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1. Fortunes change
Three years ago, San Jose State was basically on par with Idaho and New Mexico State. The Spartans had no budget and little hope, having ranked 104th, 92nd, and 116th in the F/+ rankings from 2007-09 and fallen to 2-10 in Dick Tomey's final season in charge. In fact, three years ago, SJSU was probably in worse shape than Idaho, which was coming off of a 7-6 season and a dramatic bowl win.
In the end, however, college football comes down to making a quality hire. Do it, and you'll be alright. Don't do it, and you'll fall apart. SJSU brought Mike MacIntyre aboard in 2010; three years later, the Spartans are coming off of an 11-2 season and are preparing their quarterback for the attention that comes with being projected a first-round draft pick. While Idaho and New Mexico State found no immediate home upon the WAC's collapse (they eventually signed up for football-only Sun Belt membership beginning in 2014), San Jose State not only got called up to the Mountain West but looks capable of competing immediately in its new league.
Of course, while the Spartans look pretty good for 2013 regardless, their fortunes are once again tied to a hire. MacIntyre left for Colorado this past winter, and SJSU has replaced him with former UCLA assistant and University of San Diego coach Ron Caragher. As with other western schools like Utah State and San Diego State, the Spartans turned their program around with a knockout hire, and their reward was having to make another one. We'll see if Caragher's the guy.
At first glance, there is certainly quite a bit to like about Caragher. Troy Aikman's backup at UCLA, he is a San Jose guy who coached at UCLA for nine years (first as a graduate assistant, then as a running backs coach), moved on to Kentucky for four years (running backs coach), then took over for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego when Harbaugh took the Stanford job. There was a slump in the middle of his six-year tenure there -- 18-4 in his first two years, 9-13 in his middle two, 17-5 in his last two -- but he was a success overall.
He knows the region, he has put in the hours, and this could work out pretty well. Or not. A coaching change is a total crapshoot.
2. Simply stratospheric
You just aren't supposed to be able to turn a program around this quickly. In 2010, SJSU's offense ranked 105th in Off. F/+, and the defense ranked 107th in Def. F/+. In 2011, it was 104th and 62nd, respectively. In 2012, it was 26th and 44th. MacIntyre found the perfect mix of inherited talent, talented youngsters, transfers, and junior college transfers and was able to build a lineup with star power at every level. The depth wasn't, and isn't, great, but the 2012 featured star power at nearly every position, and a lot of it returns for 2013. One has to figure that a step backwards is likely, simply because that's what tends to happen when you rise that quickly, but there is no question that Caragher inherits some fun, interesting pieces.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 32|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|31-Aug||at Stanford||17-20||L||29.8 - 25.8||W|
|8-Sep||UC-Davis||45-13||W||32.8 - 26.2||W|
|15-Sep||Colorado State||40-20||W||40.1 - 32.7||W|
|22-Sep||at San Diego State||38-34||W||39.0 - 29.9||W|
|29-Sep||at Navy||12-0||W||23.2 - 5.6||W|
|13-Oct||Utah State||27-49||L||40.6 - 37.3||W|
|20-Oct||at UTSA||52-24||W||29.9 - 29.6||W|
|27-Oct||Texas State||31-20||W||31.5 - 22.7||W|
|3-Nov||at Idaho||42-13||W||26.5 - 22.0||W|
|10-Nov||at New Mexico State||47-7||W||29.8 - 14.5||W|
|17-Nov||BYU||20-14||W||42.3 - 26.8||W|
|24-Nov||Louisiana Tech||52-43||W||37.7 - 26.7||W|
|27-Dec||vs. Bowling Green||29-20||W||40.0 - 19.5||W|
|Points Per Game||34.8||29||21.3||24|
|Adj. Points Per Game||34.1||25||24.5||34|
3. Good, then better
San Jose State's 2011 squad was scattershot but competitive. The Spartans never looked great but stayed close in games, went 3-3 in one-possession decisions, and won five games after winning just three in the 2009-10 seasons combined. On paper, SJSU probably wasn't good enough to finish 5-7 that year, but when you've got a young team, you sometimes become your record.
