Spartan and MWC notes: Faulkner emerges in CFL and Winston wins MWC top freshman award

Courtesy of the Ottawa Redblacks Twitter account (original source TBA)

Courtesy of the Ottawa Redblacks Twitter account (original source TBA)

Matt Faulkner, perhaps best remembered the serviceable but unremarkable starter in 2011 for San Jose State, has signed as the first quarterback for the expansion Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League. He is the first quarterback under contract for the team, which will begin building its team in earnest on Monday with the expansion draft.

In his one year starting for the Spartans, he completed a shade under 65 percent of his passes for 3,149 yards, throwing as many touchdowns (13) as he did interceptions (13). He had transferred from Fresno State and Mt. San Antonio College.

The Ottawa Citizen places him as likely third on the depth chart, since the Redblacks will at least get two QBs with CFL experience in the expansion draft.

This is the third attempt at a CFL franchise in the Canadian capitol. The Ottawa Rough Riders went for more than 75 years before folding in 1996. The Ottawa Renegades went from 2002 to 2005 before the league forced the team to cease operations.

Winston is MWC freshman of the year; 3 more on first team

Tyler Winston parlayed a strong freshman year as Noel Grigsby’s replacement into an award from the Mountain West Conference this year, winning the conference’s freshman of the year award after a strong first season.

He caught 58 balls this season for five touchdowns and 858 yards, a 14.8 yards/catch average. Not bad for someone who was needed as an emergency replacement for the senior Grigsby, who was lost for the season in the early going.

He leads a class of three other Spartans on the all-Mountain West first football team, with David Fales predictably losing out on the first QB spot to Derek Carr from Fresno State. Receiver Chandler Jones, cornerback Bene Benwikere and linebacker Keith Smith all earned first team honors.

Fales was the second team quarterback along with offensive lineman Nicholas Kaspar and kicker Austin Lopez. Freshman tight end Billy Freeman and offensive lineman Ryan Jones were honorable mention.

The conference awards were: Offensive player of the year, Derek Carr, Fresno State; Freshman of the year, Tyler Winston, San Jose State; Special teams player of the year, Carlos Wiggins, New Mexico; defensive player of the year, Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State; Coach of the year, Matt Wells, Utah State.

In other news from San Jose State and the conference …

  • More awards for San Jose State’s young’uns: Tyler Winston earned another honor this week to. He and three other San Jose State freshmen and sophomore kicker Austin Lopez earned honorable mention on the College Football News’ freshman and sophomore all-America teams. Winston, running back Jarrod Lawson, linebacker Christian Tago, tight end Billy Freeman earned spots on the freshman team, while Lopez was honorable mention on the sophomore team.
  • Jon Wilner doesn’t waste your time this time: Taking time away from his stumping for the big conferences, he writes about why San Jose State didn’t deserve a bowl game.
  • Check out the recruiting class: Not bad so far, all things considered. Mission Viejo QB and 3-star recruit Ian Fieber leads the class so far (we hope.)
  • From Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, next Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl will be a reunion for two Bakersfield products in USC quarterback Cody Kessler (who graduated from Bakersfield Centennial) and Fresno State’s Derek Carr (who went to Bakersfield Christian.) The two are good friends.
  • Step 1 for UNLV: Make bowl game. Step 2: ?????. Step 3. Profit? So writes Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which has its postseason berth and now much figure out how it will pay for things like travel and the likes.
  • Side note: No one from UNLV earned first team All-Mountain West honors this year, despite the team’s 7-5 record. Three made the second team: lineman Brandon Boyko, receiver Devante Davis and running back Tim Cornett. My thought: The Rebels got their bowl game, they can deal with it.
  • San Diego State is busily preparing for its bowl game in Boise by trying to practice outdoors as much as possible, reports the Union-Tribune. Two problems: San Diego is rather balmy this time of year compared to Boise (which might not get over freezing for game time), and they are having to share practice facilities with Boise State as they prepare for the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas eve.
  • Bryan Harsin is back home with Boise State, the Idaho Statesman writes, after the school essentially purchased him from Arkansas State. the Red Wolves, in an interesting note, have now had four different coaches in four straight years (Steve Roberts was fired after the 2010 season, Hugh Freeze bolted for Ole Miss after the 2011 season, Gus Malzahn left for Auburn after the 2012 season, and Harsin left after the 2013 season for Boise State.)
  • Colorado State sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs was named second team All-American this year.
  • In a wild bit of speculation from the Fort Collins Coloradoan, reporter Kelly Lyell looks into whether Rams coach Jim McElwain could be an option to replace Nick Saban at Alabama should he leave the Crimson Tide for, say, Texas. McElwain won two national titles as offensive coordinator for Saban in 2009 and 2011. But the reality is, with his buyouts at $4 million this year and $3 million next year, he’s probably not leaving Fort Collins this year.
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They shoot (and miss) a lot: Quick assessment of SJSU’s men’s hoops team so far

