Series Record: Stanford leads, 51-14-1
Harbaugh/Shaw Era: Stanford leads, 5-0
Last Season: Stanford 20, SJSU 17
This Season: September 7th
There is tendency to think of San Jose State as a non-conference patsy meant to pad the record and provide an easy start to the season, but this is dangerous thinking. The Spartans gave Stanford much more than most observers anticipated in last year's season opener, and they went on to have one of the best years in the history of the program as they won eleven of their final twelve games and finished 11-2, including a victory in the Military Bowl.
San Jose State's high-powered offense was led by quarterback David Fales, who threw for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns in his first season as the starter. Fales returns this year, as does his favorite target, senior wide receiver Noel Grigsby, who caught 82 balls for 1,307 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. The biggest news, though, concerns a key figure who isn't returning. Head coach Mike MacIntyre was only in charge for three years, but he took the Spartans from eleven losses in 2010 to eleven wins in 2012, and that was enough for him to get a ticket to Colorado, where he'll be the new head coach for the Buffs this season. Ron Caragher, formerly of the University of San Diego, has taken over for MacIntyre.
For a better look at the Spartans, I reached out to Danny Martinez, the moderator for SpartanBlitz's Football Board at SpartanBlitz.com. Now I'll get out of the way.
Most Stanford fans probably don't realize it, but San Jose State had an 11-2 record last year and finished with seven straight wins. What did the Spartans do well last year?
The Spartans did most things well last year, starting with our opening game against the Cardinal. Even though SJSU lost, they came within 20 yards of pulling off a huge upset with a QB making his first FBS start. That was really an indication of things to come. Unlike previous years, SJSU had an extremely efficient passing game and a monster defense that showed up when it needed to the most. The offensive line was anchored by now-Houston Texan David Quessenberry and the whole line gave time for the offense to do its thing. Wide receivers Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones were running the correct routes, catching the ball well, and even the running game came somewhat alive with De Leon Eskridge (SJSU's first 1000-yd rusher since Yonus Davis). The defense really played a no-fear and in-your-face strategy that saw now-49er Travis Johnson lead the team in sacks. Cornerback Bené Benwikere was a ball hawk and at times seemed like a receiver on the opposite side of the ball. The most pleasant surprise though, aside from QB David Fales, was placekicker Austin Lopes. SJSU had not fared well on FG kicking in recent years, which cost a lot of games. Last year was the first time in a long while that fans were confident in their kicker.
After last season's success, head coach Mike MacIntyre left to take over at Colorado, and Ron Caragher has replaced him. It might be hard to answer this right now, but what's the early word on Caragher?
I will be honest, when I first heard and read that new Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier had reached down to Division II University of San Diego head coach Ron Caragher to continue the journey for Sparta, I was less than thrilled. At the time, I personally felt that Bleymaier and SJSU were under pressure from donors to win NOW and not risk another "rebuilding" season with a rookie head coach. As I started researching Coach Caragher's experience, his time as a UCLA receivers coach and at Kentucky as a running backs coach, I felt a little better that he was more of an offensive-minded guy, something I think that former Coach Mike MacIntyre was lacking. While I'm certainly not complaining about Coach Mac's defensive expertise, I was always concerned with his lack of offensive prowess and I think the offensive success was more a reflection on former Spartans offensive coordinator John DeFilippo (now on the Oakland Raiders). The biggest fear I had for Coach Caragher was that he would come in and try to forcefully customize everything to the West Coast Offense, but as time went on from his signing to how he's approached Spring Training and summer practices, my fears have been put at ease. The only unknown that remains will be how he manages his team's response to already high expectations this year. We will find out on August 29!
Quarterback David Fales put up some phenomenal numbers last year. What are his strengths, and what's expected from him this season?
His most obvious strength is his efficiency in his passing and his decision-making. While he's only playing in his second FBS season, Fales had plenty of experience playing QB before he arrived at Sparta. Fales played at Palma High School in Salinas where he was selected twice as all-league at QB and was a Tri-County League offensive MVP. After playing backup to former Nevada-Reno QB Colin Kaepernick, he transferred to Monterey Peninsula Junior College, where he once again became a two-time all conference selection. After transferring to University of Wyoming, it became clear he would not start for the Cowboys. That's when Coach DeFilippo and recruiting coach Terry Malley convinced Coach Mac to bring him to Sparta. Allegedly, DeFilippo told Coach Mac, "I want this guy, it's not even close."
What is the best-case scenario for the Spartans this season? What about the worst-case?
The obvious best-case scenario would be a Mountain West Conference title. The not-so-obvious best case? Winning the MWC title and being ranked high enough to be considered as a BCS buster. Anywhere from 2-20 years ago, it was a pipe dream. Now, it's not what I would call likely, but it is possible, which was not the case in previous years. Just the fact that it's "possible" has the fan base excited for the season to start. As mentioned before, this team has the tools and the personnel to make that happen.
What should Stanford fans be most concerned about heading into this game?
I know I risk the wrath of the Cardinal faithful, but I really think that the #4 ranking by the USA Today/Coaches poll is too high. I think the Cardinal should be closer to 12-14 and more so because if SJSU brings their game like they did last year and actually beats Stanford, it would REALLY hurt Stanford in the polls. Conversely, the #4 ranking is very beneficial to SJSU should we upset this year. Last year, the Cardinal didn't know who David Fales was or how he played. This year, they know a little bit on Fales, but they know zero on how Coach Caragher and his crew will be using him. It's always easy for a team like Stanford, who has destroyed SJSU in the last 10 years, to overlook them again this year, especially with their ranking. Come September 7, one thing I know for sure is that the game will bring plenty of fireworks!