SJSU brought confidence into 2012, played at a high level over the first half of the season, then found an even higher level down the stretch.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): SJSU 33.6, Opponents 26.7 (plus-6.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): SJSU 34.6, Opponents 22.0 (plus-12.6)
With close wins and an easy schedule, a mid-major can sometimes roll to double-digit wins without actually being very good. In fact, since 2005, nine teams have won at least 10 games while ranking 50th or worse in the F/+ rankings. Miami (Ohio) went 10-4 and ranked 97th in 2010, Middle Tennessee went 10-3 and ranked 71st in 2009, and Northern Illinois even won 11 games in 2011 while ranking 50th. But San Jose State was not one of those teams. The Spartans won 11 games while playing at an above average (at worst) level every single game; their two losses were beyond respectable: They fell to No. 17 Utah State, and they lost by three to eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford (No. 11) by three points in Palo Alto. They beat solid teams (San Diego State, BYU, Louisiana Tech) and smoked lesser teams (Idaho, NMSU, UTSA).
|Q1 Rk||41||1st Down Rk||29|
|Q2 Rk||24||2nd Down Rk||30|
|Q3 Rk||8||3rd Down Rk||26|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|David Fales||6'3, 220||Sr.||*** (5.5)||327||451||4,193||72.5%||33||9||25||5.3%||8.4|
|Blake Jurich||6'4, 230||Jr.||** (5.3)||5||11||66||45.5%||1||0||0||0.0%||6.0|
|Joe Gray||6'2, 179||So.||** (5.4)||3||4||23||75.0%||0||0||0||0.0%||5.8|
4. Win a date with Jon Gruden
I'll say this: David Fales takes too many sacks and brings nothing to the table with his legs. Mobility is increasing in value at the NFL level, and that brings him a couple of demerits. But those are pretty much the only demerits he gets. Originally a Nevada signee, Fales ended up spending two years at Monterey Peninsula College; as a sophomore, he was easily one of the more successful, prolific JUCO quarterbacks in the country. He was a three-star recruit according to Rivals, but he played like a five-star for much of 2012.
Under Fales' guidance, SJSU improved from 104th to 26th in Off. F/+ and from 85th to eighth in Passing S&P+. He completed 73 percent of his passes with a better than 3-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. He certainly got help from a deep, interesting receiving corps, but that receiving corps existed in 2011, too. With Fales running the show, SJSU's passing attack was both efficient and explosive despite almost no help from an iffy ground game. It is very easy to see why the draftniks like him and why, barring implosion, he will probably be filming a special interview with Jon Gruden next winter.
Caragher and offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty (a former Missouri quarterback) appear to be moving Fales under center more, and there's nothing that immediately suggests that won't work out just fine. The passing game should click no matter where Fales lines up; the main task for Dougherty and the offensive staff is fixing a running game that just never really helped out very much last year.
