Another week has gone by, and another goal checked off the list for San Jose State’s football team.
After getting off to a bit of a slow start in the first half against their 1-7 opponent , the Spartans erupted for 28 second-half points and exorcised some “Vandal Demons” as they picked up their first win in four years over Idaho.
I’m hardly an SJSU football historian, but in my ten years since graduating and who knows how long before that I followed the team as a San Jose native, I highly doubt there has ever been a three week stretch in which the Spartans were favored each game by 19 or more points.
Such was the case these past three weeks against UTSA, Texas State and Idaho, with two of those contests being on the road. Granted, it’s not exactly an SEC-style gauntlet of opponents, but it speaks volumes for how far Coach Mike MacIntyre has brought this program in three years.
From 1-12 in year one to bowl eligibility two seasons later, it’s no wonder speculation has already begun regarding just how long the Spartans can hang on to their rising star.
A few high points coming out of the Idaho contest:
— Quarterback David Fales carried on what is becoming a weekly tradition for the Spartans, winning WAC Player of the Week honors. His stat line was 27-for-39 for 328 yards and four touchdowns, an effort that now has him tops in the nation in completion percentage at 72.7.
— True freshman kicker Austin Lopez was named one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award. Through nine games Lopez has not missed a single field goal attempt, nailing all 13 of them. He’s converted on 37 or 38 extra point attempts.
It cannot be stressed enough just how vital Lopez’s clutch play has been this season. He accounted for all the scoring in the week five victory over Navy, and has brought stability to a position that has lacked it for much of the past decade. Whereas in years past previous SJSU coaches would often forgo long field goal attempts (or even short ones) for a lack of faith in their kicker, MacIntyre can run his field goal unit out there knowing those “sure points” will be converted.
— And of course, the highest point…
Sure, 70 freaking teams will be extended bowl invitations this season. The prestige of college football’s post-season has been dramatically watered-down with the arrival of countless sponsor-named bowls. Even the most hardcore of us college football fans who stay dialed on a replay of SMU vs. Memphis on a late Saturday night will bypass half of the bowl games … unless of course our alma mater is playing…
Yeah, it’s a big deal in Sparta, at least to the fans and alumni who have weathered some of the worst D-1/FBS football in the last twenty years knowing that the program is at least capable of much more.
So much like in 2006 when Coach Dick Tomey rode an 8-4 regular season to the New Mexico Bowl (a victory over the hometown Lobos by the way), there’s not going to be a whole lot of debate or desire from Spartan fans regarding which bowl extends that invitation—all we care is that we get it.
And that of course, is no guarantee.
There is only one bowl tie-in in the WAC, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which is reserved for the conference champion. After that, each bowl-eligible squad is hoping for an at-large birth from one of the bowls whose conference affiliates couldn’t fill all of their spots. So if you’re thinking that winning the WAC title (and that trip to Idaho) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you may be on to something.
In fact, some of the projections out there this week have San Jose State slotted for bowls in more desirable locations and with bigger payouts. Since the Spartans lost to Utah St, their chances of winning the WAC title are somewhat slim anyway. Should Louisiana Tech defeat the Aggies this weekend and San Jose St. upset La Tech on November 24th, there would likely be a three-way tie for the conference title since the chances of those three teams losing any remaining games to the rest of the WAC are remote.
Let’s assume San Jose State doesn’t win the conference or wind up in a tie fighting for that birth in Idaho. It looks like their best hope for a 13th game lies in whether Conference USA maintains its lackluster overall season and can’t fill all of their bowl slots. Next would be the Mountain West not filling theirs. Navy has already handled business and accepted an invitation to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, so early season hopes that the Spartans might wrap up 2012 in San Francisco have likely been dashed.
Below are some of the bowl projections currently floating around the web, with their payouts included courtesy of collegefootballpoll.com. For reference, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl pays out $325,000.
— Sbnation.com: Military Bowl, December 27, Washington DC. Payout: $1,000,000. This game is supposed to feature the ACC #8 team against Army, who is already ineligible, creating at least one at-large bid.
— Cbssports.com: Heart of Dallas Bowl, formerly (or perhaps still, depending on what site you read) known as the TicketCity Bowl, New Years Day, Dallas. Payout: $1,000,000. Supposed to be Conference USA vs. the Big 10 #7. We already touched on CUSA’s struggles, and with the Big Ten having two of its better teams suspended from bowl play during a rather down year for the conference, there could be two at-large bids here.
— ESPN.com: Mark Schlabach also has the Spartans playing New Years Day in Dallas. Brad Edwards has them playing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, December 26thin Detroit. Payout: $750,000. This is supposed to feature the MAC #1 vs. Big 10 #8, so if Dallas doesn’t work out surely the Big 10 will have the next bowl down the list open.
— NFPost.com: Heart of Dallas
— Scout.com: Military Bowl
It looks like a pattern is developing. A pattern that could easily be washed away, no doubt. But for the time being the post-season possibilities for the Spartans are very bright (comparatively speaking) even without a conference title, and when if ever have we been able to say that?
A few other possibilities include the Hawaii and New Mexico Bowls, both with MWC-tie ins that should they wind up with openings, might like the idea of matching San Jose St. with a past and future conference rival such as Fresno St. or Nevada.
None of this is concrete, obviously. Bowl eligibility does not equal an invite, especially for teams that don’t have a good attendance record even in home games and, historically, have hardly any bowl history to draw from.
But for a program that is used to packing it up in late November and hoping, usually in vain, for a better outcome the following season, it is a dramatic turn of events. Just the possibility that we could be watching the Spartans play football on New Year’s Day (who cares what bowl it is?!?) represents a remarkable evolution for San Jose State athletics.