After a disappointing 3-9 record in 2014, the San Jose State Spartans rebounded and went 6-7 in 2015, including a 27-16 Cure Bowl win over the Georgia State Panthers.
A large part of SJSU’s modest but still noticeable improvement last season can be credited to its offense.
The Spartans had the fourth-best offense in the Mountain West Conference –No. 56 nationally — behind Boise State, Air Force and Colorado State. However, that fourth-best MWC offense was dependent on talented running back Tyler Ervin, one of the nation’s best rushers last year. Ervin totaled 1,601 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and 334 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Now he’s in the NFL.
The Spartans lost nearly 37 percent of their total offense from last season due to Ervin’s departure. However, San Jose State now has a chance to reshape its offense. The Spartans could become the Texas Tech of the Mountain West.
Like Texas Tech, San Jose State’s focal point on offense will be its quarterback. SJSU’s trigger man is Kenny Potter.
To open the 2015 season, Potter competed against Joe Gray for the starting signal-caller position. He ultimately beat out Gray and finished the last 11 games under center for the Spartans.
In 2015, Potter was effective. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,984 yards — third most in the Mountain West — 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Potter’s main concern is being more consistent in 2016. Case in point: Against UNLV last season he was 30-of-48 for 329 yards and two touchdowns. The following week he went 14 of 24 for 113 yards and two interceptions against San Diego State.
The Mountain West is known more for its ground-and-pound offenses than its aerial attacks, but since Potter — who has one of the strongest arms in all of college football — is the focal point of the Spartans’ offense, San Jose State may become one of the better passing teams in the conference this year, perhaps the nation.
Again, think Texas Tech.
Much like the Red Raiders, SJSU possesses a strong group of receivers, and that’s despite the fact that Tyler Winston was ruled academically ineligible for this season.
While losing Winston will certainly hamper the Spartans’ passing attack, they still bring back a talented, experienced receiver: Tim Crawley. The 5-foot-7 pass catcher recorded 424 yards and five touchdowns on 39 receptions last season. The other receivers who will help Crawley pick up the slack are Justin Holmes and Rahshead Johnson. Last year, Holmes was a third-down specialist for the Spartans. Johnson was a four-star recruit and the No. 19 receiver in his recruiting class.
Along with the returning — and gifted — pass catchers, San Jose State brings back Billy Freeman, the best tight end in the Mountain West last year. The 6-foot-3 tight end recorded 586 yards and six touchdowns on 48 catches. Freeman is expected to be Potter’s favorite target once again this season.
San Jose State’s chances of becoming the Texas Tech of its conference are bolstered by the offensive line. The Spartans have four starters from last year, including all-league candidates in left tackle Nate Velichko and left guard Jeremiah Kolone.
Just like the Red Raiders, the Spartan defense was abysmal last year, ranking 102 out of 128 teams, but it has a ton of experience returning this year and could be vastly improved.
San Jose State can’t bank on its defense improving dramatically in 2016, but with the Spartans having all the qualities of a Red Raider-like offense, Potter and company should lead San Jose State to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1986 and 1987.