It’s almost time for the college football season and long time readers know that I root for the San Jose State Spartans. I have been a fan for over 40 years and while the Spartans have struggled to regain their place in the college football landscape after a very long dry spell,they have been making bigger steps in the past few years.
2015 was a mixed bag for the SJSU,the Spartans finished the regular season 5-7 before catching a big break and getting to play in the first Cure Bowl where they defeated Georgia State,27-16. While this ended the season on a high note,the Spartans played very uneven…giving Auburn all they wanted in a very close game that saw the Tigers having to score late to secure the win. But other games just had us Spartan fans shaking our head as Coach Ron Caragher decided to gamble on a two point try and failing in a loss to BYU and watching both San Diego State and Boise State easily handle the Spartans by showcasing deeper depth,especially on the defensive side where once again,the Spartans were fast but undersized against most of the teams they matched up with.
But something has changed in San Jose,something new and worth keeping a eye on…see most schools like SJSU with limited budgets have a hard time retaining quality coaches. A lot of young coaches often get hired at SJSU as a first college job,they cut their teeth and more often then not get hired away by a school with more money,like what Colorado did with former HC Mike McIntyre. This produces instability as players often find themselves playing for yet another new coach and more often then not,a new system. By the time a squad has grasped the new schemes,the coach is gone and the cycle starts again.
While I am not a big fan of Caragher’s game plans,I am huge fan of his hiring of assistant coaches. Instead of hiring young green coaches,Caragher decided to reach out and hire older veteran coaches like Al Borges and Greg Robinson who have decades of experience of winning teams. The moves paid off as the Spartans talent level has started to rise and the NFL has noticed as several players have been drafted and signed as free agents.
Of course the downside of older coaches is they often retire like Robinson did after this season. Defense wasn’t a problem during Caragher’s past years at SJSU,Robinson’s players played very hard pretty much the whole of his run…they wilted late in 2014 as the offensive woes just wore them down and out.
Now after hearing of Robinson’s leaving,all of Sparta held their breath as who the new Defensive coordinator would be…and the one name I had been hoping for even before Greg Robinson came aboard was hired. Former EMU head coach Ron English was the guy I had hoped would take the job despite the ugly way he had left EMU.
Basically English had started to slowly bring pride and fire back to the Hurons but the culture of losing was so ingrained at EMU (which I have seen up close and personal) that some players just didn’t care enough to want to win. After a couple of huge losses,English blew up in the locker and lost his composure. Someone leaked the episode to the press and he was soon let go. And of this writing,EMU is still embracing that losing culture with yet another fine young coach trying to reverse it.
After taking a couple of years off to recharge his battery,English is back in the saddle and I’m very excited to see what he has for the teams on San Jose State’s 2016 schedule.
The Spartans will be a very good team I believe this year,while all-everything running back Tyler Ervin has moved on to the NFL,there is a lot of talent,including QB Kenny Potter returning to make 2016 a strong year.
And these are the teams they will have to face this year along with some thoughts about the opponent.
at Tulsa (Series is tied 3-3)
Last meeting in 2004,Tulsa 34 – 24.
After opening at home the past two years with 2 FCS schools,San Jose State hits the road with a tough game against the Golden Hurricanes. In a lot of ways,Tulsa mirrors SJSU…they play hard,often are undersized and not afraid to play anyone,anywhere,anytime.
Tulsa was able to move the ball on pretty much anyone last year,they put 38 points on 16th ranked Oklahoma,42 on 18th ranked Memphis and 52 on defense-minded Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl…the problem wasn’t scoring,it was stopping anyone which Tulsa just couldn’t do. They lost to the Sooners 52-38,Memphis 66-42 and VT 55-52.
Unless something changes,the Spartans should be able to move the ball at will. They’ll want to limit the Tulsa offense and not get caught in a track meet.
Other then North Dakota State,is there a more dangerous FCS school then Portland State?
Last year the Vikings not only beat Washington State but they beat North Texas in record fashion. In winning 66-7,they set a record for the biggest win by a FCS school over a FBS squad,it was so bad that North Texas fired their head coach two hours after the game!!
This is a landmine game for San Jose State,they need to pay full attention to PSU instead of looking to Utah the following game. Fail to take the Vikings seriously could derail a season very quickly.
Utah (Utes lead 6-1)
Last meeting in 2010,Utah 56-3.
The last time the Utes came to Spartan Stadium,a national TV audience on ESPN watched Utah barely escape with a 24-14 win..the Utes scored in the last minute to salt away the win. Now that the Utes are the Pac-12,this rare home game against a major name is a golden chance to show the rest of the Mountain West just how far the Spartans have come.
A win here would suddenly make the Spartans a force to be reckoned with.
Even if the team loses,as long as the game is a competitive and the Spartans can fill the stadium,benefits can still be had in terms of recruiting. Playing a team like Utah or Auburn nose to nose can only help the program.
at Iowa State (Cyclones lead 3-0)
Last Meeting in 1980, Iowa State 27-6.
The last non-conference game finds the Spartans traveling back to the Midwest to play
Iowa State in a game that the Spartans can and actually should win. Both teams are about the same in terms of depth and maybe talent-wise. What might be the difference is the coaching,Iowa State has a brand new head coach and as I pointed out above,getting a new coach can be a tough adjustment for a team to absorb. Iowa State’s early schedule is brutal as they play tough FCS Northern Iowa (who defeated Portland State in the playoffs last season) and then face two national powers in Iowa and a road trip to TCU. The Cyclones will be ripe for the picking if Caragher can outcoach Matt Campbell in front of over 60,000 fans at Iowa State.
at New Mexico (SJSU leads 12-4-1)
Last meeting-2015,SJSU 31-21
The Mountain West opener and the Spartans travel to New Mexico to face the Lobos.
