That SJSU-Fresno St. game was just so thrilling

If you aren’t following Sam Lam’s blog, “But at the end of the day…” you’re missing out.

But at the end of the day...

That game yesterday was everything that I wanted and it delivered. It was everything SJSU needed to show the world that they are still a team that can win big games.

What we got was a thrilling, exhilarating game like I’ve never seen before. It was a game of two halves. It was the unstoppable offenses in the first half and the clutch defensive stops in the second half.

Needing to win that game (and break the three-game losing streak) to make it back to a bowl game was a big deal for the program. SJSU needed it so bad and taking out #16 ranked and undefeated Fresno State to do it in the process makes it so sweet.

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Football predictions, Week 12: Three teams seek bowl eligibility, get cupcakes

935_-mountain_west_conference-primary-2011Colorado State, San Diego State and San Jose State can all reach the pivotal six-win mark this week by performing coup de gras on teams from the Mountain West’s doldrums.

The Spartans face a Nevada team that hasn’t won in five weeks and is hurting on both sides of the ball. The Aztecs face a winless Hawaii team that will at least have the benefit of looking pretty in throwbacks while likely getting nailed to the wall on Saturday. Colorado State’s run-stopping defense has to love seeing a team that can do only one thing right: run the ball.

This will be the week the conference finally shakes out its bowl teams from its bad teams.

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Hawaii will win the best uniform of the year in college football

As long as they have the rainbow UH on the helmet, they win. I have to be honest, even with the alternate uniform and the throwback craze in full swing, I never thought we’d see these monstrosities again.

But at the end of the day...

Remember when I did my end of the year best and worst dressed? I already have declared the winner for the NCAA football category.

Please tell me this is not the best looking uniform that you’ve seen this year? Everything about it is amazing. It’s simple but with vibrant colors. The cleats are amazing and most importantly, it embodies the community and the campus so perfectly.

Winner! Go Rainbow Warriors!

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Sunday Morning Quarterback: San Jose State wilts when it matters

San Jose State entered Saturday’s game confident and just one win away from bowl eligibility. They leave it with a lot of questions left unanswered … and still just one win away from bowl eligibility after San Diego State overcame a rough first half to stun the Spartans late, 34-30.san_jose_state

This is the hardest loss for San Jose State in a number of years, a game that mattered out of so many that usually don’t, and one they should have had out of so many they are counted out of before even taking the field.

When your special teams blocks two PATs and a field goal, you aren’t supposed to lose.

When you’re leading by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you’re not supposed to lose.

But they did, and it’s made life much more complicated for the Spartans going forward. Bowl eligibility now rests on next week’s game against a weak but formidable Nevada game before two tough games to close the season, and like that, there goes any hope of wresting the Mountain West western division from Fresno State. With the Bulldogs beating the snot out of Wyoming Friday night, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that they will claim the division’s top spot and get a rematch with Boise State.

The expectation that the Fresno State game would mean more than just being the conference and season game was low indeed, but this is a hard way to see  that possibility evaporate.

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Football predictions, Week 10: Big games in Fort Collins, Las Vegas

Pulling numbers from my bum in an attempt to predict this Saturday’s Mountain West football action:

Boise State at Colorado State, 5 p.m. on CBSSN

Record-wise, this looks like it should be a close game. Boise State looks like it’s on the down slide, having lost three games at this point in the season for the first time since 2001 and having the most losses in a season in the Chris Peterson era, while Colorado State has an even record and is playing meaningful games in November for the first time in a while.

The problem is that it ignores the truth of it. Boise State is still a top 40 offense and has a good defense. Senior quarterback Joe Southwick has quietly put together a strong season, completing 72 percent of his passes and a TD to interception ratio of nearly 2 to 1.  Jay Ajayi has also put together a strong year, ranking 11th in the nation in rushing yards with 917 yards, and his 12 rushing TDs is tied for the most in the nation with several other rushers. None of the Broncos three losses have been to bad teams (that doesn’t mean they haven’t been bad losses, though.)

Garrett Grayson and Kapri Bibbs have been every bit the match of Boise State’s tandem this year, with Grayson throwing for 1,847 yards, completing a shade under 60 percent of his passes with 14 TDs and 6 interceptions. Bibbs has reached the end zone 12 times this year, with 767 yards and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. It won’t help the Rams one bit that Grayson has been hurting this week, but likely will play.

The difference here is going to be on defense. Colorado State is allowing more than 30 points per game. The Broncos should be able to get a couple of stops against the Rams offense, but I don’t think  the Rams can slow down Boise State enough to win this one.

Prediction: Boise State wins 44-31.

