San Jose State
By: Steven Lassan | 6/3/11, 1:41 PM EDT
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You can read the entire San Jose State preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#113 San Jose State
HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 1-12 (1 year | OFF. COORDINATOR: John DeFilippo | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer
The Spartans return five of their top six pass-receivers as well as two of their top three rushers and a solid nucleus on the offensive line. But starting quarterback Jordan La Secla, who passed for 2,860 yards and 16 touchdowns, must be replaced.
Second-year coach Mike MacIntyre gave senior Matt Faulkner, sophomore Dasmen Stewart and redshirt freshman Blake Jurich equal reps during spring practice and doesn’t plan to pick a starter until fall camp. That opens the door for highly touted true freshman Joseph Gray, a first-team All-Los Angeles City Section pick at famed Dorsey High School. MacIntyre calls him “a big-time quarterback.”
Versatile senior Brandon Rutley, who has 16 career starts and has played some quarterback in the Wildcat formation, returns to lead a solid group of running backs that includes junior David Freeman and redshirt freshman Ben Thompson.
The offensive line features six players who have started at least 11 games in their career, led by senior tackle Andres Vargas. Big things are also expected from Jon Meyer, a first-team junior college All-American who took part in spring practice and can play either guard or tackle.
Wide receiver figures to be the strength of the offense. Sophomores Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones both finished in the top 10 in the WAC in receiving as freshmen, with 56 and 54 receptions, respectively; and MacIntyre cites another sophomore, Kyle Nunn, as blossoming over winter workouts. The Spartans also got a big boost when Mike Avila, who missed the entire 2010 season following ACL surgery, was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
San Jose State returns 11 starters on this side of the ball. Considering the Spartans allowed an average of 34.7 points and 463.7 yards per game a year ago, that might not necessarily be a good thing. But MacIntyre believes a productive offseason in the weight room for this young unit will pay big dividends as will the return of two-time first-team All-WAC safety Duke Ihenacho from a foot injury. Ihenacho, one of only four players in school history to earn first team All-WAC honors in back-to-back seasons, injured that foot in the team’s season-opening 48–3 loss at Alabama. He was one of nine Spartan senior starters to suffer season-ending injuries in the first two games of the season. He has 195 tackles and six interceptions in 32 career starts and is considered an NFL prospect.
The strength of the team is at linebacker, where sophomore Keith Smith earned 2010 WAC Freshman of the Year honors after racking up 116 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and four sacks. Another sophomore, Vince Buhagiar, finished ninth in the WAC with 89 takedowns.
The Spartans are in good shape here. Sophomore Harrison Wald was a second team All-WAC pick at punter as a freshman when he averaged 43.8 yards. Wald also handles kickoff and placekicking duties. He connected on 14-of-22 field goal tries, the most by a Spartan since 2002.
San Jose State suffered through an injury-plagued 1–12 season in MacIntyre’s first year as the boss, fielding only 43 healthy scholarship players for the team’s 26–23 season-ending overtime loss at Idaho. But the shorthanded Spartans lost four of those games by a combined 10 points and gave Big Ten heavyweight Wisconsin all it could handle before losing 27–14 in Madison. A deeper, stronger and more experienced San Jose State team is worth keeping an eye on in 2011.