Last year,the Spartans beat New Mexico at their own game which is rushing the ball.
This year might have to be the same as the big and deep offensive line needs to blow open holes for SJSU. This brings up another issue in the way Caragher and to some degree,Borges,coaches. SJSU has a deep corps of good tailbacks which really never got to shine because the heavy dependence of Ervin at running back. Part of a good coach is developing the players you have instead of hanging your hat on just one player.
This year the Spartans have 9 running backs and two fullbacks,plenty of players who can run the rock and with that good line,should get a LOT of chances against the Lobos.
Hawaii (SJSU leads 19-18-1)
Last meeting-2015,SJSU 42-23
Once again the Spartans will be facing a new head coach in Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich and a Rainbow Warriors team that will perhaps be playing the most difficult schedule this year.
The schedule for Hawaii is just beyond crazy as they playing several road games against some very good teams. They should be bruised and battered when they reach San Jose. If the Spartans can jump them early like last year,this game could be over before halftime and provide rest for several players while developing some younger players. Hawaii is a major rebuilding mode and some reports have the program on the bubble in keeping football.
Nevada (Nevada leads 8-19-2)
Last meeting 2015- Nevada 37-34 (OT)
The Wolf Pack always seem to have SJSU’s number in recent years…even when Nevada is struggling,they always snatch games that SJSU seemed poised to win and that included last year’s game.
The Spartans had a late lead but Nevada came back to tie and used overtime to steal the game. This year finds the Wolf Pack visiting San Jose and the Spartans must find a way to finish the game and have no mental lapses. This will be another game where coaching will be vital to gaining a key league win.
at San Diego State (SJSU 19-18-2)
Last meeting 2015- SDSU 30-7
San Diego State and Boise State are clearly the class of the Mountain West Conference in football..both teams have separated themselves from the rest of the league in terms of being good every year instead popping up 3-4 years with a good team and then sinking back down.
On a short week,the Spartans will travel to face a Aztecs squad that easily beat SJSU last year,the Spartans were never in it all as the Aztecs focused on Ervin and bottled up the offense in a game worse then the score indicated.
This is a huge game in terms of seeing how far the Spartans have come in the past year in terms of growth,beat San Diego State and you might be talking securing another bowl game. The next stretch of games will make or break the season….
UNLV (SJSU 14-5-1)
Last meeting 2015- SJSU 33-27 (OT)
Last year the Spartans were lucky to eek out a win after blowing yet another 4th quarter lead. UNLV is a team the Spartans should dominate on a yearly basis but at times they struggle mightily in winning. This shouldn’t be the case this year as the Rebels are much like Hawaii in terms of rebuilding,if the Spartans can jump out early to a big lead and control the ball,this will allow Caragher to rest key starters for the next game and the biggest game of the year,at Boise State.
at Boise State (BSU 12-0)
Last meeting 2015- Boise State 40-23.
Despite only being down 16-10 heading into the 4th quarter at San Jose,the Spartans wilted again (a troubling trend) and lost going away to the Broncos.This left the Spartans still winless against Boise and now they have to travel to Idaho where history has not been kind to SJSU. While the team has played better at home versus the Broncos….playing at Boise has been a nightmare,the last the here,BSU won 48-0. They have simply owned SJSU on the Blue Turf.
The depth and size of the offensive line will be critical here as Boise is perhaps the only team in the MWC with a defensive line that has legitimate size..so playing well enough to create holes for Jarod Lawson and Thomas Tucker will be so very important. With Brett Rypien at QB for Boise,limiting his touches will depend on well the Spartans can run the ball and eat up the clock.
Air Force (AFA 2-1)
Last meeting 2015- Air Force 37-16
Another game where the Spartans were in it until the 4th quarter before fading badly.
Air Force will be the best conditioned team San Jose State will face in 2016. Their kids play 60 minutes every single game,even if they are losing,you’ll see their best effort.
As a fan,I don’t care if San Jose State loses and loses big….like against Auburn in 2014. I only ask they play with all of their heart…that they play until the final gun.
Having the only bye week coming off the Boise State game will be a Godsend for the Spartans…time to heal injuries,rest and prepare for the Falcon’s option attack. What makes it rough is despite knowing what is coming at you,the defense will have to be disciplined and smart. Easy to say,hard to do….most teams that beat Air Force combine discipline and size to wear down the Falcons,SJSU will only have discipline so its vital that Coach English has the defense ready to play.
at Fresno State (FS 40-36-3)
Last meeting 2015- SJSU 49-23
Fresno State is the biggest arch-rival San Jose State plays on a yearly basis. Until recently,Fresno had dominated the series,often winning in blowout fashion. The Spartans have rebounded as of late in winning 3 of the last 4,including a 62-52 upset of a ranked Fresno State team in 2013.
Fresno was a bad team last year and took several poundings including a 73-21 loss to Ole Miss and giving up 40+ points six times. The coaching staff will have new faces and a much easier schedule then last year,the Bulldogs will be much improved and this game will be much tighter then last year’s victory the Spartans gained. This game might be for the Division title and a bigger bowl game. Also this will also be a key recruiting game as well…whatever team wins will be able to entice prized recruits to come play for a exciting program in a offensive minded league.
Thanks for reading my SJSU football preview. Let me know which team you follow in the comment section below…