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Just how good is San Jose State?

Depending on who you ask or what you look at, you may think SJSU is a top 30 team, or simply mediocre. How good are the Spartans, and should Cougar Nation be more worried about this game?


About a month ago I was looking ahead to the 'soft' November schedule and noticed that San Jose State was not terrible, which immediately put them in a different category than fellow November Cougar opponents Idaho and New Mexico State, both of which are terrible teams, some of the worst the FBS has to offer. It was clear the Spartans were a ton better than the Vandals and the Aggies, something they then proved by destroying those same two teams the past two weeks.

At the time, I thought it was likely we, as fans, would look past the Spartans, dreamily eyeing our Dec. 20 Poisettia Bowl match-up with a MWC team (likely San Diego State). But the impossible has happened: many fans, and the prognosticators in Vegas, think this is going to be a very close game, maybe a game the Cougars have a good chance at losing.

So the question is: Just how good are the Spartans?

SJSU's offense is ranked 36th in the country, 9th in the country in passing. Their QB David Fales is completing more than 70% of his passes. These numbers are a little scary, since the defensive backfield is BYU's defense's potential weak spot. The Spartan defense is also good statistically, ranked 20th overall.

But these numbers are a bit of a mirage. Yes, SJSU did almost beat Stanford on the road, and they beat a decent San Diego State team. But they gave up 485 yards and 49 points to Utah State a month ago, and they haven't played a quality opponent since then.

The advanced statistics don't like their offense or defense nearly as much as the traditional stats do. At Football Outsiders, they rank SJSU as the 47th best team in the country (they have BYU at 12th) and rank their offense, when opponents and context is take into account, as the nation's 44th best. BYU's much maligned offense is ranked higher than that.

The computer rankers are mixed on the Spartans. Sagarin has them at 33, and Cosgrove has them at 46, two spots higher than the Cougars.

So hopefully I've muddied up the waters sufficiently.

I think SJSU is likely a top 40 team, not as good as Utah State or Boise State, but on par with or better than Utah (damning with faint praise there) and better than Georgia Tech. The Spartan offense should challenge BYU like it hasn't been challenged since Notre Dame.

But I don't want to overrate this team. They gave up 49 points to Utah State even though the they put up nearly 500 yards. They are not going to put up 450+ yards against BYU's defense, and the BYU offense seems to be humming with a healthy Riley Nelson and an emergent Jamaal Williams. I think the BYU offense can put up nearly 400 yards, and should be able to get 3 or 4 touchdowns in the process, which should be more than enough.

San Jose State team is a quality opponent this year, and the game's on the road. But I disagree with Vegas and with some other prognosticators. The Spartans aren't as good as they look on paper, and I think the Cougars prevail by two scores.

What are your thoughts? How good do you think SJSU is?