Dave Wojcik and Jaleel Williams.

Dave Wojcik and Jaleel Williams.

It hasn’t been a pretty open to San Jose State’s first season in the Mountain West. Not that anyone should have expected it to be.

The Spartans are just 2-6 so far heading into Saturday’s game against Houston (Online, ESPN3 at 3 p.m.), with an impressive win over Pepperdine and little else to show. Rashad Muhammad has been a revelation in the early going, averaging 16.9 points per game so far, while junior Jaleel Williams pitches in about 14 per game.

But what ails the Spartans in this early juncture is a mix of woes on offense and defense that come with unfamiliarity with each other, and youth. Dave Wojcik had no delusions when he came to San Jose that it was going to be tough.

But I wonder if he knew just how tough it was going to be this first season?

Some early observations of the Spartans’ play so far this season:

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Spartan Notes: James Jones talks about how much Thanksgiving means to him

Many of us spend Thanksgiving doing two things: gorging ourselves stupid and pining over cheap crap to the point where we fight people over it at the nearby Walmart. It’s easy to forget that this is a day of thanks, and how much we have to be thankful for given how many in this country go without.

Not James Jones.

The San Jose State wide receiver from 2004 to 2006, now a star with the Packers, spoke about growing up poor in the Bay Area with the NFL Network, and how thankful he is to have plenty now.

“Someone would donate some food to the homeless shelter, and what ever they served, you eat,” he said. “Now, it’s a blessing to be able to cook everything you  you want and eat all the deserts you want. … I’m truly blessed to play this game; I came from humble beginnings. I’m excited and happy be here every day I walk into this stadium.”

He hasn’t forgotten his roots. He and his wife doing a lot of charity work in San Jose, where he grew up, and Green Bay.

“I never want my family to go through anything that I ever went through,” he said.

Other San Jose State sports notes …

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Where will San Jose State go bowling? Breaking down the MWC’s potential postseason

935_-mountain_west_conference-primary-2011The Mountain West Conference is has six bowl tie-ins to fill this year, and potentially a seventh if the Pac-12 comes up short. San Jose State, as of right now, is still likely to be playing in December when this is all said and done, but Saturday’s loss really did a number to where. Before that, one of the higher bowls wasn’t out of the question.

After … It’s looking bleak on the money end, at least. But still likely.

But with the rest of the conference having two or three games left, it’s time to start untangling the Mountain West’s bowl list, and figure out who’s in, who’s out and where the hell they are going.

For the record, things are just as unsettled at the top as they are at the bottom of the bowl picture. Fresno State could still ruin its BCS chances with two and almost certainly three games left, and there’s still some unlikely silliness with New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming to sort out that could determine where the Spartans play.

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SJSU women’s hoops outlook: A new coach, but does it mean another rebuild?

San Jose State has never had a stable women’s program. And part of that is because it hasn’t had a good or stable coach since 2005.