Hawaii at Utah State, 1 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN

Even without Chuckie Keeton, the Aggies should win this going away. The Rainbow Warriors are in the throes of a wretched season in which they can’t stop even rudimentary offenses, and can’t run the ball. It’s left them forced to throw all the time, and it’s producing a lot of turnovers.

Prediction: Utah State wins in a laugher, 52-16.

Nevada at Fresno State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU

The Wolf Pack’s defense has resembled bowling pins this season more often than not, they are allowing 36.3 points per game, good for 111th in the FBS, with the bowl subdivision teams they’ve beaten having a combined one win (Air Force and Hawaii). Fresno State may have had a couple of close calls against average teams, particularly San Diego State, so far this season. Nevada may look like an average team this season, but Colin Kaepernick isn’t running through that tunnel to save them.

Fresno State may also be looking to shake off a D-plus performance against San Diego State, in which they needed late heroics on a field goal as time expired just to force overtime. The Bulldogs are 7-0 for a reason, and they are going to take out their frustrations from last week in San Diego on the Wolf Pack at home in front of a rowdy sellout crowd.

This one has the potential to be a laugher because everything is trending the Bulldogs’ direction: the crowd, the field, the offense. Fresno State’s defense, though, might not allow that. They have been suspect even against bad teams, and Nevada’s offense has just enough firepower to steal some points.

Prediction: Fresno State wins 48-24.

New Mexico at San Diego State, 5 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports Networks

San Diego State has paper tiger written all over it. After dropping the first three games of the season, including a humiliating 21-point loss to FCS Eastern Illinois, they hit what can only be termed as the easy part of their schedule. They won three straight by beating New Mexico State, Air Force and Nevada before losing a tough one they should have won against Fresno State last Saturday.

That being said, New Mexico isn’t exactly a world beater. They run the ball well, and that’s really about it. Expect the Aztecs to get to .500 on the season in this one.

Prediction San Diego State wins 27-17.

San Jose State at UNLV, 1 p.m. Saturday

Both teams enter riding a high tide, and both would be best served by winning this game too. San Jose State is riding a three-game win streak, but needs this one to avoid having to beat some decent teams down the stretch to get into a bowl game. UNLV needs only one win to get to bowl eligibility and will likely get it one way or another since Air Force in on the schedule, but winning this one will mean likely seven wins and probably a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl in front of a friendly crowd.

San Jose State’s running game, which as found its footing since freshmen Tim Crawley and Jarred Lawson started getting regular carries, could be the difference. Yes, David Fales is one of the conference’s best, but what could likely lift the Spartans is their ability to abuse one of the worst running defenses in the nation. Given how the two freshmen have performed, they should be able to do it easily.

Prediction: San Jose State wins 38-27

Army at Air Force, 9 a.m. Saturday, ESPNU

These are two bad teams, and there’s no way to really be nice about it. They are the most boring of teams in the worst possible way.

Army is first in the nation in rushing yards and last in the nation in passing yards, and it’s all by design thanks to the the option offense they have always run. But they have feasted on some poor teams this year, which is why they have three wins. Air Force also runs the ball first and throws it never (122nd in passing yards, 12th in rushing yards), but hasn’t been able to take advantage of playing bad teams because, aside from a Nevada team that barely beat them, they haven’t played any.

The problem is that the Falcons don’t have enough constant contributors. For a running offense, Air Force’s running backs have put up rather pedestrian numbers. They have also used seven different quarterbacks this year, although it looks like Nate Romine has won the battle for that job … for now.

The Falcons schedule eases the next three weeks with Army, New Mexico and UNLV, and that may give them a chance to win. This game is essentially a pick’em – Army’s defensive numbers are superior because they have played lesser competition than the Falcons. Expect this one to fly by fast.

Prediction: Air Force wins 35-31.

SJSU men’s hoops preview: A good start for Wojcik, but wins will be hard to find

San Jose State opens its first campaign in the Mountain West Conference by starting over.

A new coach, a roster with mostly new faces, a new conference, and a new bag of money to play with for the future (allegedly). Add to that likely new facilities that are on the way, and it could mean moderate success three or four years down the road.

The Spartans open next week with a pair of exhibitions at home, Monday against D-II Cal State Monterey Bay, and then Wedensday against Pacific Union.

This season is going to be about grinding it out. The Spartans are still woefully behind the rest of its new conference in every respect, and when 2014 rolls around, they will likely find that out the hard way. This is a team that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since Olivier Saint-Jean (now Tariq Abdul-Wahad) played for them in 1996, and this year isn’t looking the year that streak ends.

