aaryn Bouzos, 5-9, 185, jr.; Tully McCalister, 6-0, 200, soph.; Darren Adjei, 6-3, 200, jr.
RCB: Kevin Griffin, 6-1, 180, jr.; Kai Sheffie, 5-10, 185, soph.; Kam Dennis, 6-0, 190, rfr.
X factor: Cal Poly’s keep-everything-in-front mentality was part of its undoing last year. The Mustangs allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 68 percent of their passes — the highest mark in the Big Sky — for 24 touchdowns and more than 287 passing yards per game. They also ranked 11th in turnover margin and intercepted four passes in the final 10 games of the season. With a longer, more athletic secondary, look for the Mustangs to force a few more takeaways in 2016.