At the Aug. 2 Big West football media day in Los Angeles, Utah State Coach Chuck Shelton voted for San Jose State as his pick to win the conference. Most everyone else voted for Fresno State.
"San Jose State was my odds-on favorite," Shelton reiterated this week. "They have indicated that they have that type of skill," he said, looking back over the Spartans' nonleague schedule that includes a three-point loss to Washington, a one-point loss to Cal, a tie with Louisville and a win over Stanford as well as three easy conference wins.The 1-3-1 Aggies and 4-2-1 Spartans meet Saturday at 7 p.m. MDT in Spartan Stadium, and the winner will be in the driver's seat as far as the conference race. San Jose's 3-0 in the league, Utah State 1-0-1. San Jose has yet to play Fresno, which is 2-0-1 after last week's 24-24 tie with the Aggies.
"We have played well enough to deserve the status (of leading the league)," says Coach Terry Shea, a longtime Utah State assistant (1976-83) who left to become San Jose State's offensive coordinator (1984-86), then took the same position at Cal (1987-89) before returning to the Spartans as head coach with three days left in the '90 spring drills when the school fired Claude Gilbert.Despite their tough nonleague schedule, the Spartans rank high nationally in a number of categories.
Sheldon Canley is the No. 1 all-purpose man in the country averaging 206.43 yards a game in rushing (815 yards), receiving (264) and kick returns (366).
"Canley is our No. 1 worry," says Aggie defensive coordinator Fred Bleil.
"Sheldon is a very special running back," says Shea. "He runs with light feet and gets a lot of yards after the first hit."
Quarterback Ralph Martini, the one-time BYU receiver who went to San Jose because he wanted to be field boss, had to overcome a three-way battle for his position in the preseason. He won the job with a week to go before the season opener.
But now he ranks seventh nationally in total offense with a 259.29 average, just above Fresno's Mark Barsotti (eighth, 256.57), whom the Aggies defensed fairly well last week. "He's become real productive," understates Shea, who likes Martini's ability to pick out second and third receivers.
Martini's been on quite a roll the past three weeks, having thrown 11 touchdown passes - four each at Stanford and Cal and three against Long Beach last week.
As a team, San Jose ranks eighth nationally in rushing defense (it allowed its three conference opponents a total of 14 net yards), 10th in passing offense and 27th in total defense.
Fresno had similar statistics before losing to Northern Illinois and tying Utah State, but the big difference in San Jose is that the Spartans just don't make mistakes offensively like the Bulldogs did, says USU offensive coordinator Pat Behrns.
Shea says San Jose's nonleague schedule took a toll. "We came off that stint a little beat up; we're not as deep as we used to be." They'll be without all-Big West linebacker Everett Lampkins, second-team all-BWC cornerback Paul Franklin and guard Tom Alkire and could be missing second-team all-BWC noseguard Bob Bleisch, league honorable mention cornerback Freddie Smith and special-teams player Paul Hamilton.