SAN JOSE STATE

2012 record: 11-2, 5-1 WAC (second)

COACH: Ron Caragher, first year at San Jose State

BIG DATE: Nov. 29 vs. Fresno State: The hope is this game will determine the Mountain West's West Division title. The Bulldogs are the favorites in the division, with some calling them a potential BCS buster. The game should feature two of the top quarterbacks in the conference and nation in SJSU's David Fales and Fresno State's Derek Carr before a nationally televised afternoon audience the day after Thanksgiving. It could add up to a rare packed house at Spartan Stadium.

KEY DEPARTURES: Defensive end Travis Johnson was the school's career record-holder in sacks. ... Left tackle David Quessenberry was a three-year starter and sixth-round NFL draft pick by the Houston Texas. ... Tight end Ryan Otten was the career leader in receptions and receiving yards at the position.

DIFFERENCE MAKERS: Fales elevated the Spartans last year and will be counted on again. He's well within reach of becoming SJSU's all-time leader in passing yards and TDs. ... Defensive tackle Travis Raciti is the new leader on the line after the graduation of Johnson and, along with linebacker Keith Smith, is the key to the Spartans' effectiveness in the new 3-4 alignment. ... Cornerback Bené Benwikere will be a versatile player in the secondary, covering deep, defending the slot and playing physically. His nose for the ball makes him a playmaker on defense.


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FRESH FACES TO WATCH: Linebacker Christian Tago, presuming he's recovered from a hamstring injury, should form a nice duo at inside linebacker with three-year starter Smith. ... Wes Schweitzer takes over for Quessenberry at left tackle. The sophomore started one game last season in place of Quessenberry. ... True freshman Brandon Monroe has pushed for significant playing time at safety and is one of the players to watch over the next several seasons.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Fales dominates the way he did last season, even with the upgrade in competition in the Mountain West as compared with the Western Athletic Conference, and the Spartans offense remains one of the best in the nation. The defense overcomes some camp injuries and pieces together a strong unit that thrives in the 3-4 alignment. SJSU carries its momentum from last year into a trip to the inaugural Mountain West championship game and a second straight bowl.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The offense experiences a setback. A secondary that's hindered a bit by injuries and inexperience can't match up with the slate of top quarterbacks and offenses SJSU has to face. The grind of playing better teams each week (the worst teams in the Mountain West are much better than the worst in the WAC) adds up, and the Spartans can't make a return trip to the postseason.

BOTTOM LINE: As long as Fales is upright, the Spartans have a chance in every game (they proved that theory last year against Stanford). After the opener, there are three tough games that could lead to a slow start and some bit of a regression is expected after the 11-win season. But there's too much talent left on this team to not win at least seven or eight games and make its first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1986-87.

FAN ESSENTIALS

RADIO: 1590-AM (Justin Allegri and Kevin Richardson); 90.5-FM (student broadcast).

TICKETS: 408-924-7589 or www.sjsuspartans.com

-- JIMMY DURKIN