A schedule with few favors

By most team’s standards, San Jose State’s schedule isn’t so bad. The early season features just one team that made the tournament last year (James Madison at the NIU Tournament), and just four teams with winning records last year. Clearly, the Spartans can build some confidence and win games in the first 12 contests of the season. The Spartans will take on Milwaukee (8-24 last season) and Northern Illinois, which won just five games last year and hasn’t sniffed a winning record in seven years. Westminster (Utah) and Pacifica shouldn’t be on any Division I team’s schedule, but sure, why not.

A visit to Houston figures to be the hardest early season contest.

Winnable games in the nonconference schedule: Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, UC Davis, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, Portland, both non-Division I games.

Likely losses: Weber State, Houston, James Madison, Santa Clara.

The revamped squad and early season cupcakes could easily be riding a wave of confidence  — and a winning record — into the conference play if this team plays its cards right and proves the naysayers wrong.

The problem for the Spartans is that nothing they do before the new year means anything. On January 1, they open Mountain West play at home against Nevada, and everything likely be down hill from there.

There are no less than 10 conference games you can probably put in the loss column right now — the home and homes with New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah State, and Colorado State, at Boise State and at home against UNLV. The Mountain West has a lot of talented teams, and San Jose State is in Year 1 of trying to build a competitive team. Especially a matchup against a talented Rebels squad, even at home, is not going to end well for the Spartans.

If this team wins any of those games, it will be among the biggest upsets in conference this year.

The saving grace for San Jose State is that they only see UNLV and Boise State once each. Imagine being in this type of rebuilding year and having Utah State’s schedule, in which they will have to play San DIego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State and Boise State twice.

The Spartans were picked to finish dead last in conference by the media, and rightfully so. There’s very little to get excited about considering last year’s team was just 9-20 last year, falling apart after leading scorer James Kinney was put on the shelf for behavioral reasons.

Conference play has winnable games, too: Air Force was picked second to last in the conference, and Nevada appears to be in decline. Fresno State an Wyoming are mediocre teams, but expecting to beat either one would be a massive overreach for the Spartans.

This isn’t going to be a tournament team. The conference schedule simply won’t allow it.

Babes in the Woods

The best thing that could have happened after last year is to make a clean break. And that’s precisely what happened.

Coach Dave Wojcik is a good starting point for this squad, and he’s got a good, young base to start. Only four players are back, including senior Chris Cunningham and 7-foot-1 post Mike VanKirk, who played sparingly last year and needs to bulk up from a meager 240 pounds.

Getting Rashad Muhammad and Jalen James are the obvious big gets of last year’s signing class, the type the previous coach George Nessman could never have pulled together. Both were three star recruits from out of state, Muhammad coming from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman as the touted younger brother of of T’Wolves first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad, and James was a national top 50 point guard recruit.

But he also hit Texas hard and may have walked away with some gems. Isaac Thornton, a 6-foot-3 guard from San Antonio Sam Houston, was a leading scorer on a talented team and 7-footer Mathew Pollard played for a Houston prep school and Kashmere High before that. With any luck, he has found a couple of key bench players this season.

But the overarching theme is inexperience. There are six freshmen on the team and four more fresh faces on the roster.

Chris Cunningham will be the team’s veteran presence, which is fitting considering he’s the only senior on the roster. He averaged 9.0 rebounds per game last year and about 10 points per game; he’ll need to build on that for the Spartans to be competitive. D.J. Brown is also back, and will be looked to for leadership.

The one advantage to all of this? No one knows anything about this team, and expectations are subterranean. There are few good scouting reports out there, which gives them an element of surprise. Whether that will translate into a win or two is another story, but it’s there.

New coach with a different approach

Wojcik was brought in to make the changes needed to make this team viable in the Mountain West. That’s a marked difference from the previous administration.

George Nessman’s job was to do a lot with the least of almost any team at the NCAA D-I level. Considering what he had to work with — an office in the parking garage on 10th Street, no permanent locker rooms, no practice facility, a small budget for everything including assistants — his 8-year caretaker tenure as head of the program can be considered a reasonably successful one. That he even led the team to a winning season is a minor miracle.

But more is going to be expected now. And the reality is that Nessman’s recruiting was substandard even with the bad hand dealt to him (he needed a high profile transfer in Adrian Oliver to find success, and even with 17 wins in 2009-10, that team could have easily won more.) AD Gene Bleymeier says many of the needed improvements are on the way, and the new coach — a former Boise State assistant — has never been an assistant to mediocrity.

Much like his team of freshmen and JC transfers, he’s still kind of an unknown quantity;  after all, this is his first head coaching gig in more than 20 years in the business. He was a key part of Leon Rice’s staff with the Broncos, which have emerged as a basketball program in recent years. If he can bring some of that magic to San Jose, the future might be bright.

