October 29th, at Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs got off to a slow start in 2011, going 2 - 4 their first six games. They struggled offensively Sept. 3rd in their season opener at Southern Mississippi, losing 19 - 17; only beat FCS Division Central Arkansas Sept. 10th in overtime; took a 34 - 14 lead into the fourth quarter on Sept. 17th against Houston, then watched as the Cougars score 21 unanswered points for a 35 - 34 win; were tied 20 - 20 in overtime Sept. 24th at Mississippi State when QB Nick Isham threw an interception that led to Mississippi State's winning touchdown; and lost Oct. 1st by a lop-sided score of 44 - 26 at home against Hawaii.
After their 1 - 4 start, the Bulldogs scored an Oct. 8th 24 - 11 win over Idaho; and made it two wins in a row on the road Oct. 22nd at Utah State. Louisiana Tech had started 17-year-old true freshman Nick Isham at quarterback this year. But at Utah State, back-up Colby Cameron led the Bulldogs to a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win.
Louisiana Tech is ranked 64th among FBS schools in passing yardage, 75th in rushing yardage, 68th in points for, and 70th in points against. They are 63rd in total defense.
Will La Tech start their true freshman QB October 29th, or stick with Colby Cameron? Can SJSU avoid mistakes and turnovers? If SJSU continues to play the intensive and hard-hitting football we've seen so far in 2011, they have the better chance to win.
My prediction: Win
November 5th, vs. Idaho
Idaho is 1 - 6, and has one of the poorest rushing games in FBS football this year, currently ranking 118th. The Vandals' only win has been against FCS North Dakota, 44 - 14. They lost their season opener at home against Bowling Green, 32 - 15; beat North Dakota the next week; and have lost five straight since: at Texas A&M, 37-7; at home against Fresno, 48 - 24; at Virginia in a game effort that went into overtime, 21 -20; at home against La Techl, 24 - 11; and at New Mexico State, 31 - 24.
This is San Jose's most likely win over the last five.
My prediction: Win
November 12th, at Utah State
Before October 22nd, the Aggies looked like a good team on a run of bad luck, having lost three close games against quality opponents. But their home loss to Louisiana Tech on October 22nd has left them with a 2 - 5 record, and many question marks.
Utah State opened Sept. 3rd at Number 23-ranked Auburn, and gave the Tigers all they could handle, finally losing in the last two minutes by a score of 42 - 38. Utah State played a physical game against Auburn, led in the second quarter 21 - 7, and out-rushed the Tigers, 227 yards to 78.
They lost Sept. 24th 35 - 34 – in overtime – at home against Colorado State. And they lost a heartbreaker Sept. 30th, 27 - 24, at Provo to Brigham Young, after leading 24 - 13 with 12:43 left in the fourth quarter.
Utah State's wins have come against FCS Weber State in the second week of the season, 54 - 17; and a lop-sided win Oct. 8th at home against Wyoming, 63 - 19. Fresno State beat the Aggies on Oct. 15th, 31 - 21, at Fresno.
Despite their 2 - 5 record, Utah State is ranked 6th nationally in rushing, averaging 279.9 yards per game, and have the nation's 24th best scoring team, averaging 35.9 points per game. Freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton has thrown 10 TD's and just one interception on the year. Robert Turbin, the Aggies' leading rusher, has carried the ball 125 times for 835 yards, a 6.7 yard per carry average
The Aggies have looked good losing against quality opposition, and have one of the nation's most productive ground games. But they have lost a couple of games they arguably should have won, and will be coming off an away game at Hawaii on Nov. 6th before facing the Spartans. San Jose can win this game by keeping it close, keeping the Aggie offense off the field, and by wearing down the Utah State interior lines by the fourth quarter. That may be just a bit too much to hope for.
