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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 107: San Jose State

All one-win seasons are not created equal. Take San Jose State, for example: yeah, that lone win came against the F.C.S., and one of those 12 losses came against the F.C.S., but these Spartans were better than the record indicated. There was a 13-point to Wisconsin; only three Big Ten teams got within as many points as the Badgers. Over its last five games, S.J.S.U. lost four games by a combined total of 16 points, which means little in the win column but does indicate to outsiders that the Spartans played hard despite having little left to play for. And that’s a pretty good sign, all things considered. Wins matter most of all, but how you play when a losing season is guaranteed tells much about a team and its coach.


San Jose, Calif.


Returning starters
19 (8 offense, 11 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 113

2010 record
(1-12, 0-8)

Last year’s

No. 116

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    at Stanford
  • Sept. 10
    at U.C.L.A.
  • Sept. 17
  • Sept. 24
    New Mexico St.
  • Oct. 1
    at Colorado St.
  • Oct. 8
    at B.Y.U.
  • Oct. 15
  • Oct. 29
    at Louisiana Tech
  • Nov. 5
  • Nov. 12
    at Utah St.
  • Nov. 19
  • Nov. 26
    at Fresno St.

Last year’s prediction

Six of San Jose State’s first eight games come against teams that won at least eight games last fall; included in the bunch are the defending national champs, Alabama; Boise State, 14-0 in 2009; 10-win teams in Wisconsin and Utah; and conference foes Fresno State and Nevada. Not exactly a slate conducive to early success. While an easier stretch awaits over the second half of the season, it’s hard to imagine the Spartans winning more than three games — the 13th game helps. Yet this team is not completely devoid of talent. The quarterback position looks to be in good shape, though the team will miss having a top-notch receiver like Jurovich. The defense will be strong in the secondary, but the front four needs to be reshaped. Here’s the most important thing: S.J.S.U. must improve in running the ball and defending the run. If MacIntyre’s new philosophy kicks in immediately, this team will be better than this ranking. I think such a change takes time, however, and the Spartans will be better in 2011.

2010 recap

In a nutshell As noted, there’s something to be said of a team that continues to play hard down the stretch. The Spartans could have thrown in the towel early – very early, in fact, perhaps sometime around October – yet saved their best play for November. Losses are losses, but San Jose State hung around with WAC teams like Utah State, Louisiana Tech and Idaho in November. One thing that was evident throughout, however, was the distance between the Spartans and the best teams in the WAC. Boise State won by 48 points, but it could have been 80. Nevada only scored 35 points, but it was done with 640 yards of total offense. Hawaii won by 34 points, throwing for nearly 600 yards in the process. So there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

High point A 16-11 win over Southern Utah on Sept. 18. The Spartans gained 250 yards of offense to Southern Utah’s 334, committed three turnovers and needed a touchdown with a minute left to land the win.

Low point What’s worse? Is it a loss to U.C. Davis, which went 6-5 in the F.C.S., or is a loss to New Mexico State, which went 2-10 in the WAC?

Tidbit MacIntyre is one of two WAC coaches with pretty impressive bloodlines. His father, George, compiled a 43-66-1 record at Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt from 1976-85, doing the unthinkable – winning eight games – with the Commodores in 1982. Vanderbilt has one winning season in the years since. He joins Sonny Dykes, whose father, Spike, coached at Texas Tech before Mike Leach, as WAC head coaches continuing in their father’s footsteps.

Former players in the N.F.L.

10 LB Justin Cole (Kansas City), WR Rashied Davis (Chicago), CB Coye Francis (Cleveland), DT Jarron Gilbert (New York Jets), DE Carl Ihenacho (San Diego), WR James Jones (Green Bay), WR Kevin Jurovich (San Francisco), CB Dwight Lowery (New York Jets), K Joe Nedney (San Francisco), CB Chris Owens (Atlanta).

Arbitrary top five list

N.F.L. father-son head coach combinations
1. Don and Dave Shula.
2. Buddy and Rex Ryan.
3. Bum and Wade Phillips.
4. Jim E. and Jim L. Mora.
5. Dick and Mike Nolan.


