Saturday, December 30, 2006

I'm guilty. Of what? you ask. Well, according to some guy at the Reno Gazette-Journal, I'm guilty of not believing that Boise State deserves a shot at the BCS title game.y

While I appreciate his sentiment -- I too want a playoff -- I just don't think this particular Boise State team has proven that they belong in the BCS title game. He basically states that based on their 12-0 record, they have done everything possible to show their worth. I just so happen to disagree.

Boise State is a great story. They have brought pride to the WAC. They have not, however, single-handedly made the WAC into a power conference. No matter how you frame the argument, there's just no getting around the fact that there are four teams in the WAC as bad as any in Division I-A. Sure, we have four worthy bowl teams. And you could certainly make the argument that Fresno State is as solid of a middle-of-the-pack outfit as any other out there. But Utah State, LaTech, New Mexico State and Idaho form as soft a conference underbelly as any conference out there -- and that includes the SunBelt. And Boise State went 12-0 at least in part by being allowed to take it easy against those teams.

I certainly would love a playoff. But let's no dilude ourselves into believing this Boise STate team is better than any of the seven teams currently ranked ahead of them in the BCS standings.

Of course, if they beat Oklahoma on New Year's Day, I'll be proven wrong.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sometimes I wonder what it will take for the San Francisco Chronicle to treat the Spartans like a real division I team and then I see stories like this. Basically, it's a Top 10 Bay Area Sports Stories list and SJSU's amazing 9-4 football season doesn't even make honorable mention. What does?

The A's firing Ken Macha (No. 5), the Warriors fire Mike Montgomery (No. 7), Stanford has worst season (No. 10). Really? Those are BIG stories. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't remember people getting too excited about any of these things. OK, maybe they filled up sports talk radio time, but is that how we're gauging Top 10 now?

My point? The Chron will always treat SJSU like an afterthought. Oh well.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

We won a bowl game. We won nine games. We did it on national TV and did it in impressive fashion. I'll offer further analysis of the game and season later this week, but for now I'll just give you the links to what the real experts are saying.

On the heels of their most impressive pre-game coverage I've ever seen the Mercury News give the Spartans, they outdid themselves with gameday coverage. They had Mark Purdy on the cover. They had Julie Patel at a local gathering place on the Local front. And they had centerpiece coverage in the sports page. Online, they had a great in-game presence with Jon Wilner blogging from home throughout the game and another impressive audio slideshow. All in all, a great effort from the hometown paper.

Unfortunately, the Chron only gave us AP coverage. But they did give us this pregame coverage.

Amazingly enough, the Santa Fe New Mexican even came through with a Spartan-centric story. That was in addition to standard game coverage.

The Albuquerque Tribune, as the hometown paper, focused more on New Mexico, but they did a good job of covering the event. This story addressed the overall success of the inaugural bowl game, which seemed to play out perfectly in every aspect except the final score.

The Arizona Star (Tucson) gives their former coach some love, read the comments for further insight.
Just AP coverage, but the LA Time does lead its bowl roundup with the Spartans.

And just for good measure, this is the place to go if you want to discuss Spartan football.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I hadn't started blogging yet, but I still feel I owe Adam Tafralis an apology. After the Nevada debacle -- in which he made two of the worst decisions/throws I've ever seen a QB, at any level, make -- I called him dumb and incapable of leading the Spartans to anything meaningful.

While I've never met the guy, he seems intelligent enough in interviews, so I'm going to go ahead and revoke that first statement. And since he's now led the Spartans to their first bowl game in 16 years, I suppose that second part has been proven false as well.

But generally, I just think Tafralis has really blossomed into a decent quarterback. And while he still makes decisions that I would deem less-than-intelligent (always pick up the first down near the end of the game), his stats prove that he makes, by and large, good decisions. You don't amass a 18/7 TD/INT ratio by making bad ones. You don't compile the 16th best passer rating in college football by being a dunderhead. You don't lead your team to four second-half comebacks by losing games for your team. You don't play a near-perfect game against Fresno by accident.

Today's Merc story mainly elaborates on these points. And I'm glad that he doesn't blame his past struggles on lack of faith or anything like that. He seems to be accountable for all his struggles, which I like. He also seems willing to prove he deserves the job next year, as opposed to expecting to have it given to him. I, for one, look forward to him and Sean Flynn battling it out in training camp.

While the situation at QB seems pretty solid, it could be far-less so in the secondary if Dwight Lowery is lured away by the NFL. It's hard to tell a kid, who one year ago was playing at Cabrillo College that he should turn down the guaranteed money of a third-round pick (a few hundred thousand dollars) in order to return to SJSU and risk injury. I will offer this, though: Another season like this one and a 6-foot-1 CB with great hands is probably a first-rounder, set to make a cool million in signing bonus alone.

As far as uplifting stories go David Sullivan's is near the top. He's an Iraq and Afghanistan Marine veteran, who walked on at SJSU. A great story, in fact one that's been told by other media outlets, but oddly not by the Merc, for whatever reason.

