Note: For 11 straight days, I’ll post a brief team preview for each school in the Mountain West (except Boise State). I’m going in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the West Division.
SAN JOSE STATE SPARTANS
Coach: Ron Caragher
Record: 6-6 (one season)
Last year: 6-6, 5-3 in MW
Last bowl: 2012 Military (W, 29-20 vs. Bowling Green)
Returning starters: 5/10/1 (offense/defense/specialists)
Story line: The Spartans did something no other Mountain West team could last year — beat Fresno State. They also scored 114 combined points in their last two games and return 10 starters to a defense that endured a schematic change last year. But there’s a gaping hole in the game’s most important spot, where the Spartans lost quarterback David Fales to the NFL. Senior Blake Jurich, who threw six passes last year, and junior Joe Gray, who has not lettered for the Spartans, are the top contenders. “It would be hard to say one has the lead going in (to camp) because it’s kind of a clean slate,” Caragher said. If the Spartans can get quality quarterback play, they could be a darkhorse in the wide-open West Division. “There’s always a learning curve with a coaching change,” senior defensive tackle Travis Raciti said. “ We fought hard. We went 5-3 in our conference, the first time in the Mountain West. That kind of catapulted us into the offseason.”
Star player: Wide receiver Tyler Winston earned the Mountain West Freshman of the Year award last season with 58 catches for 858 yards and five touchdowns. He was expected to redshirt and play defensive back but was in the lineup as a wide receiver by the end of the third game. He finished with four 100-yard games (including 164 against Fresno State) and ranked third nationally in receiving yards among freshmen.
Quotable: “There’s a motto we have: ‘blue collar, gold standard.’ A lot of guys from San Jose State are underdogs — maybe overlooked, maybe didn’t have the speed or the grades. We pride ourselves on how we work day in, day out. It says a lot about our program. Although our season wasn’t that successful, we stood up to the conference champ and took them down.” — Raciti, on beating Fresno State in the season finale
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