***** NCAA Football Preview - San Jose State Spartans *****
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: It was an up-and-down season for the Spartans in 2011,
the team often hinting at bigger things to come but never quite getting over
the hump as they finished 5-7 overall and a game under .500 (3-4) in WAC
It was a truly ugly start to the campaign as the squad was easily handled by
neighboring Stanford in enemy territory, 57-3. A week later, SJSU was pitted
against another Pac-12 program and made it a little more respectable but still
fell to UCLA on the road, 27-17. Conference foe Nevada was next on the slate
and the Spartans nearly stunned the Wolf Pack in their home opener before
bowing by a field goal, 17-14.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre, in his second year with the program, put his players
in position to not only pick up their first win of the season against New
Mexico State (34-24), but followed that up with a 38-31 victory versus Colorado
State as well. By the middle of October the Spartans were a more respectable
3-4, with hopes of a possible postseason appearance, but those dreams were
dashed with three straight defeats against Louisiana Tech, Idaho and Utah
Even though it was too late to make enough of a difference in terms of bowl
eligibility, SJSU managed to navigate through both Navy and Fresno State
successfully by identical scores of 27-24 to close out the campaign.
The Spartans finished the season ranked second-to-last in the WAC in rushing
(101.8 ypg), total offense (378.7 ypg) and scoring offense (24.5 ppg) and
while the group was also last in the conference and 100th in the nation in
sacks per game with just 1.33, the good news was that defensive end Travis
Johnson led the league and was 10th nationally with 0.79 sacks per outing.
Back for another go in 2012, Johnson enters the season third among active FBS
players with 19.0 career sacks.
By keeping his team competitive down to the wire, MacIntyre was rewarded with a
contract extension through the 2017 season.
OFFENSE: The Spartans have plenty of returning starters when it comes to
receivers, the only problem is those players will have to learn to work with a
new quarterback. Dasmen Stewart saw some time under center for the Spartans in
four games a year ago, but his limited action is by no means an indication that
he'll be handed the offense here in 2012. Stewart completed just 40.4 percent
of his 52 pass attempts with 1 interception, which means Blake Jurich and David
Fales will be given a fighting chance to show what they can do as well.
In fact, it is Fales, a transfer from Monterey Peninsula College, who is quite
possibly the best option for the offense at this point, having connected on
close to 62 percent of his attempts for 4,635 yards and 37 touchdowns as an
all-conference performer. Noel Grigsby (89 receptions), Chandler Jones (61) and
Jabari Carr (33) all bring solid receiving skills to the table and can stretch
the field for the Spartans, while tight end Ryan Otten (52 receptions, 739
yards, 5 TDs in 2011) is considered one of the top players at his position, not
only in the WAC but the nation as well.
In addition to filling the quarterback position, SJSU will also have to find a
replacement for running back Brandon Rutley who accounted for 903 of the team's
1,22 rushing yards and all but five of their TDs on the ground. Seniors De'Leon
Eskridge and Ina Liaina should have something to say about filling that void.
DEFENSE: The run defense for the Spartans a year ago left a lot to be desired
as they permitted a whopping 204.3 ypg, ranking them seventh in the conference
and 106th in the country. Bringing back only two returning starters along the
defensive line in Travis Raciti and Travis Johnson means the group could
possibly be weaker yet in that department.
However, Johnson can be a beast coming off his end position and might be able
to make up for the fact that the line will be revamped to some degree. A First-
Team All-WAC performer Johnson, this year's WAC Preseason Defensive Player of
the Year and a member of both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Rotary Lombardi
Award watch lists, was one of 19 semifinalists for the Hendricks Award last
year and placed second in the league in sacks with 9.5, which means he can
cause quite a bit of havoc for offensive linemen on any given play.
"Travis has earned every bit of that," coach MacIntyre says of Johnson's
preseason accolades. "He's a playmaker. He blocked kicks that were big in the
(2011) Hawaii game. He just makes a lot of plays and he's also a team captain.
I think he is a heck of a football player."
The better news for the unit is that the top two tacklers are back for another
turn in linebacker Keith Smith and defensive back James Orth. Smith led the
team with 104 stops and was also first with 3 forced fumbles, while Orth
accounted for 78 takedowns and logged 4 interceptions to pace the group in that
SPECIAL TEAMS: In 2011, Harrison Waid was primarily the punter for the
Spartans, knocking 16 of his 52 opportunities inside the 20-yard line as he
averaged 42.8 yards per kick, but in addition to handling those duties once
again, Waid will also be the placekicker for the squad. The junior did get a
chance to try out his kicking skills last year as he converted all four of his
PAT tries and was 2-of-5 on field goal attempts, but
he'll have to show that he can consistently knock through kicks if he wants to
retain the job the whole way through.
OUTLOOK: Like other current teams in the WAC, San Jose State will be joining
the Mountain West Conference beginning next season so this is the final chance
for the Spartans to make their mark in this league. The team has been picked to
finish third in the conference and while the squad would like to believe that
decision has been based on its talent, it has more to do with how poor the rest
of the league is expected to perform.
"The good thing is the teams picked one and two come to our place," MacIntyre
said of Louisiana Tech and Utah State. "That gives us a chance to play the best
at home this year and we have a great home schedule."
The squad could conceivably put together a four-game win streak in the second
half of the season with UTSA, Texas State, Idaho and New Mexico State all
bunched together on the schedule, but the road leading up to those meetings
will be filled with several difficult matchups. San Jose State kicks off with
Stanford, then catches a break with UC Davis before clashing with Colorado
State, San Diego State and Navy. On the back end the Spartans are slated to
combat both BYU and Louisiana Tech, but even though those two meetings are at
home, so in no way does that mean the squad will be competitive through to the
08/22 12:48:25 ET