The school got stuck in a sticky situation with the late former coach Janice Richard after she went on medical leave in 2006 for breast cancer, and replaced her with Greg Lockridge, who promptly put the team in the toilet and was replaced midseason. san_jose_state

After that, Pam DeCosta took over. She had one signature win — that over a ranked Cal team in 2009 — but only won 13 games in four seasons and fell into a cycle of trying to plug holes with mediocre JC players. She was let go in favor of Tim La Kose from Cal State Bakersfield, who looked like he was going to be coach to stanch the bleeding long term.

Now, two years on, La Kose has resigned on the eve of the season and the Spartans have yet another bench boss in former Sacramento State coach Jamie Craighead. She enters at the right time for San Jose State: This is by far the most talented women’s basketball roster this team has had since Richard coached it in the mid-2000s, and perhaps before.

The biggest question facing this team, given all of its inherent struggles and challenges of moving to the tougher Mountain West Conference, is will the new coach be able to keep them together and keep progress moving forward. Or, come April, will this be another tear-down-and-start-over situation?

A team with some experience

Junior guards Ta’Rea Cunnigan and Rebecca Woodberry were the big shooters in the exhibition opener. Cunnigan led the team in shots and made a few big baskets to calm early nerves when the Warriors started draining shots, and is going to be the team’s go-to player, finishing with 19 points despite an off shooting night. The ball will find Cunnigan in big moments for San Jose State.

Much of last year’s roster is back. Despite it’s 11-19 record, they made several teams sweat to the final minute. With the addition of Woodberry and Smith to the starting lineup, there are more options to score on the court.

Emily Schill played limited minutes in the exhibition opener off the bench. The sophomore from Australia, who was the team’s third leading scorer with 10.8 points per game last year, should play a bigger role once the regular season rolls around. Also back in the starting lineup is 6-foot-2 center Riana Byrd from the Sacramento area, who was an important contributor last season (11.4 points/game, 10.9 rebounds/game). They will be put to the test this season with tougher competition on the horizon.

Woodberry, a transfer from Nebraska, is going to play an important role in the starting lineup, as are freshmen Jasmine Smith, Britta Hall and Rachol West. Smith, a 6-foot forward from Burbank Bellarmine-Jefferson, had a double-double in the first game with 18 points and 19 rebounds. She gave the Spartans something they haven’t had, well, ever — presence in the paint. She may be too good to give sparing playing time this season, and may be the first player off the bench, if she isn’t starting, when either Schill or Byrd need a breather or get in foul trouble.

The biggest question is going to be on defense. William Jessup found a shooting groove at times during the game, especially in the second half. The Spartans have some height, and can certainly make a play on the boards (they had 57 rebounds and eight blocks in the exhibition game); they will need those kinds of effort in conference play often.

Woodberry was lights out in the first game, shooting 8 for 13 and leading the Spartans in points with 23. More important than anything, she gives San Jose State a second shooting option so that teams don’t spend the whole night hounding Cunnigan, who seemed to be last season’s only shooter on a night in, night out basis. West, who graduated from Bakersfield Garces Memorial, and Hall, from Tualatin (Ore.), were the first two women off the bench for Craighead in the exhibition game.

New goal: Restore order (again)

Jamie Craighead took over at San Jose State barely a month before the new season started thanks to Tim La Kose resigning unexpectedly at the end of August. Much of the work he had done in the previous two seasons — putting out the tire fire created from three bad coaches in a row and building something resembling a program — was reduced to nothing with the stroke of a pen.

Craighead doesn’t have an easy task ahead of her: There are no holdovers on the coaching staff from La Kose’s two seasons at the helm, but the entire roster is that of his building (there are no holdovers from the last year of the Pam DeCosta era.) So far, there don’t seem to be any problems within the program, winning its exhibition opener against William Jessup handily.

The question for Craighead, who had moderate success at a place not known for any of it in Sacramento State, is how will this team react when the losses start to mount in a difficult Mountain West schedule for which they as a program are no where near ready. In addition, how many of La Kose’s recruits stick around after the season.

