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The San Jose State, Fresno State Thanksgiving football rivalry preview

The logic of the illogical

Photo by Douglas Stringer

Location: CEFCU Stadium – San Jose, CA

Date/Time: Thursday, November 25th @ 12:30 PM PDT

Broadcast: Fox Sports 1

Radio: KTRB (860 AM, San Francisco)

Head-to-head history: It’s San Jose State’s (5-6, 3-4 MW) longest running series, where Fresno State (8-3, 5-2 MW) holds the rivalry edge 42-38-3. Since Spartan head coach Brent Brennan has taken over, San Jose State is 1-2 against the Bulldogs.


As far as rivalry games go, especially to end the regular season with something at stake for both teams, it amps up the already local dynamics a few notches.

Fresno State still has a chance for the Mountain West championship if Boise State can upset favored San Diego State, which is clearly in the cards for the Broncos – if the Bulldogs take care of their business first.

San Jose State is playing for bowl eligibility and a .500 regular season record for some consolation of a very up and down season.

Who has more to gain or lose?

Since the lens is on the Silicon Valley side, San Jose State obviously has the most to gain:

  • A Thanksgiving home game and an apropos send off for their outgoing seniors
  • Avoiding a losing record and a three-game losing streak, especially after their championship run last season
  • Being bowl eligible to extend the season and be in back-to-back bowl games
  • Stopping a conference championship chance for the Bulldogs

With each team coming off a bye-week before the final regular season game, one of the worst things that can happen is to play flat and not be competitive. The least to expect is a focused, error-free, competitive game at this point of the season from the Spartans.

Practices have looked sharp and on point, which have not always been a good indicator of game performances this year for many Mountain West teams.

The win basics – when illogical becomes logical

  1. There’s almost no doubt the Spartans will still want to run. They’ve shown that tendency through thick and thin with not the preferred results this season. Case in point is the lack of success in short yardage situations, which is attributed to either or both the offensive line and backs. But luckily in such a rivalry game, logic is often defied. If everyone knows the Spartans will try to run, it becomes a question of who’s will and desire to execute is stronger, because the Bulldog run defense is very strong to say the least.
  2. There also seems no doubt the Spartans will squeeze out all that is remaining from the Nick Starkel QB days. You’ll see more spread offense offering more options and targets and inversely, more run options, especially considering the Spartans’ dual-threat QB of the future Nick Nash. The game plan must be flexible enough to let the Nicks be themselves to play fast and especially, smart, as they seek out a receiving corp, led by TE Derrick Deese Jr. that is primed with at least four other good, serviceable receivers.
  3. Can the Spartans keep the Bulldog pass offense from wreaking havoc? Fresno State has the ninth best passing offense in the nation led by another top-tier NFL prospect QB in Jake Haener. Haener has high quality connections in receivers Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly and running back Ronnie Rivers. The Spartans’ front seven is clearly capable and the secondary will have to rely on depth that’s led from their veteran hard-hitting safeties Tre Jenkins and Jay Lenard.

With a true rivalry that has outlived about everyone that will be at CEFCU Stadium this Thanksgiving Day, we should hope that opposing stats and logic don’t make sense as it most times does, especially looking at head scratching wins across the conference this year.

If logic does serve out, the Bulldogs go beyond being 7.5-point favorites in a going away win, due in part to the turnover issues from the Spartans this year.

But for this outcome as a statement to cap the year around the conference, the prediction has to be for a close illogical win by a field goal difference from the Spartans.