The Spartans are looking to take a big step forward in Ron Caragher's third season. He has a lot of young talent to build upon but it may take time for this roster to come into its own. San Jose State has a tough schedule in the Mountain West and big holes to plug on defense and under center.
Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
Previewing San Jose’s Offense for 2015
To say that the Spartans offense sputtered late last season is to give them a pass. San Jose State lost its last six games of 2014, scoring only 14 points in their last three games. Quarterback play was a major contributor to the problem. Senior Blake Jurich won the job but then lost it to Joe Gray, who then lost it to Mitch Ravizza, who then lost it to Gray.
Gray has claim to the job in 2015, but with two junior college transfers (Kenny Potter and Malik Watson) behind him, his leash will likely be short. Last year, he threw for 2,305 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Gray will have a young but experienced offensive line in front of him and a bevy of playmakers around him to help find cohesion under new offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Tyler Ervin is the Spartans’ most interesting weapon. On a team with a nice stable of running backs and a load of possession receivers, Ervin carries the most big-play potential. He averaged 5.6 yards on his 158 rushing attempts (888 yards) and also caught 29 passes.
The Spartans also signed one of the best recruiting classes — if not the single best — among mid-major schools, punching way above their weight, especially with players on the outside of the field. If the Spartans offense isn’t clicking heading into conference play, there could be a flood of young, talented players injected into the depth chart.
Previewing San Jose’s Defense for 2015
Last season, the Spartans had one of the nation’s best pass defenses and worst run defenses. That makes losses on an already bad defensive line especially concerning. But it’s also possible that the turnover is good for the Spartans on the line — the guys up front weren’t getting it done last season, allowing 239 rushing yards per game while amassing only 46 tackles for a loss (123rd nationally).
The linebacking corps looks to be a strength, especially with the return of Christian Tago and Hawaii transfer Jared Leaf, who sat out last year. Freshman Frank Ginda has the potential to make an immediate impact.
But the linebackers pale in comparison to the real strength of the Spartans defense — the secondary — as if the run/pass disparity from last year didn’t make that already known. Supremely talented, the secondary is also young. It’s led by sophomore safety Maurice McKnight, who had five pass breakups, accounted for nearly 10 percent of the team’s tackles and had two sacks in his rookie campaign. With corners Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace (combined 21 pass breakups last year) and senior free safety Simon Connette, there’s not much ground that won’t be covered. If anyone passes on the Spartans, that is.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing San Jose’s Specialists for 2015
Recruiting prowess should shore up the Spartans coverage units, which is a major point of concern last season. If they can make space, Ervin’s presence in the return game can bear more fruit. Last season the open-field playmaker was able to return only one punt for a touchdown.
This year is setting up to be a bridge between the old and new for San Jose State. The Spartans’ tremendous recruiting class will filter its way onto the field throughout the year; but while those players find their footing, there are questions at quarterback and on the defensive line that will likely hold the Spartans back. Add in a tough schedule, and bowl eligibility looks like it will be a major accomplishment in 2015. But with youth at strength positions, and the best infusion of youth the program has ever known ready to fill the gaps, the future looks bright in 2016 and beyond.