For a team that ended up winning the Rose Bowl, 2012 almost started as a disaster for Stanford.
That's because the plucky San Jose State Spartans, coming off a 5-7 record in 2011, almost upset the Cardinal the very first weekend of the season. A Jordan Williamson field goal and an Ed Reynolds interception with less than two minutes left helped Stanford eke out a 20-17 win.
2013 will be a year of change for SJSU - head coach Mike MacIntyre left to take the vacant opening at Colorado - so the Spartans probably won't sneak up on anyone like they did last year. But the Spartans still have one of the best (albeit most unheralded) players in the nation in QB David Fales, and they might have a chance to win the Mountain West in their first year in the conference.
2012 record: 11-2, 5-1 WAC. Beat Bowling Green in the Military Bowl.
What to expect from the Spartans in 2013: New head coach Ron Caragher (who took over at the University of San Diego after Jim Harbaugh left to come to Stanford in 2007) inherits an essentially intact offense that scored 34.8 points per game and threw for 332.7 yards per game in 2012 - so there's reason to believe that SJSU should be returning to a bowl game once again this year. Any team that finished 6th(!) in the nation in passing and returns their QB should always be able to put up a fight.
Best player: Quarterback David Fales. The laser-accurate QB has bounced around all over the western US - he's played at Nevada, Monterey Peninsula Junior College and Wyoming - but he flourished last season for Mike MacIntyre and company. Fales threw for 4,193 and 33 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. On top of that, he completed an absurd 72.5 percent of his passes - the best completion percentage in the nation. (That's right: better than Geno Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel.) He'll be an interesting prospect come NFL draft time, no matter if he betters those ridiculous numbers from a year ago.
Prediction vs Stanford: The Spartans will assuredly provide the Cardinal with an aerial test in week one - but it doesn't seem like they'll be strong enough on the ground to repeat their scare of Stanford a year ago. SJSU only rushed for 113.5 yards per game - and they graduated their leading running back. Trent Murphy and company should have their ears pinned back to get after Fales, while Ed Reynolds and the secondary will be ready for such a prominent passer. I think Stanford wins by two touchdowns.
Best Random Fact about San Jose State: John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the two track athletes who raised their gloved fists in the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics, both ran track at SJSU.