San Jose State is just two years removed from a 1-11 campaign, so excuse the No. 24 Spartans if they are a little bit giddy to be playing conference power Boise State in the Mountain West championship game Saturday in Las Vegas.
San Jose State (6-0, 6-0 MW) is typically a punching bag for the Broncos, who have won all 14 all-time meetings. The Spartans also are attempting to start 7-0 for the first time since the school’s 1939 squad went unbeaten in 13 contests.
The program last had a winning record in 2012 — its final campaign in the Western Athletic Conference before joining the Mountain West — and San Jose State coach Brian Brennan’s name is suddenly in the coaching speculation mill (with Arizona) despite having an 8-29 mark with the Spartans before this season.
“We are climbing the mountain, and that’s all I’m worried about right now. That’s it,” Brennan said, swiping off rumor chat. “This team, moving forward, is playing in the biggest game in the history of our school.”
The “biggest game” tag fits in the eyes of junior defensive end Cade Hall, who has a team-leading eight sacks this season to earn Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“Being on a team that was 1-11 and then being where we’re at now feels really good because we’ve been on both sides,” Hall told reporters. “We’ve put in the work to try and turn this thing around. It feels great.”
San Jose State is the host team for the game in Sam Boyd Stadium because it recently relocated its program to Las Vegas due to Santa Clara County’s restrictions on contact sports because of the COVID-19 surge in the area.
San Jose State and the Broncos (5-1, 5-0) were scheduled to play in Boise on Nov. 28 but the contest was scrapped just hours before kickoff due to COVID-19 issues in the Boise State program. The Mountain West declared the game a no-contest.
The Broncos have continued to have COVID-19 issues and played short-handed — only two quarterbacks suited up — and without multiple assistant coaches for last Saturday’s 17-9 win in the snow at Wyoming.
“It’s tough,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said earlier this week. “I can tell you that. We had some of our players doing things coaches normally do.”
The Broncos have won three straight games since being trounced 51-17 by then-No. 9 BYU on Nov. 6 in Boise.
Though Boise State typically has few issues with the Spartans — six of the wins are by at least 35 points — Harsin is concerned about the latest matchup.
“It is all San Jose State. We are focused on what we have to do this week to play against a very good team,” Harsin said. “San Jose State is good. We have done some good things this season. We got to get ourselves ready.
“This is why you work so hard to be in a game like this and play for a championship.”
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier has passed for 929 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions in four games for a Boise State offense averaging a Mountain West-leading 36.2 points per game. Receiver Khalil Shakir had 46 catches for 634 yards and six touchdowns.
The Broncos allow 26.0 points per game with standout all-conference cornerback Avery Williams also being named Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year for the second straight season. Williams scored three special teams’ touchdowns this season — two on kickoff returns, and one on a blocked punt that he returned for a touchdown.
In his career, Williams has returned five punts and three kickoffs for scores.
The Spartans are averaging 30.3 points on offense while limiting opponents to 17.5 points per game. San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel, a transfer from Arkansas, has passed for 1,453 yards and 13 touchdowns and been intercepted just four times.
–Field Level Media