And not to be too praiseful, but the New Mexico papers have done an unbelievable job with their coverage. It's not just the bowl, but the Spartans they've covered real well. The Albuqurque Tribune gives us this one today, about Tomey's influence. They also give us this nugget that does a good job highlighting the Lobos' recent struggles and how much their fans expect this to be a cakewalk. It's odd, really, considering the Spartans really do seem to be the better team on paper, something everyone but UNM fans seem to understand.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's official: The Spartans will have to battle the elements, in addition to a hostile crowd and thin air, in their bowl game against New Mexico.

In case you haven't heard there's currently snow on the ground in Albuquerque and it will almost certainly be in the freezing range at game time. I suppose this can't be good news, but it's probably not that big of a deal considering New Mexico doesn't have to play in these conditions much, either. An informal count turns up roughly 19 players that grew up playing in games affected by snow, and most of them are from Albuquerque. Of course, that's 18 more than SJSU has, but our kids are mostly Northern Californians that can play in anything ;). The Albuqurque paper seems willing to call it a push.

More important than the weather, though, will be how New Mexico's freshman starting QB readjusts to his playing time. Apparently, he was pretty solid during a three-game winning streak (against the dregs of the MWC) but got hurt and hasn't played for over a month. We'll see.

The Spartans, on the other hand, will be hoping for the resurgence of Yonus Davis, who Mark Purdy columizes, unfortunately, it appears, from San Jose. I hope this doesn't mean we will be limited to game coverage from the Merc.

On the plus side, the Spartans' beat writer appears to be writing multiple stories, including this notebook.

One thing I love about bowl season (I actually don't, but this is my first experience caring) is all the stuff other than the game that goes on. So far, SJSU is holding its own, splitting a cooking/dancing contest with the heavily favoried Lobos, who won the chili-cookoff portion.

The winner of that contest only got bragging rights, but Saturday's winner gets this trophy, which would great in the Simpkins Center.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Spartans arrived in New Mexico today and understandably, the local press has welcomed them with several stories congratulating Dick Tomey on his turnaround.

The Merc, for its part, offered a much more focused version, focusing on the new defense Tomey installed last year and how he tweaked it to fit the Spartans' personnel.

The bad news? The weather will probably be bad: cold and perhaps snowy. The good news? New Mexico will be starting a fresman at quarterback.

Elsewhere in the WAC, Boise is preparing for its biggest game ever.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Just stumbled across this little nugget in the Idaho Statesman. It basically outlines a WAC plan to up the status of our little conference into something more comparable to the BCS conferences, and a step ahead of conferences like the MWC and C-USA.

It's a bold plan that basically calls for drastically increasing expenditure through academic quality, stadium size and athletic competitiveness. All nine presidents signed on to the plan that basically admits we're lucky to be considered 'second-class citizens' at this point.

If it works, it's a huge coup. If it fails, the conference probably folds as Boise, Fresno and maybe Nevada bail out and head for the MWC. That leaves SJSU, Hawaii and rest of us to start a new conference that will be a poor man's version of the Big West circa 1990.

So here's my idea: Let's expand to an even 10 schools and do what we can to lure a couple MWC schools over to the WAC.

As far as expansion goes I say we target Montana. Sure, it's a smallish school (but bigger than Idaho and Louisiana Tech), in a rural town (Missoula is actually bigger than Logan, Utah; Moscow, Idaho; and Rustin, La; as well as no farther removed from civilization than those schools plus Las Cruces, NM), with small facilities (but bigger than Idaho and its 23,000 capacity is close enough to everyone but Fresno and Hawaii). What I like about Montana is that they have repeatedly shown their mettle in basketball (appeared in the last two NCAA Tourneys and beat Nevada last year), been one of the top DIAA football programs (two titles and five title game appearances since 1995), a great women's b-ball team (16 tourney appearances and a 6-16 record) and already field squads in 12 sports. They have also shown a willingness to invest in athletics as evidenced by recent expansions in the football and basketball facilities. I think they are such a strong candidate that I think they should be admitted even if the other two parts of my plan can not be fulfilled.

As far as kicking out two schools to make room for the MWC schools, the most obvious candidates are Louisana Tech and Idaho. I have no idea if this is even legal, but it certainly would be logical to get rid of these two mistakes. Both were added out of a state of desperation and neither really offer any positives. They're rural, small and unsuccessful and have bad facilities to boot. Neither seems capable of upgrading anytime soon and LATech, particularily, makes for a horrible road trip in more ways than one. Overall, they really bring the conference down in ways that New Mexico State and Utah State don't. At least those schools seem to have a pulse, have shown some committment to improving and offer something regionally. Maybe the Sunbelt and Big Sky are better fits for them, anyway.

Which brings us to the next and most far-fetched aspect of my plan: luring San Diego State and UNLV out of the MWC and into the WAC. These are the most obvious targets since they offer something regionally -- UNLV has a natural rivalry with Nevada and San Diego State fits in perfectly with SJSU and Fresno. This also makes the WAC something that much more closely resembles its orginal intention. UNLV and SDSU were two of the schools that were invited into the MWC rather than among those leading its formation, which may also make them more likely to bail.

