San Jose State Spartans (5 – 7) versus Georgia State Panthers (6 – 6)
December 19, 7 PM ET, CBS Sports Network
Citrus Bowl Stadium
Line: San Jose State -3
Rankings are from CFBStats.com
This bowl game has a chance to fly under the radar given it features a 5-7 team, and is airing on a television channel that might not be available in all cable packages. Airing on CBS Sports Network on the first day of bowl season puts these two teams in the land of little exposure, but the matchup could be an underrated one given the talent of San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin, and the trouble that Georgia State’s defense will try and cause him.
I mentioned SJSU’s record; the Spartans will join Minnesota and Nebraska as teams under .500 in the postseason this year. Interestingly, two of them are favored, while the Huskers are listed as underdogs against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.
The irony for the Spartans is that two years ago they gained bowl eligibility by going 6-6 but were not invited to a bowl. This season, their Academic Progress Report landed them among the best in the country that weren’t already eligible, thus earning them a spot in the inaugural AutoNation Cure Bowl.
The Georgia State Panthers began playing football in 2010. In their sixth season they have made it to a bowl, and got their sixth win in surprising fashion. They went down to Statesboro, GA and ran roughshod over the Georgia Southern Eagles.
It will be a tough task for SJSU to travel across the country and take on a Panthers squad who will be chomping at the bit to play. Taking out rival Georgia Southern has the Panthers on a roll, and riding a wave of momentum into the postseason.
Georgia State will have momentum and a home crowd atmosphere, as their campus is significantly closer than that of the Spartans. Orlando is 2,776 miles from San Jose, while it’s only 439 from Atlanta.
It’s almost the same travel time for both fan bases; except one has to board a plane while the other can hop in their cars.
San Jose State’s last bowl game was played on the East Coast in the 2012 Military Bowl, which they won against Bowling Green 29 – 20.
Both teams should take pride in playing in the first version of this bowl, which donates its proceeds to breast cancer research. Orlando is not a bad spot to land, especially for a team in its first bowl, and another with a losing record, who earned their way in via the classroom.
Best win: 34 – 7 over Georgia Southern
Georgia State won the above-mentioned in-state rivalry game at Georgia Southern in their final game of the regular season.
In a game where the Panthers were 20 point underdogs, they more than covered, and won outright against an Eagles team that was picked by most to contend for the Sun Belt title (along with Appalachian State).
The Panthers are riding a four game winning streak that brought them up to their sixth win. GSU is better on the road or neutral vs. at home. Take out a loss at Oregon, where almost everyone loses, and the Panthers went 4-1 with a lone loss at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves went 9-3 and won the conference.
Player to Watch: quarterback Nick Arbuckle
Arbuckle led the Sun Belt Conference this season with 4,160 passing yards. The second best yardage was over 1,000 yards behind him. He led the conference in attempts and completion percentage as well. If SJSU is going to try to be run happy, then GSU will utilize its best player and hurl the ball at the Spartans all day long. Arbuckle will hit 30 passes on the day, and might flirt with 40.
San Jose State
Best Win: 31 – 21 over New Mexico
The Lobos were one of the big surprises of this season, finishing 7-5, with wins over Air Force and Boise State. But UNM went into San Jose and fell to the Spartans.
Tyler Ervin chewed up the Lobos on the ground to the tune of 263 yards on 36 rushes.
Player to Watch: Tyler Ervin
Ervin is second only to Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey in total yards and yards per game in the all-purpose category. Ervin amassed 2,410 total yards and 200.8 YPG in twelve games this season. McCaffrey has an extra game thus far with the PAC-12 Title Game.
Georgia State’s rush defense vs. San Jose State’s passing defense.
San Jose State ranks second in the country in passing defense, allowing just 153 yards per game.
Georgia State ranks eighth in passing offense, so something must give in this game if either team can mount an offense.
Georgia State is 75th in rushing defense, while San Jose State is 108th.
It’s shaping up to be a matchup that San Jose State can exploit more with Ervin being the workhorse.
The Spartans will look to hand Ervin the ball upward of 20 times in the game, as he averaged 22 carries per game on the year.
GSU’s Joseph Peterson and Tarris Batiste are tied for the team lead in solo tackles at 64. Their last game out they got the full force of a triple option attack, and saw plenty of rush attempts against a team that prides itself on moving the ball. They held Georgia Southern to 135 yards on the ground, and now can turn their attention to a team that will once again try and run the ball down their throats. If they can force other players on SJSU to make plays, but not fall into a trap of over preparing for just Ervin, then the Panthers can hang in.
It will take that kind of effort to slow down a team with a superior runner like Ervin. San Jose State did not have the season one would expect to lead to a bowl. Can they take advantage of their classroom efforts, go east and get a bowl win? I think they can, but it’s going to be a close one.
Sometimes the old adage of “wanting to be there” is the truth. I think GSU wants to be there more than SJSU, and I think they have more momentum. Maybe I’m overestimating the Southern win, but Southern still had something to play for, and GSU ran them out of their stadium.
I think Georgia State shows up and plays their tails off in their first bowl. I think Tyler Ervin’s legs and the Spartans defense will be too much for Nick Arbuckle to throw against. Ervin goes over 100 yards on the ground, while the defense controls the passing attack. San Jose State wins the AutoNation Cure Bowl 27 – 23, sending both teams out of 2015 at 6 – 7 on the year.