Location: CEFCU Stadium – San Jose, CA
Date/Time: Thursday, September 1st @ 7:30 PM PDT
Broadcast: NBC Sports Bay Area Live stream: www.TheMW.com/watch
Radio: KTRB (860 AM, San Francisco)
Head-to-head history: San Jose State (0-0) is 1-0 vs. the Portland State Vikings (0-0). In 2016, a year prior to head coach Brent Brennan’s arrival, the Spartans beat the Vikings 66-35 at home. SJS finished that year 4-8 under then head coach Ron Caragher.
The last time San Jose State faced this much green was in a 32-14 loss to Colorado State last season.
Early odds have the Spartans as a 16 1⁄2 point favorite over the green of Portland, but these Vikings are not green on the field with 44 returning players for eighth-year head coach Bruce Barnum and 16 FBS-level transfers - many from the Mountain West.
With the magic of the transfer portal and the experience along the Vikings’ roster, Barnum has a team that belies any point spread in any division. Though in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky last season, there’s enough for the Spartans to take as seriously as the big money game the following week - which any team does regardless.
Brennan and his staff won’t allow planning and preparation issues to be a factor in game one, as it’s typically about prolonged execution.
“Our players know exactly what this is,” said Brennan on the misconceptions of FCS (Big Sky) vs. FBS (MW) level competition. “There’s not a real separation between FCS and FBS anymore. If you’re playing Division 1 football, we know you can play.”
Brennan also reminded us of SJS’ 44-38 loss to UC Davis in 2018.
“If you’re not ready, it doesn’t matter who you line up against,” added Brennan. “For us, all of camp and the off-season has been focusing on process and locking in on what the processes are.”
What the Spartans face defensively
The Spartans were a good defense last season and will be tested to the max right out of the gate.
The Vikings present an established receiving corp poised to cause headaches against one potential Spartan weakness - the pass defense. Last season, SJS gave up more big pass plays and 300+ passing yards than their 2020 championship run.
So, expect a heavy mix of many well-experienced Viking receivers like Darien Chase (3), Mataio Talalemotu (6) Beau Kelly (13), Nate Bennett (7), and MacClaine Griffin (8). Griffin also spent four years at Boise State.
The Viking running game will offer more Mountain West familiarity with another Boise Stater in RB Andrew Van Buren.
At QB is Viking sophomore and dual-threat Dante Chachere (brother of former Spartan Andre Chachere previously with the Philadelphia Eagles).
Brennan had noted how much of a challenge Van Buren could be and compared Chachere to Spartan backup QB Nick Nash. The Spartans should know what to expect and should match up at least athletically.
By the numbers last season, the Vikings averaged 5.79 yards a play and 27.5 points a game.
A big difference this year for the Spartan defense, besides having highly capable linebackers and stout defensive linemen led by all-conferencers Kyle Harmon and Cade Hall, respectively, is the re-load of Spartan defensive backs.
The proven commodities of Spartan safety Tre Jenkins and cornerbacks Nehemiah Shelton and Kenyon Reed are joined by transfers Chase Williams (USC), Elisha Guidry (UCLA) and CJ Jones (Fresno State). But a slew of underclassmen DBs are the strongest it’s been under first-year cornerbacks coach Chip Viney.
Spartan offense vs. the Viking defense
After attending Spartan practice sessions each week but without any true, all-out scrimmage to base upon, the high-level armchair summary:
- The Spartan receiving corp this year is better than last year
- The Spartan quarterback corp is also improved and better than last year
It’s probably a big “Duh!” to many, but there’s at least agreement across the board that Spartan expectations are high in these areas.
Last season, the Vikings gave up an average of 29.5 points a game and over 6 yards a play. All said - advantage tilts to the Spartan offense, though this season, the Vikings have also reloaded enough on defense to see an improvement, at least on paper.
Returning Viking defensive linemen VJ Malo and Jake Porter will be joined by former SJS Spartan EJ Ane. And as with any new season, the Spartan offensive line will be an area to focus on, but they seemingly have the mix of youth, experience and athleticism to show well enough against this Viking Dline.
The Vikings also have Jaymason Willingham from Utah State at linebacker and many capable seniors in the secondary, including sophomore Tyresse Shakir also from Boise State (brother of former Bronco Khalil Shakir now with the Buffalo Bills).
Even with the improved Vikings from 2021, expect the Spartan running game to try and carpet-bomb Portland’s Dline to soften up to the play-making abilities of QB Chevan Cordiero or vice versa.
The stoic Cordeiro faced the Vikings last season with Hawaii and threw three TD passes on 305 yards passing in a 14-point win.
“Chevan is serious and he takes it all very seriously, which we love,” said Brennan.
Brennan was quick to add that Cordiero is equally as much fun and enjoys the camaraderie with his other football junkie cohorts.
“Chevan has really good energy all around,” said Brennan. “And when he’s on the field, he is crazy competitive, because it’s all business out there for him.”
OC Kevin McGiven also stated he’s never had anyone like Cordiero. Cordiero’s ability to quickly adapt, learn and apply all concepts has helped lead to the best group of QBs for McGiven, ever.
Also, how much latitude OC Kevin McGiven allows his QBs this year will be a curious point. Often, he looks to run a tight ship in trying to keep a balance and mix of pass and run.
Defensively, the Spartans may get shell-shocked at first, but should maintain form as a veteran defense outlasts the Vikings.
A good Spartan win will be by at least 14+ points to be enough of an indicator of what’s to come...or not.