He’ll have some financial backing, and he’s built a good team to start considering the tire fire San Jose State basketball has been in the past. If they can survive the initial lumps of this season and find some talent to build around going forward, this can hopefully be a stable team, and with more luck, a decent one.

Goals should be …

— Growth and improvement: This is a young team that has the deck stacked against it. The goal this season for Wojcik should be to keep his touted freshmen moving forward, and not focused on losing. Coaches may not like having to settle for moral victories like making good teams sweat a little and not getting blown out night in night out, but that may be the best the Spartans can do as they continue to build toward regular relevance.

— Keep everyone after the season: San Jose State has always had a transfer problem; if you’re going to be using D-II quality facilities, might as well be trying to win at the D-II level, after all. Many of the improvements are still months and years away, and that may be incentive for talented players to try their hand elsewhere. Wojcik’s job is going to be not only to get the most out of them, but to keep them from bolting to other schools, be it better programs of lesser ones.

— Hope the influx of money turns San Jose State into a reasonable choice: Right now, it’s not. There’s still no permanent locker room for either basketball teams, laughable facilities and sparse crowds on a nightly basis, even for marquee matchups (when they even come to the Event Center.) The administration needs to make good on its promises to improve San Jose State’s program as quickly as possible, that way, when Wojcik uses it in his recruiting pitch, it isn’t just another hollow promise. Right now, the only good way to bring the program up is to throw money at it.

With the improvements will come recruits who can play, and following that a chance at winning. It’ll never be more than that, but is has to be better than the setup in previous years, where the Spartans had both arms tied behind their backs and were being beaten about the head and shoulders by better-funded programs.

Predicted record: 8-23 overall, 3-15 Mountain West Conference, out in first round of MWC tournament (record counts games against Pacifica College and Westminster.)

MWC Roundup: San Jose State women’s hoops win preseason opener

William Jessup hung around, but ultimately coach Jamie Craighead’s debut on the bench of San Jose State was a winner as the Spartans beat the Warriors 104-76 on Tuesday night in a game that counts for little more than a warmup for the regular season.

Jasmine Smith had a double-double, getting 18 points and 19 rebounds and Ta’Rea Cunnigan added 19 points and played an integral role in keeping the scoring going in the first half.

San Jose State’s Rebecca Woodberry led all scorers with 23 points, going 8 for 13 from the field and 4 for 7 from 3-point range.

The real fun begins for San Jose State next Friday against D-II San Francisco State at home.

Read more about the game here.

Around the conference

— Congratulations, San Jose State offense, you can add got a defensive coordinator fired to your list. Wyoming canned defensive coordinator Chris Tormey on Tuesday , reports, after the Cowboys gave up 103 points over the last two games, losses to archrival Colorado State and to San Jose State, and have generally been awful this season.

At 4-4 and with games against Fresno State, Boise State and Utah State all looming after their bye week, the Cowboys have to find a way to stop the bleeding on defense if they want to be bowl eligible. They need to win at least one of those to be 6-6 (assuming they beat Hawaii also.)

D-Line coach Jamar Cain takes over as defensive coordinator for Wyoming.

— Spartans star quarterback David Fales missed practice on Tuesday with an illness, the Merc reports. His status for Saturday’s game is not in doubt: He will play.

— If it wasn’t enough that San Diego State is opening up its kicker position to competition, Fresno State is too. Well, only on kickoffs, reports Robert Kuwada of the Fresno Bee, which will be between punter Garrett Swanson, who handled said duties last year, and freshman kicker Colin McGuire, who has been doing it this year only 12 touchbacks in 52 kickoffs this season and none in the last two games.

if there’s one easy and obvious weakness for the Bulldogs, it’s kickoff coverage: Fresno State is allowing 26.3 yards per return, which ranks 117th of 125 teams in the FBS.

— Boise State will be without defensive end Dillon Lukehart for the first half of Saturday’s game against Colorado State after he was ejected for targeting.

— The Broncos and Nevada played one of the most memorable games of 2010, but after that point began a decline for both programs, writes Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Boise will emerge from sanctions that took away nine scholarships this year, and the program has been wracked with injuries this season, leaving them with their worst mark at this point in the year since 2001 and worst of the Chris Peterson era.

Nevada’s woes might be longer term, at least if you listen to the quotes coming out of Reno. “There is a myth out there that I inherited a well-oiled machine,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian told the Gazette-Journal.

— After needless confusion and consternation, New Mexico will retire Brian Urlacher’s No. 44 in a ceremony at the game against Air Force on Nov. 8, the Albuquerque Journal reports.