Even if only half of these essentially five moves can be accomplished, I think this positions the WAC as a considerably strong conference. A WAC with Montana and either SDSU or UNLV and minus either LaTech or Idaho would have numerous advantages over the current configuration, one way or the other. Just getting rid of LaTech, for example, eliminates tens of thousands of miles worthe of air travel every year. Getting rid of Idaho, a school that plays football and basketball in the same facility, immediately makes the WAC look less small time. Adding SDSU gives us a foothold in SoCal. Adding UNLV gives us a great venue for postseason activity. Adding Montana gives us another exciting up-and-coming school and hopefully makes the conference more attractive to Boise, something that can't be underestimated.

Taken as a whole this conference would be a clear rival to the Mountain West and Conference USA in terms of "Best Non-BCS Conference." It would also add the possibility of having a potentially lucrative conference title game as a 10-school conference is allowed to split into two divisions and host a title game. This has the added bonus of cutting down on travel. One division would likely look like this: SJSU, SDSU, Fresno, New Mexico State and Hawaii. Another might look like this: Nevada, UNLV, Utah State, Montana and Boise. Two strong divisions that would play three-four intra-division games each football season.

I'd put this up against the MWC or C-USA anyday, which is almost exactly what this story does.

Today's Merc installment addresses the benefits of just playing in a bowl game, which is a far cry from how it was five-10 years ago. Back then, at least according to a Sports Illustrated article, basically every team that played before New Year's Day lost money if they played in a bowl.

This was mainly because they were on the hook for thousands of tickets that often went unsold. When you factor in flying hundreds of faculty, staff and band folk, the expenditures can easily reach into the millions. Suffice it to say, most bowls don't pay out enough to cover that.

That's not the case anymore, apparently. The WAC now underwrites bowl expenses for all WAC-affiliated bowls and SJSU is on the hook for zero tickets. All ticket sales go to the WAC, not SJSU, so it's tough for us to make much money, either, but that was a pipedream, anyway.

As for the game itself, they're claiming to have about 27,000 of the 35,000 tickets sold, although mostly to instate fans. New Mexico officials of course have high-falutin dreams about the exposure their city will receive, and that's somewhat true. What they were surely hoping for but won't be getting is a city full of hotel guests. Sorry, SJSU just doesn't travel that well.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Mercury News is supposedly planning to write daily stories on the Spartans from now until the bowl game. Saturday supposedly started that streak with this story on the impact Dick Tomey had on the team. Really, there's nothing probing there, not really anything those of us who have followed the team didn't already know. Pretty disappointing, really.

The kicker to this story was the sidebar that accompanied it. It's basically a half-hearted homage to one Dr. Fitz Hill, who once again escapes direct blame for anything bad that happened at SJSU under his watch. By reading this story, you could be excused for believing that Hill was just the recipient of bad luck from an administration looking to throw someone under the bus.

While I don't discount the hardships Hill faced, he has never taken one bit of responsibility for the very numerous things that went wrong during his four-year tenure. So, I'll tick off his offenses and let you decide who got screwed.

2001: Inheriting a team that had gone 7-5 the previous season and returning most of the impact players, Hill started off 0-5 and finished 3-9, the first time since 1970 that a coach other than John Ralston had lost that many games.
Excuses: The team opened at USC, at Colorado, at Arizona State, and played eight road games.
Rebuttal: Losing those first three games is fine, but losing 104-30 in the final two games after hanging with USC was inexcusable. It also doesn't explain losing their first two WAC games and going 3-5 in conference, and failing to competitive in all but one road game. This team was obviously very talented, as evidenced by scoring more than 60 points on two separate occassions. It was also inexcusably inconsisstent, as it scored less than 17 points eight times. A perfect indicator: This team was outscored 295-461. That offensive output was actually deceiving in that more than half of thos points came in just three games. Defensively, that was a record of futility, rivaled only by John Ralston's 3-9 squad in 1996 that gave up 448. As we will learn, this will become a trend in the Fitz Hill era.

2002: Coming off what was generally considered a disappointing season, the Spartans opened up with light-weight Arkansas State and squeezed out a 33-18 win. That was followed by successive losses to Washington and Stanford, the latter 63-26, this season felt like here-we-go-again. But then this happened: a 38-35 victory at Illinois, the first time SJSU had beaten a BCS conference team other than Stanford since 1992. The Spartans eventually went 6-7, with the season ending on a sour note, a 19-16 loss to Fresno State with a bowl berth on the line.
Excuses: A lack of depth and another road-heavy schedule (nine games) left the Spartans bruised and beaten and unable to hold real practices.
Rebuttal: Again, he's got a point: nine road games is ridiculous and whoever decided to visit Ohio State in the middle of the season was pretty evil, but no team should ever give up 467 points in a season, and certainly not when schools like UTEP, SMU and Tulsa are scoring 23, 24 and 38 points, respectively. All in all, though, I think this was the one year he did a decent job.

