At face value, it’s not the flashiest record in the world. Some could even call it mediocre. But for San Jose State, those five wins mean so much more than other fanbases could ever imagine.
The 17-16 Spartan victory over rival Fresno State was perhaps the biggest win in a season where they all felt huge.
San Jose State closed out the 2010’s with a 44-80 record and three head coaches. Brent Brennan inherited a program in dismay in 2017. Ron Caragher took over in 2013, after Mike MacIntyre led the Spartans to one of the best seasons in program history, going 11-2 in 2012. Caragher couldn’t keep up the momentum and was let go after the 2016 season.
Brennan struggled at first, as would any coach. SJSU is a program with a long history, but it’s not necessarily a good history. The facilities were in severe need of renovation, but there was no money to invest into the athletic department. Attendance has been abysmal in a competitive market.
The first two years were rough. Brennan’s teams were a combined 3-22. In 2017, the offense was 126th in the nation in scoring at just 15.8 points per game.
In 2019, the offense averaged 30 ppg. And before bowl season, the passing attack is fourth in the nation at 338 yards per game.
What he’s done with one of the toughest jobs in college football is nothing short of remarkable. Even with wins at Arkansas and Army, Saturday’s one-point victory over the Bulldogs stands alone. It gave the seniors a chance to hold the Valley Trophy one last time. They got to go out on top.
But it wasn't just the fact that they won. It was how they won.
Even in the successful season, the Spartans have struggled putting teams away. They’re just one week removed from a disaster in Vegas, where the Spartans squandered several opportunities to put away UNLV and Nevada. They had all the chances in the world to take down Boise State and Hawaii. They just fell short.
Saturday night, it looked like they were going to fall short again. Fresno State jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. Running back Ronnie Rivers looked untouchable. After a field goal, Josh Love was sacked in the end zone, giving the Bulldogs another 2 points and a 16-3 lead.
At the half, down 13 and in conditions that didn’t favor its play style in the slightest, it looked like the game was for naught. The Spartans weren’t going to come back. Not in a game like this.
But the second half was different. The defense that previously couldn’t make a stop shut the Bulldogs out in the second half, including stopping FSU on its final 11 third down conversions. The offense that couldn’t put a drive together stormed down the field efficiently and using the run game, which ranked 125th in the nation.
SJSU won this game unlike how it won any other game this season. That says something.
It says something about this coaching staff, who can adapt and make adjustments when needed. A far cry from last season.
It says something about the senior class, who made big plays to close out their careers.
It says something about the future of the program, which for the first time in years, looks promising.
Early in the season, coach Brennan was asked about the big ugly grassy patch in the stadium, where nearly half of the bleachers used to be. He said he thought it was beautiful, that it symbolized the future of the program.
At the time it seemed like a laughable, insincere response. “That patch is there just because they don’t have the money to continue the renovation,” I thought to myself sitting in that press room.
Now, I think he might just be right.
2019 planted the seeds of this SJSU football program. It might not have been pretty. The team still missed a bowl game, despite having its best QB season in recent memory. There are a lot of impact seniors that played their last game Saturday night. Ethan Aguayo, Josh Love, Jesse Osuna, Quinn Oseland, DeJon Packer, Troy Kowalski, too many to name.
But this team did something special. It brought hope to a bleak outlook. It showed a fanbase what’s possible. It gave the administration hope that this football program is worth pouring money into.
So for now, don’t look at that 5-7 record with disdain. Look at it like the seeds to what can grow in the next decade of SJSU football.