It’s time someone — and with any luck, it will be Craighead — stopped this preposterous ride the women’s basketball program seems to be on and allow it to get off. There isn’t going to be any kind of progress until there is stability at the top.

Everyone thought La Kose, who had a lot of success at Cal State Bakersfield before coming to San Jose, was going to bring stability to the program to allow it start building an eventual winner. Now, it’s up to Craighead to bring stability first, then wins.

The early verdict: Patience

This is a far more talented team than the Spartans have had . With money suddenly coming into the program because of the move to the Mountain West and new facilities being built for both basketball teams, it will be up to Craighead to put out the fire started by La Kose’s sudden departure and keep the progress full speed ahead on the recruiting front.

Cunnigan will likely again be the top scorer, but San Jose State needs a stronger defensive presence on the court each night. Woodberry is going to need to be the second shooter on the court. There’s also the question of where Jasmine Smith is going to play, and which of her Schill and Byrd starts off the bench.

This squad has a lot of potential. How will it do against a much harder schedule and will it stay together now that there’s been a change at the top?

Find the team’s schedule here.

Sunday Morning Quarterback: San Jose State’s win over UNLV upsets Jerry Rice

San Jose State won the game. And a certain 49ers great is not happy with UNLV’s head coach:

The Spartans needed this one with the schedule ramping up toward the end: a 34-24 grinder of a game that saw San Jose State do things it hasn’t known for doing this year: Run the ball and stop teams from scoring.

It was an important win because there are no slouches left over the final four games, and San Jose State probably needs to be at least 7-5 or at least have a strong conference record to earn a bowl bid out of the Mountain West. Guaranteeing they are at least in the top six in the conference in a two-step process right now, with Saturday’s win over UNLV being the first. Step 2 comes next week against San Diego State, or against Nevada after that.

It was a crushing loss for UNLV: They are denied bowl eligibility with three games to go, two of which against likely better teams, and a third against a 2-7 team with an offense that can exploit the Rebels really sad run defense. They needed this one, and couldn’t do enough to get it.

A few thoughts from Saturday’s game

Bobby Hauck wanted the running game, and boy, did he ever get it: Hell, he said it in his post-game press conference to the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “We went into the game thinking we wanted them to lean on the run … But even at halftime we discussed changing up some of the things we were doing defensively to be a little saltier against the run, and we really did not want the quarterback to beat us.”

Associated Press

Associated Press

Be careful what you wish for next time, I guess?

San Jose State’s three freshmen running backs combined for 312 yards on the ground, with Jarred Lawson leading the way 187 yards and a TD on 28 carries (he also had more than 100 before halftime.) Tim Crawley (5 carries, 27 yards before leaving with an injury) and Thomas Tucker (8 carries, 97 yards, 1 TD) also got in on the action against a Rebels defense didn’t break character by getting overmatched by standard run blocking schemes. UNLV got back into the game in the third quarter when they adjusted to the Spartans running scheme, which no matter how you slice it, is still young and kind of basic.

Another byproduct of having a running game? An unheard of 50 percent on third down (10 for 20 in the game), something the Spartans haven’t done in forever. It also gave them the ability to confidently kill the clock, something the Spartans just haven’t been able to do when they’ve had a lead late. Key to this was their nine-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that lasted more than 5 minutes, put them up by two scores and killed UNLV’s momentum.

We saw a little bit of this last week against Wyoming, when a 12-play, more-than-5-minute drive left the Cowboys with a 7-point deficit and only eight seconds to do anything about it.

… but, man, was David Fales off today: The senior quarterback was coming off of a career game against Wyoming, but was off target all game. He missed some practice earlier this week with an illness, and given that San Jose State has no one tested behind him, he had to play.  He was passable in the first half despite an interception, particularly because the running game was rolling and couldn’t be stopped. But he was 4 for 11 with an interception after halftime at a time when the Rebels were gunning for the run.