2003: The year starts out with a 29-0 shutout of Grambling State -- a bonafide Division IAA power -- in front of the largest crowd in Spartan Stadium history that was broadcast on ESPN. Young, smart, black war-vetern is the coach of the up-and-coming Spartans. Good feelings. Great expectations...The Spartans lose their next four games and never recover, finishing 3-8.
Excuses: Road games, blah, blah, blah. This year, though, Hill had a new one: a home game. Although he wouldn't break this one out until late the next year, Hill claimed that he put so much time and energy into making the Grambling game a success that it sapped his energy for most of the next two seasons.
Rebuttals: Losing at Florida 65-3 in the second game of the season certainly hurt, but this season was nothing out of the ordinary as the Spartans played only two out-of-conference road games and one of them was at Stanford. The Grambling this is just bizzarre, but was THE sign that Hill was simply In over his head. There were other tell-tale signs, like the Spartans' 13-10 loss to Hawaii, in which the Spartans drove inside the Warriors' 5 with about 20 seconds remaining. With no timeouts remaining, the Spartans elected to run perhaps the one play that would take enough time to run out the clock and not give them a chance to attempt the tying field goal -- a long-developing TE screen that was stopped at the goalline. The Spartans tried to get a snap off, but ultimately were denied by the refs and were instead stuck with a mind-numbing loss to a highly touted team. A good coach shrugs his shoulders and moves on. A great coach takes responsibility and promises improvement. Hill blames the refs, never acknowledging what a stupid play-call he made even putting it on his offensive coordinator.

2004: In an attempt to make an annual to-do out of bringing a traditionally black college with a great marching band to Spartan Stadium, SJSU's home-opener is a blowout of Morgan State. That followed a 49-3 loss to Stanford and preceeded a 36-13 loss to lowly SMU. The Spartans then beat Rice 70-63 -- the highest scoring regulation game in NCAA history -- but that's when the roller-coaster ride stopped. Seven straight losses followed -- concluding with a 62-28 embarrassment to Fresno State. By the end of the season, barely anyone was coming to games, sometimes just a couple thousand, and cancelling football was a very real possibility.
Excuses: Hill broke out all the old standbys -- Long road trips, lack of players -- and really started to harp on a new one: No support from administration or students. Of course, the team's performance had something to do with this, but it had become a legitimate distraction none-the-less. He had probably lost the team, too, although he never used that as an excuse.
Rebuttals: Sure, the Spartans travelled to SMU, Washington, Hawaii and Tulsa, but three of those were conference games and only three games all year were outside the Pacific Time Zone. Really, this was the easiest schedule Hill ever had and it was the worst record he ever posted. Still, this team allowed a school record 469 points and held just two teams to fewer than 30 points in a game and allowed the opposition to score 40 or more points SIX times. This might have been the worst defense in NCAA history. Morgan State -- a middling DIAA program -- scored 28 points for god's sake. And there was never any accountability for this, just the same tired excuses. No assistant was ever fired by Hill in his four years, as far as I know, and he never took one ounce of responsibility for the team's struggles. After this debacle, many people, myself included, were willing to let football go.

There have been worse stretches in Spartan history in terms of record, but this was as bad as Sparta ever got. But through it all, Hill would have us believe that he was getting a raw deal, and maybe that's partly right. Maybe if he's a white coach, he gets one more year, although I doubt it. In fact, he probably gets less. I think he was simply consumed by the whole idea of being a head coach, to the point that he was completely overwhelmed. While there is no amount of excuses that explains his 14-33 record, I will give him this: As one of a handful of black IA coaches, he always felt he needed to succeed and maybe that pressure was too much for him to handle.

At times, he seemed so focused on things like HOW MANY scholarship players he had, that he seemed to forget what to do with them. Sometimes, he seemed so intent on not admitting that he had a staff full of inexperienced nobodies that he never wanted to blame them for anything. He seemed so defensive about the idea that he was representative of black coaches as a whole that he made an issue out of it. The sad thing is that Hill looked so good on paper: Young, smart, educated, a war vet, and he was black, too. Who better to lead the Spartans? But it all unraveled. The fact is a lot of his excuses had merit and a lot of what he says about the state of college football is right. But he had his chance to make things right and failed, miserably. Now he's a bad messenger.

His players did not graduate, did not stay eligible, had their trouble of off-field problems and DID NOT WIN. His willingness to bring religion into the lockerroom also supposedly alienated some players, while making others fiercely loyal. He was given four years and succeeded only in making the situation worse. Perhaps the only good thing he did was ensure the ouster of Chuck Bell, who refused to fire Hill and was therefore fired himself.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I've been having this ongoing debate with a couple of guys over at Wilner's blog regarding SJSU's move into the WAC. My bone of contention is that I don't think that it's suck a slamdunk that others seem to think it was. Sure, it looks good now, but for the past 10 years as all our high-profile teams have struggled to remain competitive and subsequently taken big hits at teh box office, I tend to think staying in the Big West might not have been so bad.

