The over-arching theme of the Mike MacIntyre era in San Jose has been development of a program from the ground up. In the 2010 season, he took a largely underclass team to distant body bag games (Bama and Wisconsin) and got the snot beaten out of them for the money. Last year, he took a relatively more experienced team on the road to some less intimidating locales (UCLA, Colorado State, BYU) and managed to be competitive, even pulling off a road OOC win at Fort Collins against the Rams.
It is this season, against the relatively watered-down WAC, where expectations are beginning to crest, and where MacIntyre’s Spartans now must start making their mark. SJSU has been listed by most prognisticators as either the #2 or #3 team in the WAC (behind almost-unanimous WAC favorite LaTech and even with Utah State), and this is the year where SJSU can springboard itself back into relevance as they play their final season in the WAC in preparation for the move up to the MWC.
The OOC schedule is again relatively benign (road games at Stanford, SDSU and Navy; home games against UC-Davis, Colorado State, and Brigham Young), and the WAC schedule lines up well for the Spartans in that their presumptive toughest competition in the WAC this year (Utah State and LaTech) both visit San Jose. In fact, the LaTech game is the last game of the season for both teams, and will be the final regular season game in the WAC’s storied 50-year football history. The table is set for the Spartans – now it’s just a matter of whether or not they pick up the knife and fork.
The receiving corps. Senior TE Ryan Otten is in the top-5 of TE’s in all of NCAA football, and the primary WR duo of Junior Noel Grigsby and Sophomore Jabari Carr are both helping to re-establish that area of traditional strength for SJSU.
Linebackers. Juniors Vince Buhagiar and Keith Smith are both on most preseason all-WAC lists, and they provide consistency to what has traditionally been a porous SJSU run defense.
Intangibles. In past years, SJSU’s been one of the most penalized teams in the nation. With the arrival of Mike MacIntyre, the focus on discipline and smart play has revealed itself in a team that has brought itself from #70 nationally in penalties in 2008, to #3 just this past season.
Offensive line. The Spartans return senior Dan Quessenberry as the critical left tackle, and he will be anchoring an O-line that has been a frequent source of problems for the Spartans. Simply put, SJSU’s been having trouble the last few years in establishing a dependable ground game, and that has forced the Spartans into a pass-happy attack that puts up a lot of points (when things go well) or gives up the ball a lot (when things go poorly). Joining Quessenberry will be Junior center Reuben Hasani and a cast of several others rotating in and out; the camp is still trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Kicking. This years-long bête noire of SJSU Football is back once again, rearing its ugly head. Last year, then-Junior Harrison Waid handled both the punting and placekicking, before surrendering the PK duties to now-departed Senior Jens Alvernik. Once again, Waid is filling both slots, and this will continue unless Freshman Austin Lopez begins to show some better leg and accuracy.
How will the defensive backfield do after the departure of Duke Ihenacho? There’s plenty of leadership and experience in that unit, with Ronnie Yell and James Orth returning, but that’s only one safety and one cornerback.
Who will emerge as the starting quarterback? Last year’s #2, Dasmen Stewart, struggled mightily in his two starts against UCLA and UNR, ultimately being replaced for good by Matt Faulkner. With Faulkner gone, the current scuttlebutt is that JuCo transfer David Fales will take the top slot. Stewart’s athleticism is interesting to look at, but his arm strength and decision-making are both lacking in comparison to Fales. Regrettably, Fales has struggled a bit in scrimmages in comparison to some of the other younger players (Soph Blake Jurich and Frosh Joseph Gray), so the starting QB is not set as of this writing, and it’s ten days before kickoff up at Stanford.
Edit: As of today, per the San Jose Mercury News, the starting QB will be David Fales.
Is DeLeon Eskridge the truth? Eskridge, a transfer from Minnesota, has sat out his one-year wait, and is now fully on the field rocking the blue-and-gold, and by all reports is doing quite well in camp. But whether or not that translates to the field is the question. Last year, when Brandon Rutley went down, SJSU reached into its defensive corps and selected cornerback Tyler Ervin to sub in. Ervin is listed once again as a CB on this year’s depth roster, but he may be called again if there are issues with Eskridge.
OVERALL: If San Jose State was going to make some noise, this is the year, and this is the time. The fan base has been understanding and patient with Coach MacIntyre, understanding what his approach has been. Last year, SJSU started winning some close games that they would be losing in previous years. Unfortunately, they also lost two games they should have won, having coughed up late fourth-quarter leads twice (against Utah State and Idaho). The time has come, now, for the Spartans to take the next step up, and that means finishing teams off when they get up late. The league schedule is quite favorable for the Spartans, with road games at UTSA, NMSU and Idaho, and the "big" games at home against Utah State and LaTech.
This is the springboard year for MacIntyre and the Spartans. Hopefully they won’t go into the MWC with a belly flop.
FEARLESS PREDICTION: 9-3/5-1, and a WAC Championship at last.