Today, we’re 98 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll review the No. 98 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the San Jose State Spartans.
After a 5-7 finish in 2011, which included multiple games ending in losses of three points or less, the Spartans look to return to a bowl in 2012. Led by head coach Mike MacEntire, entering his third season on campus, San Jose State must improve on both sides of the ball to get back to six wins this season.
The Spartans are, and always have been, a pass-first program.
In 2011, the Spartans threw the ball 479 times versus only 363 running attempts. The accuracy of quarterback Matt Faulkner was rather poor last season as he threw for 13 interceptions, and only posted a completion percentage of 64.9%. In a pass-happy attack, whomever takes the reins at quarterback will need to be much more accurate and throw for solid yardage with consistency for the Spartans to be effective.
A spring quarterback competition between Dasmen Stewart, Blake Jurich, Joe Gray and David Fales didn’t result in a favorite, so it’s likely the Spartans won’t know for sure who will take the first snap on opening day until well into fall practice.
The loss of running back Matt Rutley will leave a huge hole for Offensive Coordinator Brian Lindgren to fill. In all likelihood, he will turn to either Minnesota transfer DeLeon Eskridge or Washington transfer David Freeman to carry the majority of the load. The run, however, will only be used to set up the pass, and will rarely be featured in the Spartans’ game-plan unless they hold a small lead late in games– which often was the case in 2011.
Senior wideout Noel Grigsby is the team’s leading receiver in 2012 and should be the primary target for whomever emerges at quarterback. Grigsby caught 89 passes for 886 yards and two touchdowns last season and has the most experience of any of the returning receiver corps. Tight end Ryan Otten was the team’s third leading receiver in 2011 and should also see plenty of looks in the Spartans offense on Saturdays.
After the loss of four of the team’s front seven, Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer has the unenviable task of finding guys who can step up and fill major roles left behind by senior leaders. Linebackers Keith Smith and Vince Buhagiar are the team’s leading returning tacklers, and will be depended upon to be a nice stop gap measure given the young and inexperience defensive line.
If the Spartans can somehow manage to patch together a competent defensive line full of newcomers, and Smith and Buhagiar can again have strong seasons, the unit overall could be improved in 2012.
The Spartans open the non-conference season against the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto– a tough task regardless of whether Andrew Luck is still around to terrorize defenses. Home games against UC Davis and Colorado State are both winnable, and could help the Spartans get off to a strong start in 2012 prior to entering Big West Conference play.
In short, the San Jose Spartans have a hill to climb, not only to return to relevance, but also become bowl eligible in 2012, and contributions from unproven young men will determine how steep that hill may be.