San Jose, Calif. • They play in front of some of the smallest crowds in the Football Bowl Subdivision, have hardly any college football tradition to speak of, and have not had a winning season in a half-dozen years.
The San Jose State Spartans are the kind of opponent that the independent BYU Cougars would seemingly want to avoid at all costs. A win over the Western Athletic Conference foe, whether they are 2-8 or 8-2, brings none of the national attention that BYU craves. Yet a loss damages much of the momentum and credibility the Cougars have worked so hard to establish the latter half of the rocky 2012 season.
By most accounts, however, a loss for 6-4 BYU Saturday night at Spartan Stadium against the 8-2 Spartans wouldn't be a shocker. Forget SJSU's history, reputation, conference affiliation and pedigree, the Cougars said after watching film for three days this team is legitimate.
"I don't think any fans have seen them on film," BYU cornerback Preston Hadley said, when told SJSU doesn't strike fear into the hearts of BYU fans. "They're legit. We are going to go out and treat them with respect. It is a big game. I know that they are pretty fired up, so it will be fun."
From BYU's perspective, the unit with the most at stake is coach Bronco Mendenhall's defense, ranked No. 4 nationally and giving up just 264.5 yards per game. There's plenty of talk that this might be the best defense in Mendenhall's eight years, perhaps in program history. But San Jose State's high-flying passing attack is one of the best in the FBS, averaging 325.8 yards per game with junior quarterback David Fales, and could conceivably end that chatter once and for all.
The last good passing team BYU faced, Oregon State, rolled up 450 yards with a backup quarterback, Cody Vaz. Can BYU slow down Fales and his favorite targets, receive Noel Grigsby and tight end Ryan Otten?
"We will find out," Mendenhall said. "We have played a lot of games since [Oregon State]. You would think that if [we] were vulnerable to the pass, other teams would have done it since."
No question, the Spartans see the game as their chance to make a national splash and earn some attention from bowl scouts. Coach Mike MacIntyre has unabashedly called it the biggest game in the program's modern history.
The Spartans' only losses were 20-17 to Stanford and 49-27 to Utah State. They gave up 13 sacks to the Aggies, but still piled up 467 yards on a USU defense that ranks 12th in the country.
Mendenhall said BYU can't give up big plays, like it did against Oregon State.
"When San Jose State scores a lot, which they do in every game [35.1 ppg.], almost always there are significant chunk, big plays involved," Mendenhall said. "They move the ball against every team they play."
The Cougars didn't miss dismissed senior safety Joe Sampson in last week's 52-13 win over woeful Idaho, but almost certainly will Saturday. Sophomore Craig Bills replaces Sampson in the starting lineup, but the lack of depth will keep the Cougars from playing their nickel defense as much as they would like.
"It is going to be a battle. We are not going in there thinking, 'Oh, we are going to whip them, and blah, blah, blah,'" said BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "They are a good team. We are a good team. So it is going to be a good, fun game."
And one that their scheduling agreement with the WAC dictates the Cougars must play like it or not.
San Jose State home attendance
In 2012, at 30,456-seat Spartan Stadium:
Date Opponent Attendance
Sept. 8 UC Davis 7,462
Sept. 15 Colorado State 7,189
Oct. 13 Utah State 15,168
Oct. 27 Texas State 7,093
Nov. 17 BYU TBA
BYU atSan Jose State
P At Spartan Stadium (San Jose, Calif.)
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 6-4; San Jose State 8-2
Series history • San Jose State leads 9-6
Last meeting • BYU 29, San Jose State 16 (Oct. 8, 2011)
About the Spartans • They have won four straight games and eight of their last nine. … This is their best 10-game record (8-2) since they were 9-1 in 1987. … They are receiving votes in the AP Top 25 in the regular season for the first time since 1987. .. They are averaging 444.7 yards and 35.1 points per game.
About the Cougars • They are allowing just 264.5 yards per game, fourth-best in the country. … They have allowed just one team to pass for more than 300 yards against them this season (Oregon State). … WR Cody Hoffman has caught a pass in 29 straight games, tied for 10th longest in the country. … They are 2-2 in the state of California under coach Bronco Mendenhall.