By Michael Valverde @RFLRedZone
San Jose State Spartans 11-2 (5-1 WAC)
The Spartans had a year to remember, it was their first 11 win season since 1940, and went to the Military Bowl where they faced off with and beat Bowling Green, 29-20. They are now entering the Mountain West Conference and have one of the best quarterbacks in school history, David Fales. Last year, was also the first time SJSU was ranked in the BCS in school history (24th). They do play a tougher schedule this year, because of the difference in competition between the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference(WAC). But, if they are successful, and return to a bowl game this year, it will be the first time since 1986-1987 that they made back to back bowls.
Unfortunately the Spartans lost their head coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado, but now have Ron Caragher who is seasoned at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level. Caragher led the non scholarship school San Diego to a 44-22 record, but can Caragher skills in the FCS translate well to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level? If it can, San Jose State shouldn’t lose a beat in the football program MacIntyre set forth, and should be strong contenders in the Mountain West.
The offense will be run by Ron Caragher and his first year Offensive Coordinator and quarterback coach Jimmy Daughtery. Daughtery reunites with Caragher after their stint together in San Diego in 2007 and 2008. The offense will move away from the pistol it ran last year, and go into a pro-style attack. SJSU will want to be physical but also be balanced.
Senior quarterback David Fales led the nation in completion percentage at 72.5 percent and also was sixth in the nation at passing. Fales also set seven school records which included throwing for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns.
At wide receiver the Spartans are deep, but lack experience at tight end and full back. Noel Grigsby (82 receptions) is the leading receiver and is the all-time school leader with 227 receptions for 3,015 yards. Chandler Jones is the deep receiver who caught 11 touchdowns last year, and Jabari Carr (62 receptions) is the possession wide out. Look for all three to get plenty of action, and watch defensive coaches try to align the best defense to try to stop this juggernaut of an offense. The starting tight end this year will either be senior Travis Lorius, who is big at 6’5 and 248 pounds, or Billy Freeman (6’3, 245 pounds).
Tyler Ervin has speed at running back, but lacks size to run between the tackles. He is only 5’10 and 176 pounds, but he should fit well in the pro-style attack. He is entering his junior season, but has some game time experience, as he played in both his freshman and sophomore year.
The offensive line will return four starters which include All-Wac First Team Guard Nicholas Kaspar and Center Ruben Hasani. This offensive line did a solid job protecting David Fales, by allowing only 26 sacks. The biggest hole is going to try to replace All-WAC First Team left tackle David Quessenberry, who was drafted by the Houston Texans in the 6th round. They also lose depth in LT Jeff Gratan. Seniors left guard Ryan Jones and right tackle Jon Meyer return. Sophomore Wes Schweitzer (6’5, 275 pounds), or freshman Evan Sarver (6’5 and 270 pounds) will be fighting it out in camp to be the replacement of Quessenberry at left tackle.
New defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson made a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, which will force changes along the defensive front. Travis Raciti moves to the outside tackle spot after recording 8.5 sacks last season from the interior, and 13 tackles for a loss. Raciti is 6’5 and 286 pounds. He is strong, quick, and plays with a high motor. He is the key for opposing offenses to disrupt. Raciti will be joined with junior NT Foil Vae , and sophomore DT Tony Popovich.
At linebacker, Keith Smith who has seven forced fumbles over his collegiate career and Vince Buhagiar are both four year starters and the top two tacklers from last season. Buhagiar will play on the outside to create a spot for freshman Christian Tago. Both Smith and Buhagiar finished as first team WAC. Garrett Guanella a junior will join this group at outside linebacker.
Senior Cornerback Bene Benwikere, who was All-WAC, is a ball hawk. Benwikere had seven interceptions, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt, and two defensive touchdowns in 2012. Damon Ogburn will move from the corner position to the starter at free safety. Sophomore’s CB Jimmy Pruitt and SS Simon Connette, fill out the starting defensive backfield roster.
Place Kicker Austin Lopez was 17-17 on field goal attempts (105 points), and is expected to return from a torn meniscus in his kicking knee. Punter Harrison Waid has a career 43.0 yard average, and will handle kicking duties if Lopez cannot recover. Waid is 17-29 on field goals over all. The kick returner will be Tyler Ervin, who has three kick returns for touchdowns.
Player to watch
Christian Tago who is a red shirted freshman. He impressed the coaches enough to move three starter Vince Buhager to the outside linebacker position. Other players include:
• David Fales
• Noel Grigsby
• Travis Raciti
• Keith Smith
• Bené Benwikere
Return of the most accurate quarterback in which Fales was dominate with that 72.5 accurate rate. San Jose State brought back three wide outs and they should fit in nicely with the new offense.
Struggled to run the ball, and De’Leon Eskridge graduated as a 1,000 yard rusher. SJSU needs to develop more of a balanced offense. Their defense have some holes that can cause concern. The new conference can have dramatic effects on Fales and team.
The Bill Walsh legacy game against Stanford (September 7th) will be a huge game for San Jose State and the Bay Area. If the Spartans can pull off a win, or put up a strong match-up, it will go a long way for their status in the FCS. Also, a brutal month of games against Nevada (November 9th), San Diego State (November 16th), and Fresno State (November 29th) can be a difference maker in who wins the Mountain West Conference.
• OT-David Quessenberry
• RB-De’Leon Eskridge
• DE-Travis Johnson
• DE-David Tuitupou
• CB-Ronnie Yell
• TE-Ryan Otten
• QB-David Fales
• WR-Noel Grigsby
• WR-Chandler Jones
• DT-Travis Raciti
• LB-Keith Smith
• DB- Bené Benwikere
Ian Feiber is a three star recruit who passed for 2,800 yards and 24 touchdowns. He is a pro-style quarterback who will fit Ron Caragher system nicely upon the departure of David Fales. Even though he didn’t get much attention, he could be one of those players that is just overlooked. He did have one offer from Eastern Washington. He did compete well at the ESPN 11 camps. Other three star recruits include defensive backs Darren Gardenhire and Maurice Mcknight.
San Jose State enters a new conference this year. In a way they deserved to move into a tougher division, due to their play and overall ranking last year. They won the Military Bowl even though their head coach was missing in action somewhere in Colorado, and only lost two games. Week one to Stanford by three and then losing in week six to eventual conference champion Utah State, but they didn’t look back as they went undefeated straight through the their eventual bowl win.
In 2013 things do look more challenging. They face Stanford again and tough teams in their conference such as Nevada, San Diego State and Fresno State. Either one of these teams can win the Mountain West Conference, but can the Spartans hang in there with them? They are not used to this level of play, even though they did beat San Diego State last year at Qualcomm. They are also grateful as they do not have to play Boise State this year, as that makes the schedule a little more easier to handle. This is not a team that knows how to win on a steady basis, but if they can start hot, they just might find themselves on top of the Mountain.