College Football Week 14 A Doormat Grows Up

The 2006 San Jose State Spartans have been to the mountaintop. Projected by the WAC media poll to finish dead last in the conference, the Spartans have followed former University of Arizona head man Dick Tomey to their best record since 2000. (Since 1992, the program's won-loss record is 45-102, a robust 31% winning clip.) San Jose St. is 7-4 overall, 4-3 in the very competitive WAC, beat Stanford, lost by six to Washington and lost by three to BCS-bound Boise St. Because they were able to win their seventh game last week against Idaho, this December, the Spartans will be invited to a bowl game for the first time in 16 years the New Mexico Bowl, where they'll play, er, New Mexico.

Perfect scenario for a letdown, right Watch highlights of your bowl-clinching victory on the plane ride home from Moscow (the Idaho kind, not the Russian), dream of all the free stuff you'll get down in Albuquerque a couple days before Christmas, get fat and happy and ignore the season finale.

Fat chance. San Jose St. hosts Fresno St. in their last regular-season game of 2006, and they've got revenge on their minds. These teams have played every year since 1996, and the Bulldogs have won every single meeting. Ouch. And that includes some massive beat-downs last year, Fresno St. won 45-7; in '04 it was 62-28; in '03 it was 41-7, and on and on. The Spartans haven't won against the Bulldogs since 1990.

This year the Bulldogs are one season removed from a great campaign, in which they nearly beat USC and did beat Boise St., and were projected to contend for the league crown once again in '06. That hasn't happened; the Bulldogs are 4-7 overall and 4-3 in the conference. They lost inexplicable games to Utah St. and Colorado St., and have been consistently overrated by bettors all year they're 3-13 against the spread in their last 16 games (dating back to a four-game losing streak that ended '05), 1-8 ATS in their last nine conference games, 1-11 ATS in their last 12 games on grass, 0-8 ATS against teams with winning records, and 0-6 ATS on the road. Coach Pat Hill has gone back and forth with his quarterback, starting with Tom Brandstater, benching him and going with Sean Norton, and then coming back to Brandstater. Running back Dwayne Wright has been very good, averaging 123 yards a game (including the 295 he just racked up last week against Louisiana Tech), and the Bulldogs have won three in a row outright (though they covered in only one of those games). But their seven-game losing streak earlier in the season was their worst skein in 77 years.

The Spartans, by contrast, have been very good in all games except against the dominant offense of Hawaii (they allowed 54 points to the Rainbows on the road; then against, the Bulldogs gave up 68 to Hawaii at home) and the rugged defense of Nevada. SJSU junior corner Dwight Lowery is a first-team All-American, and will be the best player on the field Saturday afternoon (it's the first time in 35 years San Jose St. has had an All-American football player). On offense, the Spartans boast a rushing attack that's just about the equal of Fresno St.'s, behind RBs Yonus Davis and Patrick Perry, and quarterback Adam Tafralis is just good enough to take advantage of the Bulldogs' pass defense, which is 89th-best in the nation in terms of passing yards allowed per game, and has allowed 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions. And while both of these defenses can be had via the ground, and while SJSU's per-game yards rushing allowed average is worse (150 to 137), these teams are matched in yards-per-carry-allowed, at 4.1 ypc allowed.

Having caught the gambling public by surprise this year with a successful year well in advance of expectations, SJSU is also quite good against the number. They're 7-3 against the spread this year, and on a 4-1 ATS streak; they're 12-2 ATS in their last 14 as a favorite; they're 4-1 ATS against conference teams; and they're 4-1 ATS in home games. Tomey was part of the University of Texas's Rose-bowl-winning staff in 2004, and was renowned for his Desert Swarm defenses at Arizona in the 1990s. His personnel at SJSU certainly isn't anywhere near that quality yet, but the team is motivated, isn't looking past Fresno St. to the excitement of a bowl game, and has kept the memory of recent detonations at the hands of the Bulldogs fresh. I'm taking San Jose St. at home over Fresno St. (-4) in a revenge game of the highest order.

Last Week Ohio University did us right the second time around, as a three-point favorite against their archrivals, Miami of Ohio. The game was a whole of nail-biting when Miami tied the score, 24-24, early in the fourth quarter, but the Bobcats responded with a five-play, 73-yard drive, and salted away the deal with a field goal just four minutes later, for a 34-24 win. No sweat. (Sure.) That squares Ohio with us, since we lost a one-point heartbreaker with them earlier this year. For the season, our record stands at 8-5 against the number.