SAN JOSE -- Anticipation is not exactly building to a fever pitch for Friday's local college football season opener. Let's just say that plenty of tickets are available for San Jose State's game at Stanford. Let's also proclaim this fact to be a predictable shame.
Part of the problem is strange scheduling, courtesy of a new Pac-12 television network that demands as much prime-time product as possible. The result puts SJSU-Stanford on the calendar as a 7 p.m. kickoff on the first night of a holiday weekend, forcing tailgate traffic to compete with getting-away-to-Tahoe traffic. Other potential customers will be pulled away by high school football games that evening.
But who are we kidding? The real issue is the matchup itself.
There was a time when the SJSU-Stanford game was as fun and tight a regional rivalry as you could find -- not on the level of Cal-Stanford or USC-UCLA but a notch above the usual weekly matchups. From 1987 to 2000, the Spartans won six of their 13 games against Stanford, routinely filling 60,000 to 70,000 seats at shambolic old Stanford Stadium.
But beginning in 2001, the rivalry began to leak away its competitiveness like a sieve. The only SJSU victory of the past 11 seasons was a 35-34 squeaker in 2006. The other games, all Stanford victories, were mostly blowouts. The Cardinal has won the past four games by an average margin of 32 points. That includes last year's 57-3 embarrassment.
"I think we will be closer on the field than what we've been," MacIntyre said. "But we can't make boneheaded mistakes the way we did last year, make those turnovers. They had a lot of short fields and easy scores last year. We can't have that."
If the Spartans avoid turnovers, they might indeed take the game into the fourth quarter. That would be good. But that's the short term. For college football in the Bay Area to be completely healthy, San Jose State can't be a punching bag -- for Stanford or Cal -- or post just one winning season every 10 years.
The story of how the Stanford-SJSU rivalry got to this point is no mystery. San Jose State's program underwent major structural changes to get its academics in order -- very successfully -- but struggled to fund 85 full scholarships until the past few years. Stanford, under former athletic director Bob Bowlsby, put a prime emphasis on football that had not previously existed.
MacIntyre arrived at San Jose State in 2010. He had worked in the NFL and as a Duke assistant. So it's interesting to hear his perceptions of the Cardinal's rise to a continual top 25 presence under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw.
"Coach Harbaugh did a great job there, just as Coach Shaw is doing," MacIntyre said. "But to me, it all started when they built a new stadium. It showed they were totally committed to being successful in football."
The new Stanford Stadium opened in 2006 when Walt Harris was the coach. But the subsequent success of Harbaugh and Shaw, particularly as recruiters who touted Stanford's emphasis on improved facilities, lends credence to MacIntyre's theory. MacIntyre made this observation as SJSU is trying to raise money for a much-needed stadium upgrade and annex.
But if you're wondering when San Jose State might be in position to play Stanford toe-to-toe again ... well, it might still be a while. Twelve of the Spartans' 22 scheduled starters Friday were recruited by MacIntyre. The other 10 are from the Dick Tomey era. Earlier this week, MacIntyre was asked whether the Spartans could yet be considered "his team."
"We're on our way to that," he said. "We're not there yet, but we're on our way. We didn't have 85 scholarships until last year. ... As far as the culture of our team, I think we do understand what we need to do on a daily basis to be good -- the work that needs to be done, practicing correctly, the attitude."
There were signs last season that the MacIntyre culture was taking hold. After being thrashed by Stanford in the opener, the Spartans won five of their final 11 games and could have finished 8-4 instead of 5-7 with a break here or there.
And for Spartans fans willing to be wildly optimistic about Friday -- No. 21 Stanford is favored by 251/2 points -- it helps that both quarterbacks are unknown quantities. Neither has started a major college game. The Spartans' David Fales played last season at Monterey Peninsula College. The Cardinal's Josh Nunes has not played in a game since 2010, when he appeared in four games and completed one pass.
Common wisdom says that Stanford still will dominate the trenches and win handily. Last season, among all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the Spartans ranked 106th in rushing defense. Stanford has Heisman Trophy candidate Stepfan Taylor at running back. We can figure out the rest.
But in a season or two, it might be different. Anyone watching MacIntyre's teams can see a consistent philosophy at work. The Spartans program is undergoing a significant transition as the school phases from the Western Athletic Conference into the Mountain West Conference next season. This summer's death of ardent donor Phyllis Simpkins gives the fundraising mission even more urgency in terms of identifying additional contributors.
Simpkins and her late husband, Alan, were probably the most generous supporters of SJSU football in history. Two athletic buildings are named after them. They certainly enjoyed seeing their beloved Spartans beat Stanford from time to time. For the survival of SJSU football, those victories probably need to happen more often than once every 10 years. Friday night, the clock starts running.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5092.