I don't have access to financial records or anything, but I'd imagine that we've spent at least twice as much on travel costs -- maybe considerably more -- by having to travel 16 different teams all over the country, as far north as Idaho, as far east as Louisianna, as far west as Hawaii and as far south as New Mexico. With the constant flux in membership -- at least since SJSU joined -- the travel issues have always been this way, sometimes even worse. With a much tighter-grouping of schools in the Big West, this is much less of an issue.

I'd imagine that massive amount of money spent on travel easily negates any gain we've made from regularly putting two-three teams in the NCAA Tournament -- schools are paid by number of teams from their conference and how far they go -- and having three bowl tie-ins with a fourth school often getting a more prestigous bowl -- like Boise in the Fiesta this year.

As far as prestige and image go, I just don't think SJSU has benefitted much here. Our teams have been so bad, I seriously doubt anyone looks at us and says "wow, I'm going to SJSU just because they play in the WAC." Sure, the conference gets better exposure than the Big West through its tv contracts, but SJSU rarely is picked for national broadcasts -- football has been on probably four times in 10 years and basketball, to my knowledge, has never made a national TV appearance. We get some of that money, but the prestige, image factor is essentially zero. I'd much rather have fielded competitive teams in the Big West than struggled in the WAC.

But that's where the rub lies. If we had still sucked in the Big West, I suppose we really would have cut football since there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and we certainly wouldn't ever gotten Dick Tomey. Still, I'll stick by my premise in this sense, if Bob Caret hadn't left, Leland Yu hadn't quit after one month and Don Kassing hadn't been hired as president we would not be where we are today. Kassing, more than membership in the WAC, is responsible for this. He had the foresight to fire Chuck Bell, fire Fitz Hill, fire Phil Johnson and hire Tom Bowen, who then started cleaning up the athletics department. These guys are responsible for making membership in the WAC work for us. Without these guys, we would have been better off staying in the Big West.

And where are we? We're playing in a bowl, something the Albuquerque Tribune apparently writes about on occassion.

Just wondering if the Merc is going to start writing anything about college football that doesn't focus on Stanford's cloak-and-dagger style search for a new coach.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another interesting factoid Mr. Wilner found for his blog was the idea that the bowl game -- while obviously great from a PR standpoint -- may actually be a benefit to SJSU financially, and at least shouldn't be a huge financial loss. Very good and very surprising. It also shows the WAC leadership might not be so bad.

For your daily history lesson, there this piece on former SJSU head coach Bob Broznan. Very informative.

In other news, CB Dwight Lowery was named third-team All-America by the Associated Press, good news but means he won't be a consensus All-America, for whatever that's worth. Also, even if you don't plan on attending, I think a nice little souvenir would be buying New Mexico Bowl tickets. Considering they are $30, doesn't sound like a bad idea to me. Apparently you can walk up the ticket office on Friday and walk with them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mr. Wilner shed some light how exactly the BCS money gets broken down, and apparently San Jose State gets an extra $300-400k, which basically pays for the first year of Coach Tomey's new contract. Not a bad deal, but not exactly the huge windfall I thought this was. Don't get me wrong, I'll take that money, but it hardly is the kind of money that changes a school's fortune.

Found this a little more interesting because I recently discussed Tomey's extension with my step-mother -- the SJSU administrator -- who hadn't heard about said extension. When I told her that he'd be getting close to $500k a year, reportedly, she did the raised eyebrow thing and said something to effect "It will be interesting to see how that goes over with the faculty." Obviously, SJSU people don't really see themselves as the kind of university that pays its football coach considerably more than any other person on campus, including his bosses. This should definitely be interesting, especially considering this was the same school whose Academic Senate voted to downgrade the football program to Division IAA less than two years ago.

Anyway, I initially thought that extra BCS money would essentially cover the extension, but, in reality, it covers just one year of it, which makes it less relevant to the greater issue.

Which brings me to my next issue, which I'll try to address in the coming days, Has SJSU's move from the Big West to the WAC -- roughly 10 years ago -- been a good one for us, bad or somewhere in the middle? I'll try to answer this in terms of money, exposure and athletics success. My guess: It was a slight upgrade financially, but any real benefit was ruined when the Mountain West Conference formed (which I'll argue SJSU was at least party at fault for), it hurt us athletically, but was ultimately inevitable.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One of the best things about bowl season is the sheer amount of build-up each game is afforded. For San Jose State, that means today's story in the Merc. Basically, it's a look back on the last bowl team, and what a team it was.

I was far too young to appreciate it, but that team was pretty much the greatest to ever dawn the blue and gold. A 49-7 win over Central Michigan capped a 9-2-1 season.

What seemed, to those involved, thought it was the season that would have a lasting effect on SJSU's perception, instead was just the peak of a small mountain.

But I digress, read the story if you're that interested.

