The Spartans will spend December at home this year after a 6-6 record and a rousing win over ranked rival Fresno State, victim to there being too many eligible teams and not enough spots. San Diego State and Colorado State snapped up the last two spots from the Mountain West, with the Aztecs taking their boring act to Boise instead of the Spartans, who spent the entire week campaigning for that spot.
Those were the Spartans last good hopes. There was no magic to be worked, either: the few at-large bids went to mediocre teams in power conferences, and with so many teams fighting over the scraps, the Spartans were bound to be one of the many left out. It’s 2008 all over again.
For a season that started with such high hopes, it’s a disappointing end for everyone involved.
There will be a lot of hand wringing about bad losses to mediocre teams which could have tipped the balance for a bowl game to their favor.
So why did this happen?
Why aren’t the Spartans bowling this year?
There are a number of reasons:
- Non-AQ teams with 6-6 records aren’t selling this year. Seven teams with even records are playing in bowl games this year, and all of them are from the big six conferences (or what’s left of them, in the AAC’s case.) San Jose State isn’t the only deserving team in a non-power conference that deserved a bowl berth and isn’t playing anywhere: Western Kentucky (8-4), Ohio (7-5), UTSA (7-5) and Toledo (7-5) all deserved bowl berths that were eaten up by Washington State, Pittsburgh, Oregon State and Rutgers (all 6-6). In general, San Jose State should feel fortunate to even be in the running until the end for a bowl game: It was a bloodbath this year for the Sunbelt, which sends just two of its seven bowl eligible teams to bowl games.
- Not enough bowl berths for the teams available. This could have been rectified next year with the addition of four more bowls next year, which would have opened up slots for most of the Sunbelt teams that aren’t seeing a postseason this year and the MAC teams that are staying home. But this year, there are only 70 spots, and there are 78 teams. The reality for the Spartans is that 6-6 is often not going to be good enough to get a bowl berth; they need to win that seventh game. Starting next year, that might change.
- San Jose State has the lowest attendance in the Mountain West, and its fans don’t travel well. This is what the Mercury News’ Jimmy Durkin believes made the difference between the Spartans and the Aztecs for the Potato Bowl or between the Spartans and Colorado State for the New Mexico Bowl. Yes, you can make the argument that San Jose State reports actual attendance while others inflate their numbers by using things number of tickets sold, but that doesn’t change much. The Rams are going to New Mexico because its the one bowl their fans will travel to (they brought 6,500 fans in 2008; San Jose brought just 1,000 in 2006.)
- Bowl selection isn’t a meritocracy. You don’t get in based on your conference record or who you beat, necessarily. If it was, the Spartans had a stronger case than Colorado State (didn’t beat a team with a winning record this year, lost to Spartans) and UNLV (lost head-to-head to San Jose at home.) The Spartans had a tougher schedule this year than either one, and came away with six wins out of it. But picking teams for bowls is based on things like who will bring large crowds, politics and other wheeling and dealing. San Jose State, which enters with a weak hand every bowl season, doesn’t do well in this game. A team with a losing record still isn’t getting a spot over one with a .500 or winning record, but other than that guideline, there’s little else straightforward about it.
Who can I blame?
The Spartans are to blame for their own situation. After all, they blew leads against San Diego State and Navy, and couldn’t be bothered to show up against Nevada, a team they should have beaten.
Hell, Noel Grigsby even said it in this evening’s press conference: “We can’t point the finger at anybody else but ourselves. It’s just tough when you can look at two or three plays that could’ve went a different way and you could possibly be in a different situation.”
If you really need someone else to blame, fine, blame San Diego State, a team that did active damage to the Spartans’ chances this season. They “screwed” San Jose State in triplicate this year, if you can really call it that, by first rallying from 11 points down to beat the Spartans in San Jose, setting them on a three-game losing streak. Then, the Aztecs couldn’t be bothered to take care of business in the final week against UNLV, getting thrashed by the Rebels 45-19 in a game that put their own bowl hopes in jeopardy. Lastly, the Aztecs pointed at their average home attendance — which has never traveled — to get to the Potato Bowl over San Jose State.
My assessment of the Aztecs this season is not charitable. They are, without a doubt, the most boring and undeserving team in a bowl this year. The Spartans are a better team to watch because David Fales is a good quarterback who can do amazing things, and the team brings a lot of talent to the table on offense. San Diego State spent the season playing uninspired games, playing down to bad teams and blowing it in most of their big games.
And yet, they deserve it over the Spartans, because they have seven wins and beat the Spartans, who finished with only six wins. Had that scenario been reversed, we’d be talking about San Jose State playing in the Potato Bowl this morning.
Since the Spartans failed to reach the goal of reaching a bowl this year, is this a lost season?
It’s definitely a big-time negative for the team — and a minus for coach Ron Caragher — that the team isn’t going to see the postseason this year by what is mostly their own hand when it brought back so many good players from last year’s 11-2 team. They were bowl eligible, but didn’t have the chops to get to a bowl.
But is it really such a loss given the note the season actually ended on: A flawless performance by David Fales and Co. against Fresno State, ruining the Bulldogs BCS hopes in the final year of the program. We got to watch some of the best in team history this year set or tie records, and do it in exciting fashion.
So, yes, it’s disappointing the Spartans won’t see the postseason this year. The loss to Nevada will continue to baffle me, as will the San Diego State’s fourth-quarter comeback. But is it really such a loss when San Jose State performed admirably in its first season in the Mountain West and eats rival Fresno State’s lunch so completely, especially when the Bulldogs were using their run through conference as a BCS coronation? I think not.
So, what now?
Into the offseason, I guess. The Spartans are going to lose a lot on both sides of the ball. Quoting Durkin’s story in the Mercury News, since he did the research here and I didn’t: “(David) Fales finishes as the school’s record holder in most major career and single-season passing records, including yards and touchdowns. (Noel) Grigsby and fellow senior receiver Chandler Jones finish as the top two all-time in receptions and receiving yards. Linebacker Keith Smith is second in career tackles, and Bené Benwikere is part of a four-way tie for most interceptions.”
All gone next year. Those are some tough people to replace, and it may mean the bowl-less streak hits two.
But the defense will be a year older. Kenwick Thompson deserves the fan’s confidence considering what he had to work with (a lot of freshmen, that’s for sure), and Jimmy Daugherty will likely have the offense ready to go. Help is on the way in this upcoming recruiting class, especially at quarterback it would seem, in the form of Mission Viejo’s Ian Fieber.
The best response for this year with the Spartans, I guess, is the old line tagged to the Brooklyn Dodgers: “Wait ’til next year.”