|Tyler Ervin||RB||5'10, 176||Jr.||*** (5.6)||45||205||4.6||4.3||1||-1.3|
|Blake Jurich||QB||6'4, 230||Jr.||** (5.3)||43||174||4.0||3.3||3||-0.6|
|David Fales||QB||6'3, 220||Sr.||*** (5.5)||17||56||3.3||2.2||0||-3.4|
|Jason Simpson||RB||6'0, 211||Sr.||** (4.9)||11||26||2.4||1.5||0||-4.1|
|Tony Zizzo||RB||5'11, 210||Sr.||** (5.3)|
|Alvin Jelks||RB||6'1, 190||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jalynn McCain||RB||5'10, 220||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Noel Grigsby||WR||5'11, 175||Sr.||*** (5.5)||112||82||1306||73.2%||11.7||24.6%||62.5%||11.7||194.8|
|Jabari Carr||WR||6'0, 190||Jr.||** (5.2)||85||62||652||72.9%||7.7||18.7%||60.0%||7.7||97.3|
|Chandler Jones||WR||5'11, 174||Sr.||NR||68||54||678||79.4%||10.0||14.9%||52.9%||10.1||101.1|
|Kyle Nunn||WR||6'2, 198||Sr.||*** (5.5)||43||26||244||60.5%||5.7||9.5%||62.8%||5.6||36.4|
|Tyler Ervin||RB||5'10, 176||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||10||126||83.3%||10.5||2.6%||58.3%||10.6||18.8|
|Daniel Bradbury||WR||6'1, 189||So.||NR||3||2||15||66.7%||5.0||0.7%||0.0%||3.0||2.2|
|Hansel Wilson||WR||5'10, 170||So.||NR||2||2||52||100.0%||26.0||0.4%||50.0%||29.3||7.8|
|Jordan Thiel||TE||6'5, 230||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Ryan Ena||TE||6'5, 260||So.||** (5.2)|
|Mike Tate||WR||6'1, 170||Fr.||** (5.4)|
5. Showcasing your passer's skills
The SJSU receiving corps had certainly shown potential heading into 2012; Noel Grigsby had shown big-play ability as a freshman (14.7 yards per catch) and high efficiency as a sophomore (72 percent catch rate), Ryan Otten had provided a lovely combination of the two in 2011 (65 percent catch rate, 14.2 yards per catch), Chandler Jones was a steady possession guy, and Jabari Carr had probably earned a few more looks than he got as a freshman averaging 8.1 yards per target. Still, we didn't know just how good this group could be until Fales took over. Grigsby became one of only five players in the country to average better than 11.0 yards per target with at least 100 targets, Jones went from possession receiver to Possession Receiver Extraordinaire with a 79 percent catch rate and 10.0 yards per target, and Otten continued on with his big-man, big-play ability.
Otten departs, and there is no obvious replacement for his production; but somehow both Grigsby and Jones still have eligibility remaining (it feels like they've been at SJSU for nine years each), Carr returns, and running back Tyler Ervin showed some nice potential out of the backfield. If you've got a potentially high draft pick you want to show off, you probably need some pretty good receivers to do so. Fales will certainly have that in 2013.
|David Quessenberry||LT||38 career starts; 2012 1st All-WAC|
|Nicholas Kaspar||RG||6'4, 284||Sr.||** (5.2)||34 career starts; 2012 1st All-WAC|
|Ryan Jones||LG||6'4, 292||Sr.||** (4.9)||13 career starts|
|Reuben Hasani||C||6'3, 284||Sr.||** (4.9)||13 career starts|
|Jon Meyer||RT||6'5, 275||Sr.||** (5.4)||13 career starts|
|Amar Pal||LT||6'4, 282||Sr.||** (4.9)|
|Doug Blacksill||LG||6'5, 275||So.||** (5.3)|
|David Peterson||C||6'5, 290||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Nick Diaz||RG||6'3, 293||So.||** (5.4)|
|Wes Schweitzer||RT||6'5, 275||So.||** (5.3)|
|Fernando Villanueva||OL||6'7, 290||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
6. How much difference does one guy make on the line (Part 1)?
David Quessenberry was an All-WAC selection and was drafted by the Houston Texans on Saturday. A three-year starter, he was clearly quite good. His is the only notable departure on the line, but what should we make of the fact that this really wasn't a very good line with him? It had all the continuity in the world (the same five guys started every game) but couldn't open up holes for its backs, couldn't keep defenders out of the backfield, and only did a reasonable job of protecting Fales. And now its best player is gone?
The other four starters return, including all-conference guard (and three-year starter) Nicholas Kaspar. Plus, in depth chart mainstay Amar Pal and enormous, three-star redshirt freshman Fernando Villanueva, it appears that SJSU might have some interesting options for replacing Quessenberry.
