WASHINGTON -- After nearly five weeks of waiting and preparing, and enduring a coaching change, the focus is finally on football as No. 24 San Jose State faces Bowling Green on Thursday in the Military Bowl.

"It's been a long couple of weeks," quarterback David Fales said. "We're doing a good job staying focused. Coach (Kent) Baer's done a good job. We're excited. We can't wait to get out there."

Kickoff is at noon at RFK Stadium, the former home of the Washington Redskins. It will air on ESPN, the Spartans' third straight game on one of the network's stations.

The game serves as the culmination of the rebuilding process that began when former coach Mike MacIntyre was hired three years ago. The Spartans went 1-12 in his first season but laid the groundwork for their future success.

"Two years ago we won one game, but we were young and we had a lot of really good young players," interim coach and defensive coordinator Baer said. "Coach Mac said, 'Some day, this is going to be a really good football team.' They've just grown up. They've grown together and gone through some tough times, which made them better."

This game also brings closure to this particular chapter of San Jose State football. MacIntyre left for the greener pastures of Colorado, and there figures to be heavy staff turnover under new coach Ron Caragher, who takes over after this game.

For this season to truly mean something in the grander sense of the program, it needs to be the start of a period of sustained success.


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"It's a great opportunity for us, and we're hoping to make this a tradition at San Jose State," junior linebacker Vince Buhagiar said. "Twenty years from now, (we'll) look back and we're going to be able to say 'We're the ones that made a difference. We're the ones that started it.' "

On paper, the Spartans are well positioned to remain successful. They are expected to return eight offensive starters and six on defense. Most important, Fales should return with all key members of his receiving corps intact, with the exception of tight end Ryan Otten.

But it's not that simple. After winning the New Mexico Bowl in 2006, San Jose State returned quarterback Adam Tafralis and future NFL players James Jones, Dwight Lowery, Jarron Gilbert, Justin Cole, Carl Ihenacho and Christopher Owens the next season. The result was a 5-7 record and no bowl appearances until this year.

The Spartans are focused on not letting that happen this time around.

"We have to just remember what got us here," junior wide receiver Noel Grigsby said. "If we continue to do the little things like lifting weights when we're told, going to meetings, being dressed properly, coming out here and giving it our all day in and day out, we'll continue our success."

The matchup pits a pair of hot teams. SJSU has won six in a row, 10 of its past 11 and 12 of its past 14 dating to the end of last season, when the Spartans closed with victories over Navy and Fresno State.

"I think those last two games really vaulted this group into this season," Baer said.

Bowling Green enters with wins in seven of its past eight games. The Falcons did an excellent job salvaging their season after starting 1-3, with the only victory in those first four being an unimpressive 21-13 win over lowly Idaho.

One team's hot streak will end. San Jose State hopes it doesn't cool down and can complete its first 11-win season since 1940, when the Spartans hadn't begun playing major college football.

"It's a huge deal," senior left tackle David Quessenberry said. "If we win this game, we'll be one of the best teams in San Jose State history. That's huge for us."

Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin