2011 Record: (5-7, 3-4 in WAC)
Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre (6-19 at SJSU, 3-12 in WAC)
Last Bowl Game: 2006 New Mexico Bowl: beat New Mexico 20-12
Paying the Bills: 9/1 at Stanford
Revenge: 11/3 at Idaho, 11/17 vs BYU, 11/24 vs La Tech
Stat to Cheer: gave up 17 sacks in 2011 (tied for 1st in the WAC and was a 15 sack improvement from 2010)
Stat to Fear: had the least amount of first downs in the Nation running the football (54)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters (Offense: 6; Defense: 1; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Keith Smith (104 tackles), DE Travis Johnson (9.5 sacks), S James Orth (4 INTs)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Noel Grigsby (89 rec), WR Chandler Jones (61 rec), TE Ryan Otten (52 rec)
Inside Scoop with Danny from SpartanBlitz.com:
CFBZ: Mike McIntyre improved his team wins by four over his first year. What are the next steps he needs to take to keep the Spartans improving?
SpartanBlitz.com: Coach McIntyre set the tone last season. His team WILL NOT QUIT. It doesn't matter how the Spartans are playing in the first 3 quarters, the 4th quarter is ultimately the deciding factor in a game. Last year, there were times where the Spartans played anywhere from questionable to terrible in the first three quarters, only to come back and win. Conversely, there were times where the Spartans played great in the first three quarters, only to come back and lose the game in the 4th quarter. Coach Mac needs to instill some consistency in his team's performance. With the acceptance of an invite to the Mountain West Conference, beginning in 2013, this is the last chance the Spartans have to win a Western Athletic Conference title, something they have not been able to achieve since their inclusion into the WAC. That alone should be the driving force for the Spartans this year. If that's not enough, new-MWC members Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State will not be playing them this year. Replacing them on the schedule will be FBS newcomers University of Texas, San Antonio and Texas St. While they are newcomers, it would be INCREDIBLY foolish to overlook them.
CFBZ: Who takes over at QB this year for the Spartans?
SpartanBlitz.com: The Spartans currently have 4 QBs on their roster: Junior Dasmen Stewart, Junior-transfer David Fales, Sophomore Blake Jurich, and Freshman Joe Gray. Stewart has the most game experience (which isn't saying much since he played in a handful of games last year, mostly as a back up) and wasn't very impressive in the Spring Game earlier this year (4-14 56 yds). The player that WAS impressive and looks to be the clear-cut favorite for starter is Fales (16-22 257 yds). At 6'3. 220 lbs, he is a former Nevada recruit and Monterey Peninsula College transfer who has dazzled and impressed coaches during practices. Jurich is looking like the best option at backup, statistically speaking (6-12 106 yds) and he has the stronger arm than Stewart.
CFBZ: Who are some under the radar players to keep an eye on?
SpartanBlitz.com: Probably the most versatile player on the team who played off and on last season is Sophomore Tyler Ervin. Last year, Ervin was a RB who had decent success due to David Freeman's injury early in the season. This year, Freeman is healthy and poised to be the starting RB, with Minnesota transfer DeLeon Eskridge backing him up. Eskridge is a smaller but extremely tough RB at 5'11 215 lbs. So this begs the question, what to do with Ervin? Well, he has impressed Coach Mac with his abilities at the Cornerback position, as well as Punt and Kick Returner. My guess is that you will see his name called quite a bit this year.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
SpartanBlitz.com: The Spartans have 6 home games this year (UC Davis, Colo St, Utah St, Texas St, BYU, and Louisiana Tech). Their away schedule is also fairly tame compared to previous seasons (Stanford, San Diego St, Navy, Univ Texas, San Antonio, Idaho, and New Mexico St). They will be looking to avenge their surprising loss to Davis two years ago and their 1 pt loss to Utah St in Logan last year. BYU and La Tech coming to San Jose will make the game closer than last year's. They MUST make a statement by beating Colo St again and newcomer Texas St. I can easily see a 4-2 home stand with a potential 5-1 if they can beat either BYU or La Tech.
The only "bodybag" game I see in their away schedule is Stanford and even that term, I would use loosely, having lost their star QB to the NFL along with a lot of their offense. The Spartans should have beaten Idaho last year but lost due to mostly self inflicted wounds (dumb penalties, poor clock management, etc). They almost lost to New Mexico St late in the game, but thankfully didn't. They beat Navy last year, but shouldn't expect this year to be as easy, as they have to travel cross-country to play them this time around. San Diego St is a question mark but very winnable game. Again, they MUST (and will) make a statement if they beat UTSA in San Antonio and their 65,000+ capacity stadium. On the road, I can see a 3-3 record with a possibility of 4-2 if they can beat either Navy or SDSU. That puts them at an 8-4 season with the possibilty of 9-3 if they can overachieve.
In my eyes, they MUST have at least a bowl-eligible 6-6 or 7-5 season if they are to continue building progress as they head to the MWC. Anything less is a true disappointment and maybe a call to start the panic.
Third year coach Mike MacIntyre took a big step with his Spartans last year by increasing their win total by four over his debut season. The Spartans also increased their WAC record from 0-8 to 3-4. A concern for the Spartans this year is their lack of returning starters as they rank 111th in the Nation according to Phil Steele. The biggest concerns at the skill position are losing starting QB Matt Faulkner (13 TD vs 13 INT) and RB Brandon Rutley (903 yds, 12 TD). How quickly those two can be replaced will go along way to the Spartans maintaining or bettering their record from 2011. One area that should be a strength for the Spartans is the receiving corps as they return five of their six leading ball catchers (losing only RB Rutley).
On defense, the Spartans lose a good amount of players including Duke Ihenacho. The good news is that the Spartans return three of their top leading tacklers, their top sacker and their top ball hawk. The Spartans didn't show a massive improvement last year on defense (30.3 ppg in 2011 vs 34.7 and 425.7 ypg vs 463.7) but they did show improvement. I would look for that to continue in MacIntyre's third year on the job.
One key for the Spartans is getting off to a quick start. Last year, they started 0-3 by playing two Pac-12 teams and Nevada. This year they start off with Stanford but then face UC Davis and Colorado State. I think the schedule is a bit easier this year as they should have three games this season that are easier than any of their games from 2012 (UTSA, Texas State, UC Davis). That being said there are a lot of games on the schedule that could go either way (Colorado State, San Diego State, Navy, Utah State) and those are the game that will decide the season. Is MacIntyre ready to take his group to the next level?
2012 Prediction: 6-6
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