WASHINGTON — The two teams in this year’s Military Bowl have taken eerily similar routes to earn berths in the contest.
In 2010, the San Jose State football team won only one game. But in two short years the Spartans reached nearly all of their goals, posting a winning record and claiming victories in their last six regular-season games while falling just short of winning their conference title.
That same 2010 season, the Bowling Green State University football team won just twice. Now the Falcons find themselves with a winning record, thanks to victories in seven of their last eight contests, and they fell just short of winning the Mid-American Conference’s East Division title.
So two similar teams find themselves on opposite sidelines of the 2012 Military Bowl sponsored by Northrop Grumman.
San Jose State comes into the game with a 10-2 record. The Spartans are ranked 24th nationally, and they have wins against four teams that were bowl-eligible this season.
“Their record shows how good they are,” BG quarterback Matt Schilz said. “Their losses are to Stanford and Utah State, and those are really good teams that are in the Top 25.
“To win this game, we’re going to have to do some good things on offense and score some points.”
That won’t be easy, since the Spartan defense is ranked 28th among BCS school in yards allowed (351.42 yards per game) and is 25th in points allowed (21.42 points per game). It helps that seven of the Spartans’ 11 starters received All-Western Athletic Conference honors, including five first-team performers: Defensive end Travis Johnson, defensive tackle Travis Raciti, linebackers Vince Buhagiar and Keith Smith, and defensive back Bene Benwikere.
Johnson, who had 19 tackles for loss among his 60 tackles this season and was the WAC’s defensive player of the year, said the key to the Spartans’ defense was having 11 players working as one.
“All of our players love playing with each other and are willing to fight for each other,” Johnson said. “We are all working together to be the best we can be.
“We push each other and challenge each other. We’re all on the same page, and we want the same thing: To win.”
While San Jose State’s coach, Mike MacIntyre, left the team to take over as the new coach at Colorado, defensive coordinator Kent Baer remains as the Spartans’ interim head coach.
“Our defense is playing with a great deal of confidence,” Baer said. “When you play with confidence, it spreads like wildfire.”
The offense also has been productive, especially through the air. The Spartans rank 11th among BCS schools in passing, throwing for 327.50 yards per game, as junior quarterback David Fales has completed 294 of 408 passes for 3,798 yards and 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.
Fales’ 72.1 percent completion rate is best among FBS quarterbacks.
Fales, who was a second team All-WAC pick, isn’t the only talented offensive player. Among San Jose State’s All-WAC players on offense are receiver Noel Grigsby, who has caught 73 passes for 1,173 yards and nine touchdowns, and tight end Ryan Otten, an NFL prospect with 44 receptions for 776 yards.
“What makes them difficult is, first, they have great personnel,” BG coach Dave Clawson said of SJSU. “Second, their offensive scheme is very well thought out.
“If you load the box to try and take away the run, they have a lot of quick, easy-access throws. The second you spread out, they have an offensive line that will cover you up and run for big yards.”
But perhaps the greatest similarity is the way the two teams were built. Both struggled in 2010 with small rosters brought about by Academic Progress Rate issues and mistakes in talent evaluation, and now both squads are stronger because those issues have been resolved.
“I think for both teams this isn’t a one-shot deal,” Clawson said. “I think both teams were built the right way and have a solid foundation.”
Now both squads want the same thing: To win the Military Bowl and cap an impressive three-season rise.
“Winning this game would mean so much to us,” Johnson said. “Two years ago we were so low, but last year we moved up and now we all want this win as a team and as a program.
“We want to get this win to lead into next year, to set a standard for San Jose State football in the future.”
Contact John Wagner at email@example.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.