In other news, Dennis Erickson left Idaho after one losing season. Truly a sad commentary on a gutless coach with little ability to stand by convictions. Oh, sorry, still love watching that guy do the wrong thing whenever the opportunity presents itself. Love it, love it, love it. What makes it even better is that the Idaho AD beat Arizona State to the punch, announcing Erickson's departure perhaps days before ASU was ready to announce Erickson's arrival. It would be so awesome to see this deal fall apart.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

About a week ago, I asked Jon Wilner where he thought the Spartans ranked in comparison to the other Division I programs, he said they were probably in the 50-70 range. That's probably about right, especially considering the paucity of talent the Spartans were allowed to match up with this year. Further cementing that ranking is Jeff Sagarin, the famed statistician who does rankings for USA Today. He pegs the Spartans at No. 69., at the bottom end of the middle third of Division IA. He also ranks five Division I-AA schools above us, which I'll quibble with, but can't really refute.

CBS Sportsline, which ranks all 119 Division IA schools, puts SJSU at No. 50. That's ahead of such notable schools as Florida State, Miami, Alabama and Minnesota -- all schools that finished 6-6.

Comparitively, Sagarin doesn't have us above any BCS-conference schools that have as many as six wins.

Don't know what either of these things mean, ultimately, but they are huge improvements from last year, in which CBS ranked us No. 113 and Sagarin had us at 127 out of 239 and behind 23 AA schools.

The part of my question, though, that Wilner did not answer was how the WAC stacked up agains the other IA conferences. I'll attempt to give us an idea here:

Sagarin, for instance, has Boise -- the WAC's top team -- ranked No. 8, ahead of the winners of both the Big East (Wake Forest, No. 31) and Big XII (Oklahoma No. 14), not to mention way ahead of the other "mid-major" winners like the Mountain West (BYU, No. 21), Conference USA (Houston, No. 51, behind even Hawaii at No. 28 and Nevada at 50), the Mid-America (Central Michigan, No. 61) or Sun Belt (Middle Tennessee, No. 79).

CBS has Boise at No. 5, ahead of even USC and LSU. While I appreciate the gesture, I just don't know how you can really say Boise is better than USC or LSU, so I am somewhat inclined to discount that particular ranking.

I'm also just going to assume the Pac-10, SEC, Big 10 and Big XII are just flat out tougher conferences. I'm going to also throw the ACC out, since week in and week out, I just have a hard time believing that anyone other than Boise could hang in that conference and finish with a winning record.

I'm also going to assume that the Sunbelt is an inferior conference, since even their best school is really a glorified IAA program.

That leaves the WAC competing with the likes of the Big East, Conference USA, Mountain Wet and MAC.

Since my goal is to determine the best conference, and not which has the best one or two schools, I'm going to throw out the top two and bottom two schools of each conference. What I want to determine is which has the toughest week-to-week matchups and is most competitive. That means Boise won't factor into the WAC's overall strength, but neither will Utah State (116 in CBS, 166 on Sagarin). It will also make my job easier, as it will eliminate four schools from each conference.

Next, I'll take the remaining schools rankings from both polls and average them out. For the sake of this discussion, the top averages will be determined better conferences. Fun, huh?

I'll release my findings shortly. But here's my guess: the Big East will come out on top, but barely. The WAC will come in second. Conference USA will edge out the MWC and the MAC will straggle in at No. 5.

The findings are in and ... I vastly overvalued our conference. While our best teams stack up well against the other conference's best and our second tier is fine, the back end of the conference leaves much to be desired.

According to my average the Big East is by far the best of these conferences, better even than the ACC. The Big East, helped largely by Rutgers No. 13 CBS and 16 Sag. rankings, collectively pulled in an average of 44 CBS and 36 Sag. The ACC is a 58/50, but still much better than the next best conference, the MWC (73.4/84.8) which was a nose better than C-USA (75.625/87.375). The WAC was next in line (79.6/97.2) and the MAC pulls up the rear (82.25/107.12).

What this tells me is that Sagarin has much more love for the BCS schools than most others do, but also that the BCS conferences are really quite a bit deeper than even the best mid-majors. Even the MWC has schools like San Diego State that ranked 105/119 winning three conference games.

Take this for what it's worth, though, if TCU, SMU, UTEP and Tulsa had not all left the WAC in the past five years, we would easily have the best mid-major conference and would possibly rival the ACC or Big East, especially considering Louisiana Tech, Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State took their places and are the schools most responsible for our lack of depth.

On the flip side, SJSU would not be 8-4 with that conference and almost definitely would not be bowling.

Friday, December 08, 2006

So Dick Tomey is staying put and will get an addition $200-300k per season to do that. Money well spent if you ask me. If all goes according to plan, by the time he leaves in 2010, there will be new stands, a new scoreboard and a football program that will be able to stand on its own two feet. Fingers crossed.

I will add this caveat, according to a recent report, SJSU ranks last among the 56 bowl teams in graduation rate. A whopping 32 percent of players finished their degree, and I'm guessing that study was done a year or two ago. You can't really blame Tomey for this one, since he has only been here less than two years. You can blame the incomparable Fitz Hill, though, who ironically is actually employed by the school that ran that study. Oh, how I disliked Dr. Fitz Hill and his prostelitizing ways.

