NCAA Football Preview - San Jose State Spartans
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From The Sports Network By Gregg Xenakes, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: San Jose State hasn't had very much success in the world of college football over the last few seasons, and 2003 was no different as the squad finished up a disappointing 3-8. The team participated in the first official game of the season and promptly disposed of the Grambling State Tigers, 29-0 at home, giving fans just a little bit of hope that the season might be heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, after that win the Spartans had to figure out a way to combat two other non-conference foes in Florida and Stanford. Against the Gators, San Jose State was completely consumed in a 65-3 rout on the road, but at least the contest with the Cardinal was a bit closer at 31-10. Without dwelling too much on the fact that the team finished eighth in the Western Athletic Conference with a record of 2-6, SJSU had just two other wins to its credit in 2003, a 31-14 victory over the league's doormat (SMU) and a 69-41 offensive onslaught at Texas-El Paso. However, it is difficult to give the campaign a full overview without recognizing that the Spartans also came out on the short end of a 77-14 decision versus league champion Boise State in Idaho at the end of October. Perhaps the best thing to come out of last season for San Jose was the fact that Neil Parry made it back to the gridiron for a few plays after missing nearly three full years following the amputation of his right leg. More than anything, aside from Parry's drive and will to get back to the game that he loved, it showed the commitment that head coach Fitz Hill has to his players, the program and the community at-large, going above and beyond what the scoreboard might say at the end of 60 minutes of play. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Hill, now in his fourth season at the helm of the Spartans, has a lot of rebuilding to do on the offensive side of the ball. Even with a record of just 12-24 with the program, Hill doesn't yet feel the pressure of his job slipping away, thanks to a contract extension. The program has just two returning starters listed on offense, namely seniors Lance Martin at tailback and Osmar Staples at the offensive tackle position. Last season Martin, who is one of only two three-time letterwinners on the squad, led the team in rushing with 520 yards, finding the end zone twice. That sort of success might be a stretch for him this year if the offensive line does not measure up with the likes of William Obeng, Marcel Burrough, Matt Cantu and Chad Lerette clearing the way. Riding in to hopefully save the day at the quarterback spot is senior Dale Rogers, who completed three of the four passes he attempted last year behind Scott Rislov. Often utilizing a three wideout set, Rogers will try to put the ball into the hands of Casey Miranda, John Broussard or Rufus Skillern, a trio who combined for a total of just 18 catches a season ago. After the start of spring practice Hill was said to be happy with his depth at the running back spot, which also includes junior Lamar Ferguson (out last year while rehabbing a knee injury) to help improve upon one of the league's worst rushing attacks last year (104 yards a game on the ground). DEFENSE: While the offense looks a bit bare as far as experienced starters is concerned, the defensive outlook is somewhat brighter with six returning starters. At the top of that list has to be safety Josh Powell, named to the Bronko Nagurski Watch List heading into the campaign. The junior, who started in 2002 and made three starts at the beginning of the 2003 season before going down with an ankle injury, was second on the team two years ago with four interceptions. Senior cornerback Marshall Hendricks is a sprite runner who will grow stronger as the season wears on. Up front the Spartans bring back three on the line in defensive ends Tony Ficklin and Sean McNamara, as well as tackle Kinji Green. However, the depth chart shows that Ficklin has been dropped to second string and moved to the other tackle position, replaced at end by junior Larnell Ransom, who made a grand total of 18 stops in 2003. Penciled in as a returning starter at outside linebacker, Eric Wilson is probably going to be one of the new safeties for the group, while juniors Jamonte Cox and Ezekiel Staples take the center of the field on a regular basis. Regardless of who is playing where, the Spartans have their work cut out for them in the offense-driven WAC, especially after giving up an average of nearly 460 yards a game in total offense a season ago. For the third time in as many years the Spartans are bringing in another defensive coordinator, this time its former Tulsa head coach Keith Burns, showing just how tight the WAC coaching community can be these days. SPECIAL TEAMS: As the team's top scorer from 2003, placekicker Jeff Carr is again back in the fold for coach Hill. Carr made good on all but one of his 29 extra-point attempts and knocked through 11-of-17 field goal tries to register 61 points. Last year Dale Rogers was the backup punter for the group with an average of 43.3 yards on three kicks, but because he will now be under center more often than not, Waylon Prather will more than likely get the call to pin the opposition down, even though he is just a freshman. OUTLOOK: Refusing to back down from accepting invitations from schools that can and will crush them on the field, the Spartans are in for another long, long season. Seeing as how the WAC media picked them to finish last in the league, pretty much everyone is in agreement on that one. This season's non- conference schedule includes another bout with Northern California neighbor Stanford, as well as San Diego State to the South and Washington further north. At least the meeting with Morgan State in mid-September should provide for an early victory, but even that is not guaranteed at this point.