Mike MacIntyre (Georgia Tech ’89), 1-12 after his first season at San Jose State. So it wasn’t an auspicious debut for a coach most view as a up-and-comer in the profession. MacIntyre was the 2009 American Football Coaches Association F.B.S. Assistant Coach of the Year for his work as the defensive coordinator at Duke. He spent two seasons as David Cutcliffe’s coordinator with the Blue Devils, helping the program put together some of its finest defensive statistics over the last 20 years. Duke allowed 356.9 yards per game in 2008, his first season with the program, 67.4 fewer yards than in the season before; the Blue Devils also gave up only 23.4 points per game, nearly 10 points less than in Ted Roof’s final season. In 2009, Duke set a new program high by placing a trio of defenders on the post-season all-conference team. MacIntyre joined Duke after spending five seasons in the N.F.L., coaching the defensive backs with the Dallas Cowboys (2003-6) and the New York Jets (2007). As a college assistant, MacIntyre has also spent time at Mississippi (1999-2002), where he coached the wide receivers — and played an important role in recruiting — and Temple (1997-98). Perhaps, seeing the importance MacIntyre has placed upon forming a tougher, more run-oriented S.J.S.U. team, it is not surprising to see that he spent four seasons learning under Bill Parcells with the Cowboys. His debut campaign was painful to watch at times, but really only in the win column; overall, the Spartans played hard, which was a great sight to see.

Players to watch

Prepare for a trend: several freshmen made an impact in 2010. Now a year wiser, these sophomores define the team, by and large, and should be expected to be even better in 2011. One example of this is wide receiver Noel Grigsby, who finished second on the team in receptions (56), receiving yards (822) and touchdowns (4). He was one of two freshmen to make at least 50 grabs on the year, joining Chandler Jones (54 for 474). Jalal Beauchman, who led the team in all three major categories, has since been lost to graduation, so look for Grigsby and Jones to have an even larger impact. Junior tight end Ryan Otten also made his presence felt, making 19 catches for 260 yards – a 13.7 yards per catch average.

The interior of the line lost two starters, but the Spartans return bookend tackles in David Quessenberry and Andres Vargas. That pair should retain their starting roles, but the Spartans added a JUCO transfer, Jon Meyer, who was in for spring practice. At worst, Meyer provides some depth. Sophomore Nicholas Kaspar returns at guard, and the Spartans can call on Moa Ngatuvai, who started in 2007 but missed the next two seasons while on a church mission. Perhaps the most interesting competition is at center, though it might resolve itself without S.J.S.U. having made a decision: Robbie Reed would give an experienced hand in the middle of the line, but only if he receives a sixth season of eligibility. If he doesn’t, the starter will be Reuben Hasani.

The running game must improve, especially with a new starter under center. The Spartans return leading rusher Brandon Rutley (461 yards), who stepped into a full-time role after Lamon Muldrow suffered a season-ending injury. Muldrow is now gone, opening up carries for a younger back like David Freeman, a junior, who rushed for 163 yards on 4.2 yards per carry last fall. Rutley, who also makes an impact in the return game, arrived on campus with high expectations; he hasn’t really lived up to them, but has a chance to do so as a senior.

Recently, San Jose State has played good defense when it has use of an Ihenacho; it didn’t have one last fall, and the defense suffered. Coincidence? We’ll see this fall, when safety Duke Ihenacho returns to action after using a redshirt last season. He’s the most accomplished defender in the WAC – it’s true – and, in 2009, one of the most underrated defensive backs in the country. Ihenacho can play the ball like a safety and play the run like a linebacker, and his presence immediately makes the S.J.S.U. defense much better.

But how much better? Well, last year’s results were horrific, but each starter from last year’s group does return – that’s 12 starters, if you count Ihenacho, which you should. James Orth (50 tackles, team-best3 interceptions), Alex Germany and Bene Benwikere started at safety in Ihenacho’s stead, which greatly increases depth. Three cornerbacks also split time in the starting lineup last fall – Peyton Thompson, Ronnie Yell and Brandon Driver – so depth exists there as well. The secondary needs to improve, but it should: it’s not just adding Ihenacho, but also the experience gained a year ago.

Who became the star in Ihenacho’s stead? That’s easy: it was sophomore linebacker Keith Smith, who was named a freshman all-American after leading all first-year players in the F.B.S. with 116 tackles (14 for loss) while adding four sacks. Another sophomore, Vince Buhagiar, finished second on the team with 89 stops. So it will be Buhagiar in the middle, Smith at the outside, and MacIntyre could go with either Tiuke Tuipolotu – last year’s starter – or Pompey Festejo at the third starting spot. Festejo started in 2009, missed last season with a foot injury and has received a medical waiver to play in 2011.

So the Spartans know they’ll get production from end Travis Johnson, who made 62 tackles (9.5 for loss) and a team-best 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. He needs help, so the onus falls on a returning starter like Cedric Lousi to bring more to the table. One of two then-freshman to start up front for most of last season, Lousi will again face a stiff challenge from Vincent Abbott, who finished second among lineman with three sacks. Lousi is one sophomore, tackle Anthony Larceval another. He’s joined at tackle by Pablo Garcia, who along with senior Ja’Rodd Watson gives the team some beef on the inside of the line.