But when you lose your star, the goal is to hold steady; SJSU's line needs to do better than just that in 2013.
|Q1 Rk||39||1st Down Rk||32|
|Q2 Rk||49||2nd Down Rk||76|
|Q3 Rk||49||3rd Down Rk||73|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Travis Raciti||DT||6'5, 286||Jr.||** (5.2)||13||39.5||5.7%||13||8.5||0||4||0||1|
|Anthony Larceval||DT||6'2, 284||Sr.||** (5.3)||12||32.5||4.7%||10.5||6.5||0||0||1||0|
|David Cataloano||DT||6'4, 274||So.||NR||9||7.5||1.1%||4||1||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Bacon||DE||6'3, 226||Jr.||*** (5.5)||8||7.0||1.0%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Foloi Vae||DT||6'3, 278||Jr.||NR||12||4.5||0.6%||0.5||0||1||0||0||0|
|Marcus Howard||DT||6'2, 300||Jr.||** (5.4)||9||4.5||0.6%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tony Popovich||DE||6'2, 275||So.||** (5.4)||12||2.5||0.4%||1||1||0||0||0||1|
|Garrett Guanella||DE||6'5, 235||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Adrian Blake||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Nico Aimonetti||DE||6'5, 255||Fr.||** (5.4)|
7. How much difference does one guy make on the line (Part 2)?
SJSU's offensive line may have struggled, but the defensive line was one of the best in the country. The ends were vicious, and the tackles were undersized but devastatingly quick. There was almost no depth whatsoever -- the four starters combined for 151.0 tackles, and the backups combined for 35.5 -- but the product was outstanding. SJSU could generate pressure without blitzing, rarely overpursued, knocked down passes, got to the quarterback, stood up to run blocking ... the Spartans could do it all.
They also had the services of Travis Johnson, one of 2012's best play-makers. Johnson had 13 sacks, 8.5 other tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles; he became the WAC's all-time sacks leader and was the conference's defensive player of the year last year. He was good, in other words. And now he's gone. So is the other starting end, David Tuitupou.
Both starting tackles, Travis Raciti and Anthony Larceval, return after wrecking shop in 2012; they combined for 23.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, and four passes broken up. They were active and effective, but they almost certainly benefited from the attention opposing lines had to pay to SJSU's ends. Without Johnson, can lines focus more on these two and minimize their play-making ability? And will Caragher's move to a 3-4 defense stunt their abilities? Both seem quick enough to handle some time at end, but change is change. Meanwhile, will some new threats emerge at end? Junior Sean Bacon was a three-star recruit once upon a time, and a couple of interesting junior college transfers (Garrett Guanella and Adrian Blake) join the fray, but the production SJSU must replace at end is stark. SJSU doesn't only replace "one guy" on the defensive line, but one particular absence does loom larger than the others.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Keith Smith||OLB||6'1, 229||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||70.0||10.0%||3.5||1||1||8||4||1|
|Vince Buhagiar||ILB||6'4, 237||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||68.0||9.8%||9.5||3||0||1||1||1|
|Derek Muaava||LB||6'0, 235||Jr.||** (5.3)||8||19.0||2.7%||3||0||0||2||0||1|
|Josh Fasavalu||OLB||5'11, 225||So.||** (5.2)||10||11.0||1.6%||0.5||0||0||0||1||1|
|Hector Roach||OLB||6'1, 212||So.||** (5.4)||10||3.5||0.5%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Doug Parrish||OLB||6'0, 223||Jr.||** (5.2)||3||2.5||0.4%||0.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Christian Tago||LB||6'2, 215||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Bene Benwikere||CB||6'0, 192||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||55.5||8.0%||7.5||0||7||4||1||2|
|Jimmy Pruitt||CB||6'0, 175||So.||** (5.2)||12||37.5||5.4%||2||0||1||11||3||0|
|Damon Ogburn, Jr.||CB||5'11, 181||Sr.||** (5.2)||8||30.0||4.3%||1.5||0.5||1||1||3||0|
|Forrest Hightower||CB||5'10, 177||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||7.5||1.1%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Rob Fiscalini III||S||5'11, 210||Sr.||** (5.2)||11||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Simon Connette||S||5'11, 193||So.||** (5.4)||12||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Hill||CB||5'10, 185||Sr.||** (4.9)||9||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Harper||S||6'2, 200||Jr.||** (5.4)||7||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Travis Talianko||S||6'1, 200||So.||** (5.3)||11||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Esston Al-Uqdah||S||6'1, 200||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
8. Active hands
In 2012, San Jose State had stars on the line, active-as-hell linebackers in Keith Smith and Vince Buhaglar, and a loaded, experienced secondary. And the Spartans got their hands on more passes than almost anything in the country. In a February interview, Mike MacIntyre began to explain how and why that happened.
