Fitz Hill, in his fourth year as head coach at San Jose State, must start all over again in an effort to turn around this troubled program.
After a 6-7 season in 2002, all fell apart in '03's miserable 3-8 campaign. The Spartans didn't pull off a single upset, and their three victories came over Division I-AA Grambling State and underdogs SMU (0-12) and UTEP (2-11).
Quarterback Scott Rislov, a former junior college transfer, is gone after two solid seasons in San Jose. And the program, which has drawn poorly of late at home, is being threatened by new NCAA attendance regulations that could result in its demotion from I-A. On campus, a small, but vocal, group of faculty members wants big-time football dropped.
Hill, with two more years on his contract, must rebuild trust in the program and attract some fans to Spartan Stadium, one of the worst venues in the WAC.
OffenseThe two leading candidates to replace Rislov at quarterback are redshirt freshman Adam Tafralis and fifth-year senior Dale Rogers.
The Spartans rely on skill-position players because they lack the muscle to physically beat up opponents. If someone can get the ball to wide receivers Rufus Skillern or John Broussard, there could be positive results.
What San Jose State's yet-to-be-determined quarterback won't have is an established tight end as a target. Courtney Anderson and Leon Pinky, the highest-scoring tight-end tandem in the country last year, are both gone.
The Spartans' offensive line has some experience, even though some of the personnel will be shifted around. William Obeng, at 307 pounds, is expected to anchor the unit.
Someone has to open holes for a running game that produced only one scamper of more than 30 yards last season. Hill welcomes back compact Lamar Ferguson, who has bulked up from 145 to 151 pounds, and Lance Martin, the leading rusher in 2003.
Hill shifted around assistants and upgraded by hiring former Tulsa head coach Keith Burns as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
Defense has been a constant problem at San Jose State, and with six of its top seven tacklers from last year gone, that problem will likely persist.
Three starters return on the defensive line, which can be good news or bad. The Spartans ranked 108th in the nation in total defense and 103rd in scoring defense last year -- and both were improvements over the 2002 season.
Where Burns must do quick work is with the linebackers. Not a single starter returns. That's why Ezekiel Staples, who caught 25 passes last year as a fullback, and former safety Eric Wilson have been moved to linebacker. Staples has been a dependable tackler on the Spartans' special teams units.
SpecialistsSolid placekicker Jeff Carr returns for his senior season after hitting 11-of-17 field goal attempts last year. Rogers, also a quarterback candidate, will handle the punting duties. He punted for Cal Poly as a freshman four years ago.
Final AnalysisThe Spartans must find a way to win and stick with it. In the past, the approach was to play pitch-and-catch with speedy receivers and hope for the best. But without a proven quarterback, Hill wants to try something else -- a commitment to the run. He wants a quarterback who’ll minimize mistakes and hand off to the tailback.
The defense got a big boost when Hill convinced Burns to come aboard. The Spartans gave up 40 points or more five times last season.
The schedule calls for WAC powerhouses Boise State and Fresno State to visit Spartan Stadium. With the exception of a Sept. 18 matchup with Division I-AA Morgan State, it's hard to find a sure win on San Jose State's schedule.