Position battle(s) to watch

Quarterback The three contenders share little but a lack of experience. It’s a relative word: not one of the three has the type of experience coaches covet, but at least Matt Faulkner and Dasmen Stewart have taken snaps on the college level; Blake Jurich hasn’t. And that’s an issue for MacIntyre, who can go with Faulkner, the pure passer, Stewart, the best runner, or Jurich, who can do a little of both – but not only has Jurich not played, he’s coming off an injury that cost him all of last season. So that’s a problem. If San Jose State wants the most experienced option, as well as one with a similar set of skills to Jordan La Secla, the departed starter, the choice would be Faulkner. He made 39 attempts a year ago, completing 21 for 206 yards and a score. Stewart, as noted, would give the offense a different look as a dangerous runner. Yet Jurich, even with his lingering injury issues, was the most impressive quarterback during the spring and a very real candidate for the starting job come the fall. The competition will resolve itself during the fall.

Game(s) to watch

More difficult games await, which makes a WAC game against New Mexico State an absolute must-win. Games that narrowly slipped out of the Spartans’ hands in 2010 — like Utah State, Louisiana Tech and Idaho — may go their way in 2011.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell This won’t be the year for San Jose State. Not to say that the program’s time isn’t coming: it’s coming, even if winning days come not in the WAC but elsewhere – not to digress, but the WAC’s days are numbered, it seems. There’s really only one thing that the Spartans can take from last season, as bad it was: experience. Take your lumps in 2010, take some more in 2011 and, someday, translate that into winning football. The team was so young last fall that it’s only logical to expect some kind of improvement, though as noted with Eastern Michigan, some improvement would only move San Jose State from horrendous to merely bad, as in from 1-12 to 3-9, give or take. Would there be anything wrong with 3-9 in 2011? No, for three reasons. One, the schedule remains one of the toughest of any non-B.C.S. conference program: Stanford, U.C.L.A., B.Y.U. and Navy in non-conference play. Two, despite the gained experience the team remains extremely young. Three, MacIntyre himself remains a work in progress, though I’m far from suggesting that he’s in over his head. Most of all, while the Spartans will be better – around three or four wins, maybe one more, which would be great with this schedule – the team is still a year away, at least. But the team will be better, without question.

Dream season Last year’s struggles — and gained experience — push San Jose State from the bottom of the F.B.S. into bowl play.

Nightmare season More youth, more losses: 1-11, 1-7 in the WAC.

In case you were wondering

Where do San Jose State fans congregate? One option is Spartan Blitz, an independent San Jose State site. You can also try SJSUInsider.com, where you can find the majority of football chatter. For local coverage, check out the Web site of the San Jose Mercury News, where Wilner does his thing.

Word Count

Through 14 teams 36,573.

Up Next

Who is No. 106? The linebackers coach at tomorrow’s university went to the same college as a star of the 1985 film that won an Academy Award for Visual Effects.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. Eksynyt says:

    The 1985 film was Cocoon and the star was Don Ameche who attended Wisconsin with his brother Alan Ameche. As for the linebackers coach who went to Wisconsin. Complete dead end. Couldn’t figure out which school is next.

    Potentials though: Arkansas State, Wake Forest, Kansas, Rice, Bowling Green, Washington State, UAB, and Wyoming will all be coming up soon.

  2. Freakville says:

    Sonny Dykes’ father is William Taylor “Spike” Dykes of Texas Tech. Not “Skip”.

  3. tulaneoutlaw says:

    This might be the hardest hint ever. I’ve literally searched through 15-20 schools’ coaching staffs and I have yet to find a linebacker coach from Wisconsin.

  4. Jay says:

    The 1985 film that won the Academy Award for Visual Effects was Indiana Jones so I’m assuming Harrison Ford of Ripon College is the link. I have no idea who’s team had a linebacker coach that went to Ripon however.

  5. M Meyer says:

    Cocoon should be the right movie. You’re looking for the release date, not the year in which the movie won the Oscar.

    Don Ameche won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, so the Academy Awards must have not seen him as the lead role in the Cocoon ensemble. How about Steve Gutenberg? He went to UCLA and SUNY Albany.

  6. M Meyer says:

    If I’m right about Gutenberg, then the Florida Atlantic Owls are next.

  7. philip says:

    nice sleuthing there, m.m.

  8. The Madphatter says:

    Only Freshman All-American honors for Keith Smith after posting 1116 tackles?!

    Paul: Sorry, meant to write “freshman all-Universe.”

  9. Lew Spartan says:

    Very well written article regarding SAN JOSE STATE and mostly accurate for a New Yorker. One minor amendment:
    The Hawaii game (previously scheduled for Oct 15) has been moved to FRIDAY OCT 14 for ESPN National Television purposes.

    Thanks, Mr. Myerberg. You should come to a Spartan Stadium game sometime. Please.

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