Fresno State vs. San Jose State: Game Preview

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

An old rivalry resumes with high stakes for both teams. Can the Bulldogs continue their march to the BCS or will the Spartans shock the nation and earn bowl eligibility?

WEEK 13: #16 Fresno State Bulldogs vs. San Jose State Spartans

WHEN: Friday, November 29 -- 12:30 PM, PST.

WHERE: Spartan Stadium; San Jose, CA (30,456)

2013 SEASON: Fresno State 10-0 (7-0), San Jose State 5-6 (4-3)

TV: CBS Sports Network

RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN affiliates, 940 and 1600 AM, will carry the Bulldogs broadcast in English and Spanish, respectively. The Spartans broadcast can be heard on 1590 AM in and around San Jose.

SERIES RECORD: The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 39-34-3. However, the Spartans won the most recent tilt, a 27-24 decision at Bulldog Stadium in 2011.

WEB SITES: GoBulldogs.com, Fresno State's official athletics site | SJSUSpartans.com, San Jose State's official athletics site

Circumstances have dictated that this game will carry a great deal of importance.

Fresno State has done everything it can do in amassing a thus-far perfect record and a berth in the Mountain West's first title game. Derek Carr is at the helm of an elite passing attack, perhaps the best passing attack in the nation. The defense has blossomed, not as last year's turnover machine but with a fearsome front seven that quietly ranks among the best in sacks and tackles for loss.

The opinions that matter the most, though, our BCS computer overlords, have been underwhelmed. Northern Illinois is a top-ten team, they say, and some players and many fans have been adamant with their objections. It's hard to find anyone in the Central Valley who's happy about it all.

Then again, it's just as difficult to find anyone associated with the San Jose State Spartans that is pleased with how 2013 has gone. The team was expected to contend for a conference title with an NFL-caliber quarterback and explosive skill position players, but injuries and offensive inconsistency have left the Spartans on the precipice of an early offseason.

Despite the apparent talent disparity, rivalries have a way of leveling the playing field. Both teams have a lot at stake, so while the Iron Bowl and the Palmetto Bowl will get most of the Saturday headlines, this game deserves healthy exposure on the Friday undercard.

What to watch - San Jose State: Derek Carr may have stolen a lot of the limelight from other Mountain West quarterbacks, but keep in mind that San Jose State's passing offense is top-10 caliber in its own right. David Fales has been asked to shoulder a lot of responsibility as playmakers have fallen around him. His overall statistics aren't as eye-popping as they were in 2012, but he needs some benefit of the doubt.

One problem that stands out is the distribution of his 13 interceptions, tied for most in the conference. Nine of them have come when the Spartans are either behind or tied, as well as in the second half. The correlation leads me to believe that he's pressing in attempts to keep San Jose afloat. To avoid this, the pass-first Spartans will have to get Fales in a rhythm early and move the chains consistently: Fales' best numbers, interestingly, have been on second down.

On defense, Bene Benwikere will be locking horns with Davante Adams all afternoon, but Dasheon Frierson and Damon Ogburn will have to slow Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper to some degree if the game devolves into a shootout. Frierson, like Benwikere, has ten defensed passes on the season, and may need one or two more in critical spots for San Jose to have a chance.

What to watch - Fresno State: One of the details that has been glossed over during Fresno's hot streak is that the special teams still carries some significant question marks. Though the game was well in hand, it was disconcerting to see New Mexico return a kickoff for a touchdown and benefit from good field position in garbage time. San Jose has a pedestrian return unit, but one long return could prevent the Bulldogs from putting the game away as early as they would like.

Kicker Colin McGuire is also only 9 of 14 on field goals. The Spartans have six blocked kicks by five different players, and McGuire's last two kicks have both been blocked. The freshman has shown plenty of power on his successful attempts but, if the game is close late, he will be tested.

The alternative is continued aggression on fourth down inside San Jose territory, a subject of much debate on this webpage. The numbers do the philosophy justice, though: Fresno State is 14-of-20 on fourth down, while San Jose has allowed 11-of-16 conversions. The flipside is also worth watching, since Fresno has faced more 4th downs on defense than any team in the nation and SJSU is 14-of-24.

The secondary has coalesced despite injury woes, but Fales is the best quarterback they have faced all season. Curtis Riley had struggles replacing L.J. Jones as the number one cornerback, and though he has improved in the past couple weeks, his assignment is Chandler Jones, who could be the best wide receiver in the conference that isn't a Bulldog. Like Benwikere and Adams, Riley and Jones will be an individual battle to watch.

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