Brent Brennan is a rookie head coach, but his ties with San Jose State run deep, so he knows full well the task ahead of him. The Spartans won just four games last season, but this team could be hard-pressed to match that given the question marks throughout this roster. The offense has some skill position players, but the quarterback position is up for grabs and while the offensive line boats plenty of experience, the group's production has lacked. On defense, Brennan is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 which could lead to plenty of mixing and matching, although San Jose State does have a solid secondary. An opening month that includes non-conference games against Texas, Utah and South Florida, as well as one of the FCS’ better teams in Cal Poly, means a rough start could be in the offering for the Spartans. How they finish will depend on how all of the pieces come together on a team that in many ways is starting over.
Previewing San Jose State Football’s Offense for 2017
New coach Brent Brennan was in search of a quarterback throughout the spring, telling The Mercury News at one point: “They take turns playing well and screwing it up.” There were four candidates, and the competition will likely last into the fall. Sophomore Josh Love saw extensive action in two games in 2016, completing 31-of-60 passes for 392 yards with two TDs and five INTs. The other three quarterbacks redshirted. Montel Aaron and Sam Allen are mobile QBs, while Michael Carrillo ran the scout team last season and showed enough to compete for the starting job.
The skill position players should take some pressure off the new QB. Leading rusher Malik Roberson and Zamore Zigler give the Spartans two backs with breakaway potential, and the receiving corps of Justin Holmes, Tre Hartley, Rahshead Johnson and Bailey Gaither is solid.
The majority of the offensive line has been together the past two seasons, but it’s a group that has ranked last in the Mountain West over that span with 88 sacks allowed. San Jose State averaged 4.9 yards per rush last season when sacks are taken out, so the line has proven it can succeed in the run game but clearly must get better in pass protection.
Previewing San Jose State Football’s Defense for 2017
San Jose State struggled against the run in 2016, ranking 122nd in the nation. The new staff is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment, and the front seven was in flux during the spring.
Junior Bryson Bridges will start at defensive tackle, while leading tackler Frank Ginda is back at inside linebacker. Beyond that, there will be some mixing and matching to fill in the gaps. Owen Roberts made the most tackles of any defensive lineman last season, but he will have to shift from nose tackle to defensive end. Mikal Berry and Nico Aimonetti — a pair of seniors with limited experience last season — are in the mix at defensive end.
Joining Ginda at linebacker should be Ethan Aguayo, a sophomore who made 10 starts last season. He and David Williams are athletic outside linebackers who are capable at matching up in the slot or with tight ends in the passing game.
The secondary, which helped SJSU to a No. 19 ranking in pass defense a year ago, returns all four starters, including the team’s best player. Corner Andre Chachere has a potential NFL future and was first-team All-Mountain West a year ago. Jermaine Kelly eventually beat out Dakari Monroe at the other corner spot, but both are back and give the Spartans a strong nickel option. At safety, Maurice McKnight was third in tackles and is an all-league candidate, while Trevon Bierria returns at the other safety spot.
Previewing San Jose State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Both punter Michael Carrizosa and kicker Bryce Crawford return, which is good news for the Spartans. Carrizosa was a Ray Guy finalist in 2015 and averaged 44.3 yards last season. He also handles the kickoff duties and had 68 percent of his kickoffs result in touchbacks. Crawford was an impressive 16-for-18 on the season, but he was just 1-for-2 from beyond 40 and missed two extra points.
Brennan takes over as a first-time head coach, but he is familiar with the program — he was an assistant at the school for six seasons (2005-10), and his father played at San Jose State in the late 1960s.
He faces challenges at quarterback and finding enough quality players to fill out the front seven on defense, so it is hard to see San Jose State improving on last season’s 4–8 mark — even though the Spartans do not face Boise State or Air Force from the Mountain Division.
National Ranking: 122
MW West Prediction: 6
(Frank Ginda photo by Terrell Lloyd/San Jose State Athletics)