***** NCAA Football Preview - San Jose State Spartans *****
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the first time in San Jose State history, the
Spartans ended up nationally ranked in both the Associated Press and USA Today
coaches polls at No. 21 following the bowl season in 2012. The only other time
in program history SJSU finished in the Top-25 of any nationally recognized
poll was in 1990 when the team was 20th according to the U.P.I. coaches poll
following a 9-2-1 campaign which included a victory in the California Raisin
This time around the Spartans produced an impressive 11-2 mark and posted five
wins in six tries against the rest of the Western Athletic Conference in the
final year of competition in that league. Under the direction of head coach
Mike MacIntyre, the program responded to a 5-7 record in 2011 and a dismal
57-3 loss in that season's opener against Stanford, by taking the Cardinal
down to the wire in the first game of 2012 before bowing by just a single
field goal, 20-17.
Despite coming out on the losing end against a superior program, San Jose
State was still on the right track and showed that positive direction by
delivering four straight wins against UC Davis, Colorado State, San Diego
State and Navy. Out to a 4-1 start, SJSU raised more than a few eyebrows, but
then the team was crushed in WAC play by eventual league champ, Utah State, by
a score of 49-27 at home. MacIntyre was able to bring his legions back with a
vengeance, demolishing UT-San Antonio a week later, 52-24, en route to putting
together a six-game win streak to close out the regular season. The program
accepted an invite to take part in the Military Bowl versus Bowling Green and
managed to grab a 29-20 victory which means the Spartans head into the 2013
campaign riding a seven-game win streak, tied for fourth-longest in the
Football Bowl Subdivision.
San Jose State relied heavily on its passing attack, placing second in the WAC
and sixth nationally with an average of 332.7 ypg through the air. On the
defensive side of the ball, the Spartans forced the action at the line of
scrimmage as they tied for sixth in the country with 3.23 sacks per outing as
As is often the case with a successful program, with SJSU finishing in the
final BCS rankings at No. 24, other teams began to take notice of the job done
by coach MacIntyre and it wasn't long before he was hired away by Colorado,
even after signing a contract extension through the 2017 season less than a
year earlier. With the departure of MacIntyre, defensive coordinator Kent Baer
took over the reins on an interim basis for the Military Bowl, but after that
the Spartans stayed relatively close to home (in-state) when finding their
next coach in Ron Caragher. A native of California, Caragher has strong ties
to the Golden State after playing at UCLA in the 1980s and eventually becoming
the head coach at San Diego in 2007 where he led the Toreros to three Pioneer
League titles and a record of 44-22 in six campaigns. With a new head coach,
the Spartans also begin play in a new league in 2013, one of the latest
additions to the Mountain West Conference.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to lead the San Jose State football
program. Having grown up in the San Jose area, I understand the rich tradition
of Spartan Football - it's lineage of great coaches, terrific teams, and
outstanding players," said Caragher of his new appointment.
OFFENSE: Good news for the Spartans is that there are four returning starters
headed back to the offensive line for the squad. Considering San Jose State
was one of the most aggressive passing teams in the country a year ago, having
experienced players in the trenches to buy time for quarterback David Fales is
essential. The list includes Ryan Jones and Nicholas Kaspar at the guard
positions, Jon Meyer at one tackle and Reuben Hasani snapping the ball.
Fales, named to both the 2013 Manning and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Watch
Lists, came out of nowhere to become of the top passers in college football a
year ago, although most fans probably missed out on his exploits since SJSU is
not in a BCS conference. Nevertheless, Fales finished first in the WAC and
third in the nation overall with an efficiency rating of 170.76. A native of
Salinas, California, Fales set single-season SJSU records for completion
percentage (.725), completions (327), attempts (451), passing yards (4,193),
total offense (4,054) and TD passes (33). Whether or not the senior can come
anywhere close to those numbers again in 2013 is still up in the air, but at
least the Spartans have to be happy with his potential.
Making it a bit easier for Fales to light up the scoreboard, the signal-caller
has his favorite receiver back in Noel Grigsby who caught 82 balls for 1,307
yards and nine touchdowns last year. A preseason All-MWC selection, Grigsby
has generated at least 800 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons,
so while defenses know he is a target, they still can't seem to slow him down.
Other valuable outlets for Fales include Jabari Carr (62 receptions, 639
yards, four TDs) and Chandler Jones (54 catches, 691 yards, team-best 11 TDs).
As great as the passing attack should be yet again this season, the Spartans
do need to find a replacement for running back De'Leon Eskridge who departed
after gaining more than 1,000 yards and landing in the end zone 11 times last
year. Tyler Ervin figures to be a likely candidate to fill the void, but the
team shouldn't keep him from also reprising his role as one of the top kick
returners in the country.
DEFENSE: This side of the ball takes a massive hit this season with the loss
of Travis Johnson, the 2012 Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of
the Year who led the program with a staggering 21.5 tackles for loss and 13
sacks, not to mention three forced fumbles from his defensive end position.
The unit is trying to make some changes in order to compensate for the loss of
Johnson, adjustments that began during spring practice.
"For us guys who (are) back (in the defensive line), we're keeping Foloi Vae
in the middle," noted Travis Raciti. "That's not too much of a difference for
him. For Tony Popovich and me, we're playing as defensive ends now instead of
as defensive tackles. We're trying to get adjusted to it and figure out the
little things to make you great. We've been talking with Travis Johnson. He's
been giving us tips here and there about what we can do to be the best we
possibly can be."
While the defensive line mixes it up a bit, the Spartans still have the luxury
of bringing back a trio of starters at linebacker, namely Keith Smith who led
the team in total tackles a year ago with 97 and also forced four fumbles
while earning all-conference honors for the third year in a row.
The secondary is locked down by Bene Benwikere who, after ranking among the
nation's leaders in interceptions (seven), scored a pair of defensive
touchdowns and logged a blocked kick a year ago, has been named to both the
watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ervin, named to the All-WAC Second Team as a kickoff return
specialist despite appearing in only nine games a season ago, can be one of
the most electrifying players on the field when he has the ball in his hands,
just another reason why he will probably get plenty of opportunities to play
on offense as well
Ervin has averaged 25.4 yards per kickoff return in his career, third-best in
school history, a number that has been bolstered by three returns for
touchdowns which is already a school record.
When it comes to kicking the ball, San Jose State has Harrison Waid returning
to handle the majority of the punting and Austin Lopez coming back to take
care of placekicking, although both players tried their hand, foot as it were,
at the other's vocation in 2012.
Lopez, named to the preseason All-MWC squad, set San Jose State kick scoring
records for most points in a season (105), most PAT conversions in a season
(54) and most field goals in a season without a miss (17-of-17), en route to
being named to the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman
OUTLOOK: Even though the Spartans are jumping to a new league, after the WAC
failed to field football teams following the 2012 campaign, there are a host
of familiar foes on the schedule so it won't be a complete makeover for the
Following the season opener against Sacramento State, the Spartans hit the
road but remain in-state and right around the corner with a stop at Stanford
on Sept. 7. After a break in the action SJSU heads to Minnesota, before
returning home to contend against another former WAC opponent and now current
MWC foe in Utah State.
The second half to the schedule could be a bit tougher, despite hosting four
of six opponents during the stretch. One of the two road dates is a trip to
Nevada, rarely and easy test for the Spartans, while the team closes out
versus Fresno State, a program that is on the rise as well.
08/23 09:21:33 ET