We also talk a lot about deflecting balls at the line. We only batted down two balls at the line in 2011. Last year, it must have been 35. We practiced it every day. We told the defensive line, if they get held up, to get those hands in the air and tip it. There's luck, but there's skill involved, too. Learning where the quarterback moves -- where he's likely to shuffle when there's pressure, how much a team throws over the middle or to the sideline -- and where to rush so you're in the passing lane. That's something else we do.
SJSU linemen certainly batted some passes down, but the Spartans' pass defense was also one of the best in the country at simply defending passes beyond the line. Corners Bene Benwikere and Jimmy Pruitt combined for 23 passes defensed -- Benwikere got more attention because he picked off seven of his 11 defensed passes (that ratio is almost guaranteed to fall this season), and his size and physicality are generating some draft hype for him as well. But Pruitt and Damon Ogburn, Jr., are also active and fun.
There are some reasons to doubt whether the corners will have quite as much success this season, however. First, they benefited from a devastating pass rush. That might not be the case this time around. But they also have to adapt to life with two new starting safeties. Returning safeties combined for just 16 tackles and one pass defensed last year.
|Harrison Waid||6'1, 173||Sr.||52||42.3||5||10||16||50.0%|
|Austin Lopez||6'0, 170||So.||5||40.0||1||1||0||20.0%|
|Harrison Waid||6'1, 173||Sr.||82||60.7||23||28.0%|
|Austin Lopez||6'0, 170||So.||6||56||0||0.0%|
|Austin Lopez||6'0, 170||So.||54-57||13-13||100.0%||3-3||100.0%|
|Harrison Waid||6'1, 173||Sr.||0-0||1-1||100.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Tyler Ervin||KR||5'10, 176||Jr.||22||27.2||2|
|Forrest Hightower||KR||5'10, 177||Jr.||6||30.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||47|
|Field Goal Pct||3|
|Kick Returns Avg||10|
|Punt Returns Avg||113|
9. If Tyler Ervin becomes as good a running back as he is a kick returner…
As a backup running back over the last couple of seasons, former star recruit Tyler Ervin hasn't shown a lot. He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in 2011 and improved to only 4.6 last fall. The line didn't help much, but even when he got into the open field he didn't exactly show serious explosiveness.
As a kick returner, however, Ervin was one of the country's best. He showed wonderful speed in returning two kickoffs for touchdown, and if nothing else that hints at his potential in the backfield as well. (And hey, if he could return punts, too, that would be even better.)
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|12-Oct||at Colorado State||117|
|9-Nov||San Diego State||53|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||95|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||122|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+8 / +13.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
10. There will be a drop off
There almost has to be a drop off here. SJSU was not particularly lucky in terms of Turnovers Luck or Yards Per Point, but the Spartans did benefit from a glaring lack of devastating injuries, which allowed them to pull off their no-depth-whatsoever act with minimal damage. Four defensive linemen made almost all of the line tackles, two linebackers made almost all of the linebacker tackles, and in the secondary, only Damon Ogburn, Jr., missed serious time. Plus, on offense, the same five linemen started every game, and Fales, Eskridge, and most of the receiving corps made it the entire season without missed time.
This probably isn't going to happen again. The defense as a whole still returns quite a few interesting playmakers, but last year's lack of depth could cost the Spartans if new options don't emerge. And while the offense is in stellar shape, SJSU almost cracked the Top 30 overall because of success on both sides of the ball.
The defense should drop off a bit, but make no mistake: The Spartans should still be once of their new conference's better teams. The schedule is not particularly kind, especially compared to other MWC slates, but SJSU does avoid Boise State, gets its three most highly-projected conference opponents at home (Utah State, SDSU, Fresno State), and should draw plenty of attention because of the offense. We won't know for a while if Caragher was the right hire, but MacIntyre left him enough with enough toys in the toybox to have another fun season at Spartan Stadium.