The University of San Diego football team has won or shared the Pioneer Football League title nine of the past 11 seasons, which, right now, means little to head coach Dale Lindsey.
As the Toreros begin practice Friday for the 2023 season, here’s what nagging Lindsey: The Toreros have not won the league outright since 2019, the last time USD advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
USD made four straight trips to the playoffs from 2016 to 2019, winning two games. The goal this season is to recapture that standard: Win the league outright and qualify for the playoffs.
“There are no other goals,” said Lindsey.
Lindsey, 79, begins his 10th season as USD’s head coach. His record is 75-25, 64-6 in the PFL. Davidson has represented the non-scholarship PFL in the playoffs the past two seasons and was voted by a coaches’ poll to win the league again.
USD was picked second.
The biggest question marks surrounding the Toreros fall on the offensive side, specifically, who starts at quarterback and running back.
Graduate student Judd Erickson was the starting QB coming out of spring.
“If you left spring No. 1, we allow you the first day of practice (to be the starter),” said Lindsey. “After that, you’re on your own.”
Erickson played in four games last season, starting one. He had mixed success, throwing three TDs and three interceptions, completing only 53.5 percent of his passes.
His main competition is expected to be redshirt junior Re-al Mitchell, who previously attended Iowa State and Temple, plus sophomore Tanner Jellison.
At running back, the Toreros lost Emilio Martinez and Terrence Smith to graduation. The pair rushed for a combined 4,699 yards in their careers. The leading candidate to earn the bulk of the carries is graduate student Javon Sturns, who averaged 5.6 yards on only 15 carries last season.
“He has a chance to be really good,” said Lindsey. “That doesn’t mean anything until you really do it.”
The biggest difference in USD’s dominant teams from 2016 though 2019 and the past two seasons has been on offense. From 2016 through ’19 the Toreros averaged 35.7, 36.4, 37.3 and 38.5 points. The past two seasons: 23.7 and 25.7.
“We got spoiled by (quarterback) Anthony (Lawrence),” said Lindsey. “Also, he had a lot of good players around him. Those guys all graduated. We didn’t replace them. Therefore, the blame falls on the coaching staff and not the players.”
Lawrence was hired in the offseason as an assistant coach. While he’s coaching the wide receivers, he’s expected to have input at quarterback as well.
USD returns six defensive starters, including three on the defensive line. Will Buck earned first team All-PFL honors last season as a defensive tackle. Muhindo Kapapa was named to the second team at defensive end.
Norcross is a freelance writer.
Returning starters: 13 (7 on offense, 6 on defense)
Scrimmage: 10:30 a.m. Aug. 19 (Manchester Field), open to public
2021 record: 7-4
Sept. 3 vs. La Verne
Sept. 10 at Cal Poly
Sept. 17 at UC Davis
Sept. 24 at Valparaiso
Oct. 1 vs. Stetson
Oct. 8 at Drake
Oct. 15 vs. Presbyterian
Oct. 29 at St. Thomas
Nov. 5 vs. Butler
Nov. 12 vs. Davidson
Nov. 19 at Morehead State