He finished 15 for 30 with 150 passing yards and a TD and two interceptions against a team that is 51st in the bowl subdivision against the pass entering the game.

San Jose State’s defense won this game: UNLV’s bread and butter all season has been its running game. Tim Cornett has put up gaudy numbers all year, and the Rebels’ quarterback, Caleb Herring, is also capable of taking off and gaining some yardage. The Spartans shut it all down: Cornett never got going and forced Herring to beat them one way or another, which he only partially did (he threw two picks, and had a third called off because David Ogburn Jr. landed out of bounds.)

In the end, Cornett had his lowest rushing total since 2011 and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence touched the ball once.

Part of this was predictable play calling on UNLV’s part: San Jose State’s defense rarely seemed surprised by the Rebels playcalling until Herring started taking off on his own, which was when the Spartans had a three TD lead after halftime. San Jose State’s offense was off of its normal game, and started to sputter in the second half. The defense bent a few times but didn’t break, a refreshing change from previous weeks.

This wasn’t a banner win for San Jose State. It lacked the sheen that the Wyoming win provided. But it was a satisfying one because two parts of the team that haven’t totally taken over games, the defense and the running game, did on Saturday. And they did it in a big way.

This was a fight for the last few scraps on the schedule: Both teams have a tougher schedule going forward, with UNLV feasting on teams that are now a combined 11-32, while the four teams San Jose State has beaten are now 12-22, which include decent teams in Colorado State and Wyoming. The Rebels schedule doesn’t get any easier, with Utah State next week, a run-happy Air Force team and San Diego State to close the season. For a UNLV team that hasn’t had any ability to stop the run so far, none of those are easy matchups. And they need to find a win in there.

San Jose State has San Diego State, Nevada, Navy and Fresno State left. Somewhere in there, the Spartans have to find a win and probably two wins. In particular, San Jose State can set up a long shot at the West division title in the final game against the Bulldogs at home if they beat the other two conference opponents. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s possible.

Further reading on this game:

— Mark Anderson’s first-draft game story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal is here. That paper also has game day grades (spoiler alert: they generally aren’t good),  some unflattering things to say about the crowd from Ron Kantowski,  a roundup of fan comments from Twitter, and top performers for both teams.

— Tyler Bern of the Las Vegas Sun talks about the missed catch that ended up being Caleb Herring’s first interception.

— Jimmy Durkin writes a gamer for the San Jose Mercury-News, which the paper will bury somewhere between a housewares ad and figure skating coverage while Cal’s eighth loss plays giant on the front of its section.

Around the conference

Boise State 42, Colorado State 30: Colorado State started hot but couldn’t slow down a Broncos team that is just better. Boise State still has to beat Wyoming — which isn’t going to be a small task — but has the inside track on the Mountain division championship. For more, see the Fort Collins Coloradoan and the Idaho Statesman. A correction from an earlier post: Garrett Hedrick started at QB, not Joe Southwick; my bad.

Fresno State 41, Nevada 23: Bulldogs QB Derek Carr broke Kevin Sweeney’s school record for passing yardage late in the fourth quarter of a blowout over the Wolf Pack. For more, see the Fresno Bee and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

San Diego State 35, New Mexico 30: In a battle of two teams that run the ball a lot, the Aztecs and Adam Muema and Quinton Kaehler came out on top. For more, see the Albuquerque Journal and UT-San Diego.

Air Force 42, Army 28: In nonconference action, the Falcons finally found a signature moment when Anthony LaCoste almost singlehandedly stomped the Black Khights. For more, see the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Utah State 47, Hawaii 10: As if things can’t get worse for Norm Chow and the Rainbow Warriors, they got stuck at LAX on Friday and didn’t reach Logan, Utah until 2 a.m., then got smacked for the eighth time this season by a Chuckie Keaton-less Aggies squad. For more, visit the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and the Salt Lake Tribune.