Tony Avelar, AP
Residents of Utah know that Utah State has recently gone from parody to relative parity next to BYU and Utah during the last three years. In fact, former USU head coach Gary Andersen won more games in 2012 than Brent Guy won in his entire career in Logan.
But amidst this rise, another team Utah residents may not be as familiar with has kept pace with the Aggies in becoming a contender — the San Jose State Spartans.
The Spartans then
In 2010, coach Mike McIntyre took over a disheveled, worn-down Spartan program. Its lone win on the year (barely) came at home to the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. The future outlook seemed dim.
But the Spartans didn't quit. Behind quarterback Matt Faulkner, they fought and battled their way to five wins in 2011. Notching close victories over Hawaii and Colorado State, they nearly attained bowl eligibility until they dropped a squeaker to the then struggling Aggies in Romney Stadium. All this was sunshine compared to 2010's campaign.
In 2012, three years of hard work paid off for McIntyre's program. Behind junior college transfer quarterback David Fales, the Spartans notched an 11-win season, their first in more than 50 years, including wins over BYU and Bowling Green.
Inevitably, McIntyre ended up taking a bigger head coaching job for Colorado with defensive coordinator Kent Baer in tow. Shortly after, Ron Caragher was named the Spartans' new head coach.
The Spartans now
After a phenomenal 2012 campaign in which David Fales threw for more than 4,000 yards and led the FBS in pass accuracy, Caragher inherited a fairly intact Spartan squad and overall a good situation. Most of the offense returns, including Fales' primary receiving core in Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby, though he is currently out with an injury.
However, the defense is a bit more of a work in progress. Much of it has been thinned out from last year with the graduation of defensive ends Travis Johnson and David Tuitupou. On top of this, Caragher is installing a new 3-4 system and incorporating new schemes that weren't previously used. And thus far, the drop-off has been a bit noticeable.
Week one: Sacramento State
The Spartans comfortably shut out the FCS Sacramento State Hornets in Spartan Stadium to the tune of 24-0. However, Fales only completed half of his passes, which makes one wonder how inspired the offense is. And pitching a shutout against an FCS team says little about how the defense will fare moving forward.
Week two: Stanford
Unlike last year in which the Spartans nearly stole a victory from the Cardinal, this year's game was a different story. Stanford was ready from the onset and severely limited San Jose's rushing attack. The defense also frustrated David Fales all night with four sacks. Fales threw mostly short and intermediate passes, completing 29 of 43 for 216 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
The Spartans hung tough for the first half, but the Cardinal's play-style eventually overwhelmed them in a 34-13 rout.
Week three: Minnesota
Minnesota had its struggles last season, finishing just 6-7 with a bowl loss to Texas Tech. This seemed like a recipe for destruction at the hands of a solid Spartan offense.
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