Date/Time: Saturday, November 11, 2023 – 7:30 PM PST
Location: CEFCU Stadium | San Jose, CA
Broadcast: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 860 KTRB AM
Head-to-Head: Fresno State (8-1, 4-1 MW) is 44-3-38 over San Jose State (4-5, 3-2 MW). Spartan head coach Brent Brennan is 1-5 vs. the Bulldogs under his tenure.
First thing on people’s minds is the rivalry and 100+ year history between the teams. Second thing besides a supposed even matchup - perhaps the worthy gentlemen’s battle between respected head coaches who’s programs are in their light.
Since 2013 when the Spartans entered the Mountain West, the Valley Trophy represents the path between an agricultural and technological region. But really, it’s mostly a symbol of San Jose State’s biggest rival and what Brennan aspires his program to be.
“We’ve had some real battles with them and they’ve also gotten after us,” said Brennan. “As a CSU, we’re aspiring to be consistently good like Fresno State.”
Who and what makes Fresno State so good is their stalwart head coach Jeff Tedford.
Over a decade with the Cal Bears as their winningest coach and with the Bulldogs for four seasons, Tedford has two Mountain West Championships, three Bowl Game victories, and two Top 25 finishes with a possible third national-ranking and a fourth chance at a conference title game.
Keep in mind, Tedford inherited a 1-11 team when he first started with Fresno. Keep in mind too, Tedford is very much undervalued in terms of salary, so someone is certainly getting a great deal.
“I wish he’d tell me his secret,” said Brennan. “I have tremendous respect for Jeff and he’s been great to me.”
Brennan and Tedford’s personable demeanors, detailed approaches and passionate philosophies are similar (though Brennen leads in youthful exuberance). Overall, it’s what Sparta would want Brennan’s trajectory to mimic.
“His teams have always been good wherever he’s been, You’ve got to respect that and I’m fortunate to have a friendship with him, but obviously with this big game for both of us, we won’t be talking this week,” quipped Brennan.
Just going by the oddsmakers, it’s an even game for two trending teams.
Considering the contrasting records, it speaks more to the Spartans.
SJS’ strength-of-schedule and lambasting of Utah State, who came close to defeating the Bulldogs, should lean that trending strength more towards San Jose State at home.
Then consider, Fresno State’s last three wins were by one possession vs. SJS’ last three wins were at least three possession wins over teams the Bulldogs handled just well-enough - though a win is a win, as they say.
“They won it last year. They won 11 games the year before. They’re super good and well-coached, of course,” said Brennan. “With veteran players everywhere that’ve played a ton of football, it will be a huge challenge for us.”
The key, as Brennan points out, is unflappable veteran players across the board for Fresno.
The way the Spartans unflap Fresno will start with SJS’ defense.
If SJS’ last-ranked run defense can outflank Fresno’s near-bottom-ranked run game then consistently make the pocket dirty for Mikey Keene, as they did against Hawaii’s Brayden Schager, it sets up the possibility to run away with the game.
A stout one-two run game punch by Kairee Robinson and Quali Conley adds some demoralization dust and keeps time-of-possession favoring the Spartans, while the Chevan Cordeiro factor provides the blitzkrieg from the air. The more possibility to win going away.
But logic would say that is not consistently possible against a veteran Fresno team even though SJS matches up well.
Luckily, the significant weight of intangibles can’t be quantified which makes us watch and wonder.
“I think it’s going to be a great game and I expect we’re going to have a great crowd,” said Brennan. “Fresno always brings a good crowd too.”
All we know for sure from Brennan?
“CEFCU Stadium will be rocking Saturday night.”
*Always free premium-level content and perspectives on SJSU on the MWC