2007 Look Ahead: San Jose State

Did San Jose State's upset comeback win over Stanford spring the Spartans forward for their 9-4 season, or were the Cardinal just a nother notch in the South Bay's 2006 Cinderella story? The rematch in September will bring the game to Stanford Stadium, where Dick Tomey's troops are gearing to prove that last season was no fluke. The offense should be different, but the defense will be better.

San Jose State Spartans

First Down: Quick Hitters

San Jose State @ Stanford

Last Meeting: San Jose State 35, Stanford 34

Side-by-Side Stats: (San Jose State/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 7/8
2006 Points Per Game: 24.9/10.6
2006 Rushing Yards Per Game: 175/65
2006 Yards Per Carry: 4.6/2.1
2006 Passing Yards Per Game: 182/167
2006 Pass Completion Rate: 63.6/52.8
Returning Defensive Starters: 8/8
2006 Points Allowed Per Game: 20.8/31.4
2006 Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 149/211
2006 Yards Per Carry Allowed: 4.1/4.9
2006 Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 206/177
2006 Pass Completion Percentage Allowed: 61.5/60.3
2006 Record: 9-4/1-11
2007 Projected Record: (5-7, 4-4 WAC)/(3-9, 2-7)

Second Down: Offense

A traditionally pass-happy team may have to lean heavily on the run this year.

Though the Spartans did not win much before last year's surprise 9-4 campaign, they always had the pass.  From 2001 through 2003, the team averaged only four wins per season but completed nearly 60 percent of its passes for close to 300 yards per game.  Last year's team only threw for 182 per game, but behind star receivers James Jones (893 yards, 70 catches) and John Broussard (844 yards, 52 catches), the Spartans completed 63.6 percent of their passes, one of the best marks in the NCAA (USC hit just 61.1 percent last year).

But Jones and Broussard were each drafted in April, and San Jose State obviously lacks the tools to reload that most BCS schools have.  Senior quarterback Adam Tafralis put up great numbers last year (San Jose State completed 15-of-17 passes in their 2006 upset of Stanford) and 5'7" senior tailback Yonus Davis was last seen cutting across the grain of the entire Cardinal defense, but no returning receiver caught more than 100 yards last fall.  Great things will be expected from 6'4" wideout David Richmond, a junior college transfer who turned down an Oregon offer to suit up for the Spartans.

The offensive line does return its center and both guards, but off the top of my head, just about the only pass-first team to lose its top two receivers to the NFL and not miss a beat is USC.  San Jose State is no USC.  While I expect the offense to be solid for the WAC, it will not be as productive as last year.

Third Down: Defense

Defense has long been the Spartans' Achilles heel (they allowed 43 points per game just three seasons ago), but this unit could be the best San Jose has seen in recent memory.

It starts up front, where all four starters return – and three are just rising sophomores.  While the raw unit struggled at times last year, it did far better than anyone could have expected from three unheralded freshmen, allowing under 150 ground yards per game.  10 of the top 12 return up front, and if the three rising sophomores, Justin Cole, Adonis Davis and Kalvin Cressel, improve half as much as most rising sophomores do, this could be the most improved line in the conference.

The starting back seven features more experience, with four returning starters and six upperclassmen.  Two stars stand out: senior middle linebacker Matt Castelo, who led the NCAA with 165 tackles last season, and senior corner Dwight Lowery, a First-Team All-American who tied for an NCAA-high nine picks last season.  (Charles Woodson, the last defensive back to win the Heisman, only had six in his 1997 campaign.)

The only problem is that the pass defense was rather vanilla last year – it might not have broken, but it certainly bent.  The 206 passing yards per game was decent enough, but the 61.5 completion rate was abysmal.  Given the experience and the firepower of the Spartans' defensive backfield, do not be surprised if they gamble more out of their nickel and dime packages this fall.  If the bets pay off, this defense could be one of the best non-BCS units in the land.

Fourth Down: Extra Points

The Spartans' 20-12 New Mexico Bowl victory over, appropriately enough, New Mexico was their first bowl trip since 1990.

The schedule does the Spartans no favors.  With visits to Arizona State and Kansas State out-of-conference, and visits to WAC powers Fresno State and Boise State in-conference, the Spartans will need a little luck to reach another bowl this season.

If Tafralis matches the 2,200 yards he has thrown for the last two seasons, he will take SJSU's #3 career passing slot from none other than Jeff Garcia.

The Cardinal had won four straight before the Spartans' 35-34 shocker from 20 points down last year.  The Spartans rushed 49 times for 342 yards in the upset.  Overall, Stanford leads the series 46-14-1.

The Spartans' Division I-A status looked to be in limbo after announced attendance of about 12,000 two years ago.  But last year's strong season boosted the Spartans to nearly 19,000 in paid attendance for 2006, so they should be safe for now.

The eight returning defensive starters and 15 total returning starters are the most for the Spartans since 2003.  Strangely, a team that went 6-7 in 2002 dropped to 3-8 that season.

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