I'm a litle disappointed that the Merc ignored this, at least so far, but I will offer this defense of our wonderful school: It's pretty hard for anyone to graduate from SJSU. Maybe this will shed some light on the ridiculousness that passes for an admissions and records department.

Here's the link to the actual report, just click on the first item and it will give you a PDF version of the report. One silver lining, SJSU has one of the smallest discrepencies between the graduation rate of its white and black players, so that's something. At least we're not racist, like say, Ohio State, which has something like a 60 percent differential. Truly appalling stuff.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

BREAKING NEWS (sorta): Dick Tomey clearly states that he will NOT being going to Stanford. According to Jon Wilner's blog a Mercury News reporter asked the question flat-out today and Tomey laughed, laughed some more, composed himself and then basically said he's not at all interested in leaving SJSU. Rather, it looks like he'll be getting a nice extension. Yay!.

Maybe you've been paying attention, maybe you haven't, but last week I alerted my loyal reader() to an developing situation with the SJSU women's basketball team. Apparently, it's pretty much blowing up. The women's coach was already on leave; the men's coach has taken over control of the program; a men's assistant is running the team; and now there are rape allegations, two lost scholarships, a coach who while recovering from cancer was told to stay away from the team, and an 0-9 record. Very bad times. It's a compelling read, although it's still very unclear what malice actually happened. From the sound of it, a women's player THINKS she was raped by a men's player and some of the women's players THINK their old coach, Janice Richard, has been treated unfairly. Of course, there are multiple sides to both stories.

Almost lost in this mess is that the women's team is losing two scholarships for failing to meet academic requirements. Uh, that's bad. Janice Richard is probably, almost without doubt actually, the greatest coach in the not-so-illustrious history of SJSU women's basketball. On the court, she has been a beacon of light where before there was only a deep, cavernous tomb where coaches took their dying breaths. She has made SJSU a contender and brought us to the brink of the NCAA Tournament. But, if she can't graduate players, maybe SJSU should go in another direction. Hope she gets well, soon, though.

On the football front, one would imagine Stanford won't try to hire Dick Tomey away, ala Terry Shea or Jack Elway. He's got a few things going against him, mainly age. But one could hardly blame him if he accepted the job. I'd question Stanford's intentions, considering the best-case scenario would probably be getting him for four years. But hiring younger coaches hasn't exactly worked out for them recently.

A little more realistic possibility, would be Stanford hiring one of SJSU's stellar assistants. Ken Margerum and Tom Williams are Stanford alums and probably interested, but they're also relatively unproven. Stanford has got to do more than hire some largely unknown assistant from of their lesser rivals.

On a lighter note, the New Mexico Tourism Board recently promoted Sports Illustrated's naming of the New Mexico Bowl as the "32nd most intriguing bowl matchup" ... out of 32 bowls. For the record, I taken upbridge with that. I just looked at the other 31 bowl games and there are at least one or two less interesting than ours.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

There's some quality conversation going on over at the Merc's College Hotline, so I'm providing a link to the site in general. Surprisingly, there's as lot about SJSU in there.

Othere than that, it's a pretty slow news day, and I'd imagine it will stay that way until the bowl gets a little closer.

I'm going to continue working my story, and I'm seeing about lining up interviews with President Don Kassing and John Ralston and trying to get into a pre-New Mexico Bowl press conference. We'll see where that goes.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Apparently the Merc's Jon Wilner agrees with me about the Fresno State game. And I'll reiterate one last time: This was the BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR. Tomey coached like it was, the team played like it was and the fans reacted like it was. The rest of the season, while not completely meaningless, would have been incomplete without this win. And, no, it doesn't mean any less just because Fresno State was suffering through its worst season in a long time. It just meant it was that much more important for the Spartans to win.

Think about it this way: No player on the Spartans had ever beaten FSU; none of them had even played with someone who had; those guys had never played with anyone who had; and those guys had never played with anyone who had. There's an off chance a couple of those guys played with someone who had beaten Fresno State, but they might never have even played with anyone who had beaten the Bulldogs.

For the sake of this post, let's consider a "generation" four years. The Spartans had not beaten the Bulldogs in four "generations." If a generation is generally considered 25 years, we're talking about the equivalent of 100 years since the Spartans last beat the Bulldogs. If a school's football legacy is passed down like a family's legacy that's like asking our players to imagine an era without electricity.

Well, we don't have to do that anymore. For the forseeable future, Spartans can actually talk about the time when we beat Fresno. They can use that in all sorts of ways. But most of all, it won't seem like this totally unattainable goal, the way it probably has for the past 5-10 years. HUGE WIN.

Another area where this pays dividends is on the recruiting trail. I trust that in the hands of a good football man like Dick Tomey this season will be more than an aberration. Although, it does worry me that the top four WRs and top FIVE safeties are all seniors. Still, I'll take this over the constant talk of sheer numbers Fitz Hill used to harp on. "We ONLY have 65 players on scholarship."

In other news, two Spartans -- CB Dwight Lowery and punter Waylon Prather -- were named to the first-team All-WAC. Seven other made the second team.

