It may have taken 12 weeks for the San Jose State Spartans to hit bowl eligibility, but the details of their year paint a picture far more respectable.
If you were to go to any college football fan, player, or coach in this country and ask them what they would like their team’s record to be entering rivalry week, most of them would say one a heck of a lot better than 6-5, as while such a tally represents a winning team that’s going bowling, it is in no way viewed as a “desirable” record by anyone with a remotely consistent standard of decency.
However, when you introduce context as impactful as the strengths of a team’s conference and schedule, still managing to have even a hardly positive record so late in the year goes a lot further, and no team in the present CFB landscape has captured such a scenario quite like the San Jose State Spartans.
For a team that is currently losing almost as much as it’s winning, SJSU is on cloud nine, as very few teams (out of the playoff hunt, that is) have as much momentum as the Spartans do. This stems from their victory over San Diego State bumping their active win streak up to five games—each one of which they have completely dominated in.
Now I understand that beating the Aztecs 24-13 at home doesn’t exactly count as “dominating,” especially when realizing that they are now 3-8 on the season as a result. But, while it wasn’t a blowout, it’s important to note that it was the closest of the five wins by a wide margin.
Leading up to that outcome, the Spartans beat New Mexico on the road by 28, Utah State by 21, Hawaii by 35 (another road victory, this time being a shutout), and an eight-win Fresno State by 24. Considering those numbers, along with the Aztecs being historically competitive rivals and the Spartans still winning by double-digits, I feel that it’s fair to assume that San Jose State hasn’t slowed down much if at all.
Okay, so they’re rolling right now, that’s cool. Hasn’t it mostly been against sorry teams, though? I mean heck, outside of the Bulldogs (who just lost again, this time to the Lobos), none of those teams have winning records today. I know the Mountain West has its tough cookies, but are we really going to praise the Spartans for playing in a tough conference if that’s the quality of opponent they’re typically facing? No, no we’re not. Rather, we’re going to praise them for much more.
SJSU’s 2023 run is in the midst of defying some pretty hefty odds
First things first, I don’t take part in blaming a team for being stuck with weak league foes, as that is something it simply cannot control; all it can control is how much it beats them by, and with those aforementioned point differentials being as convincing as they are, I would say that San Jose State has done an objectively good job in that department so far.
Secondly, just because SJSU hasn’t encountered many tough adversaries lately doesn’t mean they haven’t encountered any at all, as they opened their 2023 campaign with what I firmly believe was one of the bravest non-conference slates of this year: at USC, Oregon State, Cal Poly, and at Toledo. Outside of the Mustangs, that is absolutely brutal, especially for a Group of 5 program.
Also, right after barely losing to the Rockets (who have not lost a game since falling at Illinois in their season opener), they had to face the Air Force Falcons, an eight-win squad that has been one of the better that the MWC has had to offer.
The team on their agenda after that was Boise State—a name that has haunted the West for years—and San Jose State had to visit them in what is infamously a tough place to play. Even with the Broncos struggling this year, all of that stands true in recognizing them as a bunch tougher than some others. And for what it’s worth, BSU is another team that has looked much better lately, being able to secure a postseason appearance last Saturday as well.
Did the Spartans hold their own particularly well against this group of schools? Not at all, as they went 1-5 against them, with three of those losses being decided by over 20 points. But, refusing to lose focus in the midst of such defeats and doing so well enough to successfully clinch a bowl berth is nothing short of impressive.
The Spartans finishing the year on this outstanding note is very much doable
Now that we’ve seen what’s gotten it this far, it’s time to look ahead as San Jose State has just one more regular-season game in its way before going bowling. It’s on the road to Las Vegas to face the UNLV Rebels, and I don’t think I have to write a novel to explain why they will in no way be pushovers.
Not only are they going to be celebrating their Senior Day, but the Rebels are currently rocking a 9-2 record, which is already the best they’ve had since 1984. Along with those threatening circumstances, they fell to Fresno State before downing Air Force; that inconsistency against common foes mixing with the previously established role that SJSU is on makes the matchup all the more difficult to analyze.
With all of that in mind, I can’t rule out the possibility of the Spartans shocking the nation once more—so let’s say that they do just that. Then what? Well, all that would leave is whatever bowl they’d make, and especially with it likely being against a visibly flawed opponent, I’d assume they’d stand a good chance of winning that as well. In other words, they appear to have a sound likelihood of finishing 2023 with an 8-5 record in spite of their 1-5 start.
Again, having the perseverance to execute that kind of turnaround makes for a respectable team that one can’t help but root for, and remembering that San Jose State also entered the 2022 postseason with a chance to win eight games deflates any ideas of this year just being some “fluke.” Therefore, the Spartans don’t deserve to be overlooked any longer; it’s time to let them sit at the Mountain West’s cool kids’ table.