Despite going 5-7 in the regular season, received a bowl invitation last season. The Spartans made the most of that opportunity, beating Georgia State in the Cure Bowl, and now Ron Caragher's team returns 15 starters looking to make it back-to-back postseason trips.
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Previewing San Jose’s Offense for 2016
The Spartans return eight starters to one of the most balanced attacks in the nation, albeit one that ranked just 69th in points per game. Quarterback Kenny Potter took control of the position as a junior-college transfer a year ago and returns for his senior season with a majority of his weapons back. Potter completed 67 percent of his passes to lead the Mountain West, tossing 15 TDs and seven INTs in 10 starts. Potter is a passer first who can run when necessary, as evidenced by his five rushes of 30 or more yards.
Potter’s favorite target is back in tight end Billy Freeman, a first-team All-MWC performer. Two of the three starting wide receivers also return in Tyler Winston and Tim Crawley, and Justin Holmes replaced Winston as a starter late in the year after an injury. Crawley is an effective slot receiver, while Holmes may be the most talented of the group and is poised for a breakout year.
Four starters return on the offensive line, with junior Nate Velichko moving from right tackle to left tackle. Velichko and left guard Jeremiah Kolone are all-league candidates who are solid in both the run and pass game.
Running back is the biggest question on offense, as San Jose State’s career all-purpose yardage leader Tyler Ervin has graduated. Thomas Tucker is the leading candidate to replace him, but Malik Roberson, Jarrod Lawson and Zamore Zigler will all be given a shot in what could develop as a committee situation.
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Previewing San Jose’s Defense for 2016
Like the offense, San Jose State returns a lot of experience on the defensive side of the ball, which enjoyed modest improvement in 2015. New defensive coordinator Ron English has an entirely new staff, and its goal will be to shore up a run defense that has ranked 102nd and 119th the last two seasons.
The unit’s strength is at linebacker, where second-team All-MWC Christian Tago and Frank Ginda both return. Tago led the Spartans in tackles by a wide margin and will be critical to the Spartans’ goal of continued improvement. Ginda was also a big playmaker in 2015 as a true freshman. Andre Chachere, who started 10 games in a hybrid linebacker/safety role, has been moved to cornerback and will play with new starter Dakari Monroe. Dominic Barnes, an undersized but aggressive player, should fill the role vacated by Chachere. Safety Maurice McKnight, the team’s most solid tackler, will anchor a secondary that ranked 39th in the nation in opposing passer rating.
The defensive line returns three starters, with Bryson Bridges moving from a reserve role at defensive tackle into the starting spot after a nice freshman season.
Previewing San Jose’s Specialists for 2016
Punter Michael Carrizosa enjoyed an outstanding season for the Spartans and has a shot at All-America honors. Placekicking was inconsistent last season as the team finished 11-of-19 on field goals with three missed extra points. Bryce Crawford will take over this year after going 1-of-2 on field goals and 6-of-7 on extra points in spot duty when Austin Lopez struggled. Ervin must be replaced as the punt and kick returner, where he excelled.
San Jose State improved from 3–9 to 6–7 last season, and another slight improvement should be on the way. If a running back emerges behind a strong offensive line, the offense will put up enough points to be in almost every game. Defensively, stopping the run and getting some pressure on the quarterback will be keys for the new staff on that side of the ball. If those two things happen, look for the Spartans to enjoy back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1986-87.