A pair of 0-3 squads match up at Romney Stadium in Logan, Utah, this evening, and Dick Tomey's San Jose State Spartans are the right play as the dogs against Utah State.
I rode San Jose St. toward the end of last year. As the Spartans grew up in a season where they were picked to finish dead last in the WAC, SJSU went on to play in their first bowl game in 16 years, a game they won against New Mexico.
They also finally toppled Fresno St., their unconquerable nemesis for the better part of two decades, in the '06 season finale, a game I called correctly. Now, a year later, they're 0-3 and at the bottom of the college football picture again, looking up.
Actually, I don't think so. The Spartans are much better than people are giving them credit for. Listen, nobody could've envisioned Dick Tomey's troops beating their three wickedly tough major-conference road opponents to begin the year (Stanford, Kansas St. and Arizona St.), right? So that 0-3 isn't exactly reflective of...much of anything.
The team still has Dwight Lowery, a first-team All-American cornerback from a season ago, patrolling one half of the field, and LB Matt Castelo, who led the WAC in tackles (call them "WACkles"?) in '06. Quarterback Adam Tafralis was injured early in the year, but came back to play in the latter stages of last week's humiliating 37-0 loss to Stanford, thus getting ready for the WAC opener. Yonus Davis, last year's leading rusher, hasn't played since Week 1, but could be back in time for this week's tilt, too.
SJSU is 6-1 against the spread in their last seven after a straight-up loss, 5-1 ATS against teams with losing records, and 5-1 ATS in conference games. Most importantly, Tomey has brought a major-college attitude to Jeff Garcia's alma mater. He kicked his team's collective butt after last week's humbling defeat to Stanford. His squad should be breathing fire on Saturday night, and they know how to win.
With all due respect, Utah St. doesn't. This is a dreadful team against the spread (1-6-1 ATS in their last eight overall, 1-5 ATS in their last six home games), and while you can't really hold a 54-3 loss at Oklahoma last week against them, the school hasn't boasted a winning record since 1996, went 1-11 straight-up last year, have a head coach whose career record at the school is 4-19, and haven't been to a bowl game since '97.
Just two weeks ago, they lost Antonio Taylor, their leading tackler last year, when he was kicked off the team for violating university rules. They haven't won a road game since 2005. And they lost 21-14 to basically this same SJSU squad in San Jose.
I have the Spartans pegged as a three-point favorite in this one, but the line is out at 3½ in favor of Utah St. Yes, the game's in Logan, but we're talking about a favorite who lost 11 games by an average of 30.3 points last season, and who've begun this year losing three by an average of 24. If you assume around a three-point bump for hosting the game, folks still think USU should be favored by half-a-point. I don't see it.
These teams have played close games in each of the last two years, and I'm not saying this one can't be close, too. But give me this road 'dog who took games outright last year at Las Cruces, Moscow and Albuquerque, who has every offensive and defensive lineman back from last year, and who will have their bowl-winning quarterback at the helm for a full game. I'll gladly take the field-goal-plus. Take San Jose St. (+3½ at Utah St.
Last Week: Southern Mississippi went on the road and took care of business at East Carolina, winning 28-21. On the one hand, this was an exceedingly nervous cover, because the Golden Eagles didn't score the go-ahead touchdown until there were 32 seconds left in the game. On the other hand, Southern Miss was killing the Pirates at halftime, and only a few mental mistakes in the third quarter made it a ballgame. Once Southern Miss started grinding out the long drives in the fourth quarter, this one did have a whiff of inevitability about it. I was pretty much begging the Eagles to kick it with 20 seconds to go, but they knew what they were doing, and the seven-point margin covered the one-point road-favorite spread. For the season, then, we're 3-0 against the spread.