As the dust settles surrounding San Jose State’s recent head coaching change, the focus can now go back to where it should have been for the entire month of December—the ninth bowl appearance in the Spartans’ history.
Mike MacIntyre is officially in the past in San Jose, but the team he built and led to 10 victories has one more game to win if it is going to cement a legacy at the best team in school history. They face 8-4 Bowling Green out of the Mid-American Conference in the Military Bowl on this Thursday.
A lot can happen when a team takes a month off even without its head coach skipping town for another job. For San Jose State, being able to maintain focus toward their on-field challenges will be vital, as on paper Bowling Green is a team they should be able to handle.
With defensive coordinator Kent Baer assuming interim coaching duties for the bowl game only (Ron Caragher was hired to replace MacIntyre on December 17th) and the rest of the coaching staff still in place one final time, there should be enough stability for San Jose State end the season with its seventh straight victory.
The game appears to hinge on how well the Spartans’ potent offense will perform against the Falcons’ stingy defense, currently ranked ninth in the nation in points allowed. That defense boasts the MAC defensive player of the year, defensive tackle Chris Jones, whose 12.5 sacks rank him third nationally in that category.
Despite the high number of sacks, the strength at defensive tackle seems to play right into San Jose State’s hands. They’ll be rolling out the 11th-rated passing attack in the country, and should they find it hard to gain yards on the ground between the tackles, quarterback David Fales has shown throughout the year he can carry the team through an exclusively passing attack if need be.
The stats indicate that matching the Spartans point-for-point could prove difficult for Bowling Green.
Behind junior quarterback Matt Shilz, the Falcons are averaging 216 yards passing per game, good for 81st nationally. Overall, Shilz has thrown for a pedestrian 2426 yards to go with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Spartans may not feature a top-10 defense, but at 227 passing yards allowed per game, it should be solid enough to keep the offense in control of the game.
The two teams have one common opponent: Idaho. The Falcons defeated the Vandals in a week two contest at home 21-13. The Spartans allowed the same amount of points in their week 10 road game against Idaho, but doubled Bowling Green’s scoring output at 42 points. Other games of note for Bowling Green in 2012 include a week one home loss to Florida (27-14), a week four blowout on the road courtesy of Virginia Tech (37-0) and a seven-point loss to Kent St at home in late November. Their best win came on the road against fellow 8-4 MAC team Ohio.
It should come as no surprise that San Jose State has opened as a seven point favorite over Bowling Green. The Spartans have a better record, against better opponents, and on paper have the offense equipped to overcome the challenge the Falcons present defensively. One thing bowl season teaches us each year, however, is that the best team doesn’t always show up for its last game. Considering what the players at SJSU have gone through in the past few weeks with MacIntyre’s abrupt and less-than-forthright exit (Fales himself told the Monterey Herald last week that MacIntyre “could have handled his exit better”), it’s not hard to imagine the momentum the team had coming off the regular season-ending win over Louisiana Tech, paired with a top-25 ranking, has fizzled out by now. Having to regroup and adapt to a new head coach for one last game could be a tall task. Making matters worse is the absence of two key players: Second team All-WAC defensive tackle Anthony Larceval is out with an undisclosed illness, and linebacker Hector Roach, who has started two of the last four games, has been ruled ineligible.
But I tend to think this team has a lot more composure and maturity at the top. This group of seniors in particular withstood 10 and 12-loss seasons, the coaching switch from Dick Tomey to MacIntyre, and multiple coordinator changes over the years. To come out on the other end as likely the best team in SJSU history is a testament to the will and fortitude of these players.
And make no mistake about it–some San Jose State old timers will probably argue this point with me–but this is probably the best team to ever lineup at Spartan Stadium. They’ve already matched the 1987 team for most wins in school history (playing major college football), and done so against arguably tougher competition. With talented and respected senior leaders such as tight end Ryan Otten, defensive end Travis Johnson and lineman David Quessenberry on the cusp of the only bowl victory they’ll ever vie for, I just can’t imagine MacIntyre’s absence leading to a letdown.
Look for a score in the area of 31-17 in favor of the Spartans, as they expose Bowling Green’s defense for having been built up through victories over soft opponents, and San Jose State ending the season with a final top-25 ranking for the first time ever.