Monday, December 04, 2006

So, I've had a day to think about that win ... and it still feels great. Easily the most enjoyable game I've ever attended, and I won't couch this one by adding "at San Jose State." No question, this was more enjoyable than beating Stanford.

Not to sound too cheesy, but I was nearly moved to tears when Dwight Lowery intercepted that ball to seal the victory. This is the first time SJSU has beaten Fresno State since I started caring what happened, and it was really starting to get old. I seriously (that's for you Mike) think we could lose the bowl game and still feel like this was a great season. In fact, if we had just won against Stanford and Fresno State, I'd feel pretty happy about this season. The fact that we won six other games and get to play one more, that's almost unbelievable.

The crowd storming the field was an honest-to-god goosebumps moment. Very nice, very real, very deserved.

The play of the game, no doubt, was the punt-it-no-go-for-it touchdown that gave the Spartans their 21-14 lead. The Merc's notebook does a good job describing it.

As for the postgame coverage we received, I was mostly pleasantly surprised. I was worried the Merc might not send a photographer and rely on AP. I was wrong and they turned in a very good audio slideshow that is definitely worth watching. The gamer? Not bad.

Of course, that's more than I can say for Mark Purdy's garbage. My anger is mainly pointed at one line in which he feels the need to say "As always there were less people than you would expect" and "althoug the crowd was announced at 22,000, it looked more like 15,000." Yeah, I would have liked to see more people there, too. But you know what would have helped? Some publicity! And since when is Mark Purdy an expert at crowd counting? All I can tell you is that the lower bowl was just about filled and with a few hundred people in the uppper deck, that crowd number seems about right to me. Plus, in a season in which SJSU drew more than 20,000 to a game three times for the first time since 1986, why is carping about attendance worthwhile?

More importantly, why even bring up the crowd, especially on a day when it was so good and active? Just don't get that guy.

Oddly, the Fresno Bee never bothers to frame the game in that of a rivalry. Here's the gamer, but take my word for it that none of the three stories they wrote mentions that aspect.

John Ryan of the Merc says SJSU's season was so good, they deserve a shot at the BCS title game.

The men's basketball team got its first win of the season. Amazingly, it came against a pretty decent Cal Poly team.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

We beat Fresno State. Check out the photos on that link. Good times. More on this tomorrow.

I've pretty much said my piece about today's game, so I won't opine too much. But I will say this, the Merc should be embarrassed at their coverage of the game.

Look, I understand we here in the Bay Area want to pretend that the "Big Game" is this huge deal and that people unaffiliated with those schools care, but it's just not true. I've never met someone who cared about that game unless they went to one of the schools. And when one team is nationally ranked and the other is one of the worst 10 teams in the nation? People forget the game is even happening.

But, I'm assuming that's the main reason SJSU got pushed off the front page all week and why there probably won't even be a photographer, let alone a columnist, at THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR.

That being said Laurence Midema did a nice retrospective on the current state of the rivalry. Like I've said, he and Jon Wilner do a bangup job.

The Chronicle also jumped back on the bandwagon after almost two solid weeks of totally ignoring us. This piece also is a bit of a retrospective.

The Fresno Bee looks at the hard-to-explain fall from grace for Fresno State. The author pins it on "senioritis" which is pretty hard to understand. Aren't senior-laden teams supposed to be good?

Women's basketball update: Men's coach George Nessman has taken over the team and assigned one of his assistants to be the head coach, according to the Merc. The old coach is reportedly being investigated from making inappropriate comments to players. This can not be good for either team.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Merc is KILLING ME. It's now one day before our BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON and they still haven't given us any predominant play. Today, we got a notebook. It's not bad, reminded me that we almost beat Fresno State in 2002 and that we almost made a bowl game that year, but that doesn't help the cause.

God bless Laurence Midema and Jon Wilner's blessed little hearts for doing what they can for us, but we need some of the big guns. But apparently, Mark Purdy is too busy whining about the SF politico's whining to notice us. We get it Mark, you've remade yourself as a Silicon Valley homer. You've made this crystal clear. But how about throwing a little love our way since we are the ONLY TEAM FROM SAN JOSE playing meaningful games right now.

Leave it to the Fresno Bee to pick up the slack. This is a better overview on the program than anything our locals have written.

But I digress.

At some point, I'm going to try to write a definitive piece that examines the past 20 or so years of Spartan football. It's a pretty dramatic story, from Claude Gilbert's building a near powerhouse; to Terry Shea and Ron Turner parlaying good seasons into big paychecks elsewhere; to John Ralston making a mokery of the program while compiling a 11-34 record over four seasons; the mini-resurgence under Dave Baldwin that was torpedoed by his stupid contract demands after the TCU upset; to the depths of the Fitz Hill era in which attendance plummeted to less than 7,000 per game nearly leading to the cancellation of the football program; and now to a bowl bid. Crazy stuff, we'll see if I can actually make anything of it.

In other SJSU news, there's bad stuff going on at the Event Center:
All is not well on the Women's b-ball team.