SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  San Jose St. Spartans

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Fitz Hill (3rd year, 9-16)
2002 record: 6-7
WAC finish: T-4th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 112.2 ypg
(9th in WAC, 99th in nation)
Pass: 263.4 ypg (5th, 24th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 192.9 ypg (8th, 98th)
Pass: 300.5 ypg (10th, 116th)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR  Kendrick Starling  Sr. 
WR   3   Tuati Wooden   Sr.  
WR   11   Jamall Broussard   Sr.  
LT   70   Joseph Hayes   Sr.  
LG  65  Kevin Israel  Sr. 
C   77   LaMons Walker   Sr.  
RG   66   Justin Arrington   Sr.  
RT   78   Jeff Gordon   Sr.  
TE  19  Courtney Anderson  Sr. 
QB   5   Scott Rislov   Sr.  
TB  36  Damarcus Ingram  Sr. 
Defense (6)
DE  49  Tony Ficklin  Jr. 
DT   69   Kinji Green   So.  
DT  54  Larnell Ransom  So. 
DE   56   Philip Perry   Sr.  
LB   35   Onyeka Ossai   Sr.  
LB   9   Paul Okumu   Sr.  
CB  34  Trestin George  So. 
CB  24  Malcolm Thompson  So. 
S   33   Josh Powell   Jr.  
21  Eric Wilson  Jr. 
S   38   Gerald Jones   Sr.  
Special Teams
Jeff Carr  Jr. 
97  Bryce Partridge  Sr. 
KR  Kendrick Starling  Sr. 
PR  Kendrick Starling  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 23  Grambling 
Aug. 30  at Florida 
Sept. 6  at Stanford 
Sept. 18  Nevada 
Sept. 27  at Nebraska 
Oct. 4  at Rice 
Oct. 11  SMU 
Oct. 25  at Boise State 
Nov. 1  Hawaii 
Nov. 8  at UTEP 
Nov. 15  at Fresno State 
Nov. 22  Tulsa 
San Jose State coach Dr. Fitz Hill knows the definition of the word "obstacles."

A Bronze Star veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the 39-year-old native of Arkadelphia, Ark., is one of just four African-American head coaches among the nation's 117 Division I-A football programs. When he was attending college, his father died and his mother suffered a stroke within a span of six weeks.

So when presented with arguably the toughest schedule in college football in 2002 -- 13 games in 13 weeks, nine of them on the road at places like Ohio State, Washington and Illinois -- with only 61 players on scholarship, Hill didn't complain. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and turned in one of the best coaching jobs in the country. The Spartans upset defending Big Ten champion Illinois, stayed even with eventual national champ Ohio State for much of the first half and came within a quarter of recording a winning record for just the second time since 1992.

San Jose State lost its regular-season finale to archrival Fresno State 19-16 to finish 6-7. But with 13 starters back from that squad, another strong recruiting class and a more realistic schedule that includes three bye weeks, Hill believes he has the makings of a team that could contend for the WAC title.

With road games at Florida, Stanford, Boise State and Fresno State, a winning season still might seem a little farfetched for the Spartans. Still, if Hill's track record is any indication, don't bet against it.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Hill took his share of criticism at the start of the 2002 season when he benched record-setting senior Marcus Arroyo in lieu of unproven junior college transfer Scott Rislov.

There was, however, no second-guessing at the end of the season. Rislov ranked among the top 30 quarterbacks nationally in total offense (24th) and passing efficiency (30th) and set five school records. He also put up an impressive 4.0 grade-point average and is being touted by the school for Academic All-American honors this year.

Rislov is one of seven returning starters on what figures to be a potent offense. Junior college transfer Tyson Thompson is expected to be one of the top newcomers in the WAC this year. He should give a significant boost to a ground game that averaged just 112 yards per game. Thompson will have some tough competition for playing time, however. The Spartans' three top rushers -- junior Lamar Ferguson, junior Lance Martin and senior Damarcus Ingram -- all return.

Three of Rislov's top four targets are back. Jamall Broussard led the team with 62 receptions, while Kendrick Starling and Tuati Wooden also had solid seasons. The trio combined for 146 catches and 12 touchdowns.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Whether the Spartans can make a legitimate run at the WAC title will depend largely upon how much the defense improves. San Jose State allowed a pitiful 4.8 yards per carry and 192.9 rushing yards per game. The Spartans also struggled badly against the pass, allowing 32 touchdown passes and over 300 yards passing per game.

Senior Philip Perry, one of six returning starters, anchors the defensive line. He finished tied for third in the nation with seven forced fumbles and also had seven sacks. Both starting tackles, senior Steve Nash and sophomore Kinji Green, also return. And a big boost figures to come in the fall when highly regarded junior college defensive linemen Eddie Brown, Andrew Paopao and Michael Hodges all join the team.

The secondary returns three starters, including senior safety Gerald Jones, who finished third in the nation with eight interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Spartans must replace punter Michael Carr, kicker Nick Gilliam and star return man Charles Pauley.

Senior Bryce Partridge and junior Jeff Carr are battling for the No. 1 punting job, while true freshman Jeff Ferrier, rated the top place-kicker in California by one scouting service, is expected to take over kicking and kickoff duties.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

With seven starters returning on offense, including Rislov, the Spartans should be able to score their share of points again this season. The big question is, can they stop anybody? Hill made upgrading his team's leaky defense a top priority in the spring and seemed to be satisfied with the results. The Spartans should also benefit from a more realistic and less rigorous travel schedule. San Jose State must visit The Swamp to play Florida on Aug. 30, but the only other non-conference road trip is a short bus ride to Palo Alto to play Bay Area rival Stanford. And three byes should prove to be beneficial to a team that still has just 71 players on scholarship. If the Spartans can avoid key injuries and play solid defense, they might make a run at the WAC title.

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