San Jose State
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
MWC West Division PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Ron Caragher, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimmie Dougherty | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kenwick Thompson
First-year coach Ron Caragher doesn’t have to sweat out the quarterback position. For the first time since 2007, the Spartans return their starting signal-caller, and he’s a good one. Senior David Fales was the most accurate quarterback in the FBS last season, completing 72.5 percent of his passes for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns. He set seven school single-season passing marks.
Even better for Caragher, a former backup quarterback to a fellow named Troy Aikman during his UCLA playing days, is the fact that a veteran wide receiver group that has totaled over 500 career receptions also returns, led by first-team All-WAC pick Noel Grigsby and second-team All-WAC selection Chandler Jones. Both have had at least 50 receptions in each of their first three seasons. Grigsby has 171 catches over the last two years.
The Spartans lose 1,000-yard rusher De’Leon Eskridge, but Caragher is high on junior Tyler Ervin, a second-team All-WAC pick as a return man, and fifth-year senior Jason Simpson after strong showings in spring practice. Ervin averaged 4.6 yards per carry in limited duty last year.
The offense loses a pair of all-conference picks in tackle David Quessenberry and tight end Ryan Otten. However, four line starters return, led by first-team All-WAC guard Nicholas Kaspar.
The Spartans, who will be switching to the 3-4 from a 4-3, return five starters from a unit that ranked second in the WAC in both scoring and total defense.
The line suffered two big losses in ends Travis Johnson, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year who set a conference career mark for sacks, and David Tuitupou, a second-team All-WAC pick. But most of the rest of the two-deep returns, including tackles, Travis Raciti and Anthony Larceval (although Larceval is battling an undisclosed ailment and has not been cleared to play).
The strength of the defense figures to be at linebacker, where two first-team All-WAC picks, inside linebacker Keith Smith and outside linebacker Vince Buhagiar, return after finishing 1-2 on the team in tackles. Smith has 317 career tackles, including 25 for a loss.
The secondary loses three starters but returns first-team All-WAC corner Bene Benwikere, who tied with Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer for third nationally with seven interceptions, including one that he returned for a TD in a win over Idaho.
The Spartans will be able to match up with the best in the Mountain West in this area. Kicker Austin Lopez was a Freshman All-American who was a perfect 17-of-17 on field goals en route to a team-high 105 points, while senior punter Harrison Waid, the school’s career punting leader, has handled all three kicking jobs in the past. Ervin, just a junior, has already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. He’s a big reason the Spartans ranked 10th nationally in kickoff returns with a 25.2-yard average.
Caragher has some big shoes to fill, taking over a Spartans squad that went 11–2 under Mike MacIntyre, who then bolted for Colorado. The 11 wins were the most by a San Jose State football team since 1940.
Still, with a top-notch quarterback in Fales, an outstanding group of wide receivers and key returnees at several other spots, the Spartans figure to be very competitive in their first year in the Mountain West. The schedule, which features non-conference games against Pac-12 heavyweight Stanford, Navy and a road date at improving Minnesota of the Big Ten, is a tough one. One break for the Spartans is that they skip Boise State in conference play.