My prediction: Loss
November 19th, vs. Navy
Navy is one of the most high-profiled teams to ever visit Spartan Stadium, The Midshipmen won their first two games of the season, 40 - 17 at FCS Delaware; and 40 - 14 against FBS newcomer Western Kentucky. Since then, they have lost five straight, 24 - 21 at #10-ranked South Carolina Sept. 17th; 35 - 34 in overtime at home against Air Force Oct. 1st; 63 - 35 at home against Southern Mississippi Oct. 8th; 21 - 20 at Rutgers Oct. 15th; and 38 - 35 at East Carolina Oct. 22nd. Please note that four of those losses have been by three points or less.
Navy is something of a one-dimension team. They run the ball. Then runs it some more. And then some more after that.
Consider – over their first seven games, they have thrown the football just 73 times, i.e., an average of 7.3 pass attempts per game. Thirty-nine of those attempts have been caught, or an average of 5.7 per game. Starting quarterback Kris Proctor has thrown six touchdowns and five interceptions.
But Navy has run the ball 350 times, for a total of 1,992 yards. Kris Proctor is also their leading rusher, with 124 carries for 563 yards and 8 TD's. Alexander Teich has rushed 97 times for 477 yards. Navy is ranked 3rd nationally in rushing yardage, averaging 325.1 yards per game, but are just 117th in passing, averaging 109.4 yards per game. (With an average of just under six completions per game, Navy averages 16.15 yards per catch.) They have the nation's 37th most productive offense, scoring an average of 32.1 points per game, but are 83rd in points allowed, averaging 29 per game.
San Jose State's game against Navy is its most important remaining this season. Although the defensive secondary will have to guard against the occasional pass, if the defensive line and linebackers can force Navy to go on long, time-consuming drives to score, the Spartans have a good chance to win this one. They will be playing at home, probably before a large crowd. The offense will have to score over 30 points, though, or get some help from the defense. Still, at this point in the season, San Jose State looks like the better team.
My prediction: Win
November 26, at Fresno State
After eight games, the Fresnos sport a disappointing 3 - 5 record. The Bulldogs lost their opening two games, 34 - 24 Sept. 3rd at Cal (played at San Francisco); and 42 -29 Sept. 10th at Nebraska. They evened their season record with a 27 - 22 win at home on Sept. 17th against FCS North Dakota State; and on the road Sept. 24th at Idaho, 48 - 24.
But then came two consecutive losses at home, 38 - 28 on Oct. 1st versus Ole Miss, and a 57 - 7 blowout Oct. 7th against the Boise State Broncos.
On October 15, Fresno defeated Utah State at home by a score of 31 - 21; and lost Oct. 22nd at Nevada, 45 - 38.
Nationally, Fresno is ranked 48th in passing yardage (247.5 per game), but have given up a total of 11 sacks on the year. The Bulldog offensive line features four new starters this year. After eight games, starting QB Derek Carr carries a QB rating of 132.7
The Bulldogs rank 66th nationally in rushing, averaging 144.1 yards per game. Team rushing leader Robbie Rouse has gained 979 yards on 191 carries, for an average 5.1 yards per carry. He should be well over 1,000 yards on the season by the Spartans' season final at Fresno.
Although Fresno has scored a respectable 28.6 points per game, ranking 63rd nationally, their defense has given up 35.6 – 112th among FBS teams. Penalties have also slowed the Bulldogs at times in 2011.
Spartan fans would love to see a win at Fresno to end the year. And, if the Spartan defense can pressure Carr, Fresno commits drive-killing penalties, and the San Jose offense can move the chains, it may be a closer game than Fresno fans expect. But I just can't call this one for San Jose. Even though they are having a tough year, the Bulldogs are still a better team than the Spartans.
My prediction: Loss
We'll have to wait for the games to be played to see how many of my picks are on target. But if SJSU does finish the season at 6 - 6, it would mark the first time since 2009 that they finished without a losing record, and would leave the Spartans at least bowl eligible.
R. P. Cotta, Jr., is a Contributing Editor for Inside Sparta.
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