2021 San Jose State Football Record Projection Per SP+
The defending Mountain West champions will have their work cut to repeat if preseason projections are to be believed.
The Spartans have beaten the odds before.
It’s been about a month since ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his preseason SP+ rankings for the 2021 football season, but the San Jose State Spartans’ initial standing might, on its face, look a little unusual considering that Brent Brennan’s team climbed to the top of the conference last fall.
Preseason SP+ projections for the Mountain West:
39. Boise State
78. Fresno State
81. San Jose State
84. San Diego State
93. Air Force
96. Colorado State
121. Utah State
124. New Mexico https://t.co/nyzlyRuU6v
— Mountain West Wire (@MWCwire) February 9, 2021
The pessimist might look at San Jose State’s 2021 prospects and point to the Plexiglass principle, which notes how difficult it can be to make a significant jump forward two seasons in a row and suggests the Spartans are in line for at least a little mild regression. The optimist, however, will point out that Connelly himself thought his system could be underselling this team.
These defending champions will be missing some of last year’s biggest contributors on both the field and the sideline, of course — wide receiver Tre Walker declared for the NFL Draft, for instance, while quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson took the same job at UCLA — but there are enough players coming back for 2021 to suggest that a repeat as division champions, at the least, shouldn’t be the big surprise it might have been a year ago.
What kind of path does SP+ illustrate for San Jose State this fall, though? Now that we know the overall schedule, let’s take a closer look at how the analytics could shape the Spartans’ title defense.
𝘙𝘶𝘯 𝘪𝘵 𝘣𝘢𝘤𝘬.
— San José State Football 🏆 (@SanJoseStateFB) March 5, 2021
August 28 – vs. Southern Utah (NR): The FCS isn’t accounted for in SP+, but the Thunderbirds have already looked much more competitive in their ongoing spring season than they did throughout much of 2019, when they finished 3-9 and 2-6 in Big Sky play. A balanced offense has led the way in two one-score losses to Northern Arizona and Portland State, so while SJSU should definitely own a talent advantage, Demarrio Warren’s team isn’t a pushover. Record: 1-0
September 4 – at USC (17): The Trojans aren’t quite the national power that we became accustomed to seeing in the early part of this century, but they’re still on the shortlist of contenders for the Pac-12 crown and, in fact, are surpassed in SP+ by just two conferences foes from the North division, Washington and Oregon. A lot will depend on the Spartans’ ability to frustrate the Trojan Air Raid offense, but that’s a tough ask despite USC’s mercurial output. Record: 1-1
September 18 – at Hawaii (105): The Warriors had a habit of extremely sluggish starts last fall and the Spartans were happy to take advantage of it, though it’s hard to say whether that will happen again. The big question here is how much of Hawaii’s progress on defense in 2020 was real and how much was a mirage. SP+ is dubious, but if Victor Santa Cruz’s unit can hold onto its gains, Hawaii could pretty easily flip the script. Record: 2-1
September 25 – at Western Michigan (85): The Broncos weren’t that far away from being in the MAC championship game last year, stumbling down the stretch with losses to Eastern Michigan and eventual title winner Ball State in the final two weeks, and they return many of the pieces from a powerful offense that actually ranks in the preseason top 50 by SP+ and averaged 41.7 points per game last fall. San Jose State could probably win a track meet if they needed to, but the hope is that the Spartan defense will make the difference in what looks like an even matchup overall. Record: 3-1
October 2 – vs. New Mexico State (130): Woof. The Aggies didn’t exactly light the world on fire in their truncated spring season and, with the worst SP+ projection in the land by a mile, anything less than a multiple-touchdown blowout victory should be considered a disappointment. Record: 4-1
October 9 – at Colorado State (96): The Rams only played four games in 2020, but they combined a bland and underachieving offense with a suddenly strong defense that looks ready to make more hay this fall. Whether that offense can cover its end of the bargain will make the difference between a competitive game and a walk in the park for the Spartans. Record: 5-1
October 16 – vs. San Diego State (84): It was the Spartans’ road upset of these same Aztecs last fall that put the rest of the conference on notice, but while SP+ sees a much more even clash between these two in 2021, the question is how effectively San Diego State will replace its massive losses on defense. They still project just outside of the top 30, but they’re also 121st in returning production on that side of the ball. Combined with the enduring concerns about offense, San Jose State seems likely to hold serve in this rivalry at home. Record: 6-1
October 23 – at UNLV (123): The Rebels had a forgettable 2020 overall, but Marcus Arroyo’s youth movement wasn’t without its highlights. With the worst overall SP+ projection in the Mountain West, though, it looks like UNLV might need another year before they can seriously threaten the conference’s biggest contenders. Record: 7-1
October 30 – vs. Wyoming (80): This game with the Cowboys marks the beginning of the stretch that’ll make or break the Spartans as title contenders. Not only are the Spartans neck-and-neck with Craig Bohl’s men in brown and gold, you have to figure better health luck and the return of defensive contributors who opted out of 2020 will make this a harder fight than it may look like at first glance. Record: 7-2
November 6 – at Nevada (74): It’s easy to forget that the Wolf Pack had what looked like a significant upper hand after the first thirty minutes of this game last fall, before Shamar Garrett’s kick-six return and some SJSU defensive stops changed the tenor of the game in a hurry. You can bet, then, that Jay Norvell’s team will be motivated to exact a little revenge and, with everyone coming back on offense in particular, Nevada looks like it should have a much better change of finishing the job this time around. Record: 7-3
November 13 – vs. Utah State (121): The Blake Anderson era looks like it could get off to a fast start with a number of solid young contributors returning and some real difference makers, like Justin Rice and Logan Bonner, joining the Aggies through the transfer portal. However, they’ll still have to prove the individual pieces can coalesce on both sides of the ball and survive the growing pains of a first-year situation. Record: 8-3
November 27 – vs. Fresno State (78): The Valley Trophy rivalry could definitely reach a fever pitch in 2021, with so many offensive stars on both sidelines in this game. Don’t be surprised if it devolves into a shootout, but that could mean the Spartans have trouble containing a Bulldogs passing game that, on paper, has no real weaknesses while preparing the season ahead. Record: 8-4
An 8-4 record might not be what the Spartans faithful has in mind for the follow-up to the championship season, but it’s definitely not out of the question that San Jose State wins most, if not all, of the games that look like coin flips by SP+. In those more optimistic scenarios, this is a team that could be flirting with the top 25 by November and, if every single thing breaks right, could be in the conversation for the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl bid.
If you’re going to keep climbing mountains, after all, why not take aim at the biggest prize?