The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 103 San Jose State.
Previewing San Jose State’s Offense for 2014
The big question heading into fall camp is who will replace record-setting David Fales — the first player in school history to pass for over 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons — at quarterback. Senior Blake Jurich and junior Joe Gray both backed up Fales and battled for the No. 1 job in spring practice, but coach Ron Caragher says that the competition will carry over until fall camp.
The Spartans also must replace the two top receivers statistically in school history in Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Jones, a first-team All-Mountain West pick, set a school record with 15 touchdown receptions in 2013, including a single-game record-tying three in the upset of Fresno State. But the cupboard is hardly bare. Tyler Winston returns after earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors with 58 receptions for 858 yards and five touchdowns, and senior Jabari Carr has 120 career receptions. Tight end Billy Freeman is another weapon, earning honorable mention All-Mountain West recognition as a freshman when he caught 27 passes.
Jarrod Lawson anchors a deep group of running backs that includes fellow sophomores Thomas Tucker and Tim Crawley. The trio combined for 1,345 yards and eight touchdowns and 65 receptions and four more scores.
Center David Peterson and left tackle Wes Schweitzer return to anchor an offensive line that must replace three starters, including second-team All-Mountain West guard Nicholas Kaspar.
Previewing San Jose State’s Defense for 2014
Caragher’s biggest recruiting coup might been landing highly respected Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Robinson will oversee the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3. He brings five decades of NFL and FBS coaching experience, serving as defensive coordinator for the two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and Rose Bowl champion Texas Longhorns.
Robinson has four veteran defensive linemen returning, led by tackle Travis Raciti, a three-year starter who was a first-team All-WAC choice in 2012.
The Spartans must replace first-team All-Mountain West pick Keith Smith at linebacker, but they add Vince Buhagiar, who missed the 2013 season following right shoulder surgery after earning first-team All-WAC honors as a junior. Sophomore Christian Tago, who had 90 tackles (10.5 tackles for a loss) and four sacks, also returns.
The secondary loses standout cornerback Bene Benwikere, who had 14 career interceptions, but returns four players with starting experience, led by junior cornerback Jimmy Pruitt.
Previewing San Jose State’s Specialists for 2014
This area once again figures to be one of the strongest in the Mountain West. The Spartans last year shared the national lead in blocked kicks with seven. Junior kicker Austin Lopez has made 39-of-44 of his career field-goal attempts, including an NCAA-record-tying 23 in a row to start his career.
The Spartans, who will be trying for their third consecutive .500 or better record for the first time since 1989-92, will enter the season with a big chip on their shoulders after getting bypassed for a bowl game despite a 6–6 record and impressive season-ending upset of then-undefeated Fresno State. Seventeen players with starting experience return, and the schedule, outside of early non-conference road games at Auburn and Minnesota, is favorable. Three of the first four Mountain West games are at home, including two against teams — UNLV and Colorado State — that San Jose State defeated on the road a year ago. If Gray or Jurich emerges as a quality option at quarterback and Robinson can fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed (35.1 ppg), the Spartans have enough returning talent to be a factor in the West Division.