Nonconference road games against unranked, second-rate opponents hardly qualify as circle-the-date events. But San Jose State's trips to San Diego State (Saturday) and Navy (next week) could unlock a world of possibilities for the Spartans -- postseason possibilities.
SJSU needs a split on the bicoastal back-to-back to provide margin for error in its pursuit of its first bowl berth since 2006.
It's hardly an unreasonable task: SDSU struggled to beat North Dakota last week, while Navy is 0-2 this season and lost to the Spartans late last year.
The Spartans, who are 2-1 for the first time in four years, held their own at Stanford; they're plenty good enough to beat the Aztecs or Midshipmen -- or both.
Officially, SJSU is four wins away from becoming bowl eligible. But it's not as simple as winning four of their final nine, not with the reconfigured Western Athletic Conference.
Victories over WAC newcomer Texas-San Antonio don't count toward bowl eligibility because of UTSA's status as a transitional member of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
In reality, the Spartans only have eight chances to win four games, and three of the eight qualify as significant challenges: Utah State, which beat Utah and nearly won at Wisconsin; BYU; and Louisiana Tech, the WAC's preseason favorite.
All of which brings us back to San Diego State and Navy.
If SJSU beats either San Diego State or Navy, it can reach the six-win mark by beating up on the WAC's second tier: Texas State, Idaho and New Mexico State.
If SJSU gets swept by San Diego State and Navy, it would have to beat at least one of the best teams on the schedule.
Yes, the Spartans play Utah State, Louisiana Tech and BYU at home. But they haven't beaten Utah State in four years, Louisiana Tech in six years and BYU in 40-something.
Must-win situations should be avoided at all costs.
The league champion is obligated to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but that's it for affiliations.
If SJSU is bowl-eligible and not the WAC champion, it would become a free agent, available to any of the 35 bowls with an opening.
Hello, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
The San Francisco-based game is scheduled to match a Pac-12 team against Navy this year, except that the Midshipmen may not have the six wins required to participate.
If that's the case, KFH officials may cast their eye to the South Bay to give the bowl a local flavor.
That's another reason SJSU needs to beat Navy next week -- it would increase the chances of an opening at AT&T Park.
Since the Bears' overtime victory in 2003, every long-standing member of the Pac-12 has beaten the Trojans with the exception of Washington State (not company Cal wants to keep).
Stanford has beaten the Trojans four times in that span. Oregon State -- Oregon State! -- has beaten them three times. Washington has done it twice.
After examining every Cal-USC box score from 2004-11, three statistics stood out:
USC has averaged 28.8 points per game, the Bears 10.3.
USC has committed just nine turnovers, the Bears 25 (more than three per game: astounding).
USC has rushed for an average of 158 yards per game, the Bears a paltry 102.
Cal's total includes the epic 2004 game, in which the Bears dominated play but were done in by turnovers.
Remove the '04 rushing totals, and Cal has averaged just 95.1 yards against the Trojans.
They have been manhandled at the line of scrimmage.
San Jose State (2-1) at San Diego State (2-1), 5 p.m., no TV
Cal (1-2) at USC (2-1), 3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks