The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Alabama Crimson Tide, ranked atop the AP Poll as the 2010 season gets underway, begins defense of their national title when they play host to the San Jose State Spartans on Saturday evening at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
San Jose State, one of the weaker teams in the nation the last few years, plays its football out of the Western Athletic Conference, and faces the daunting task of opening this new campaign against the top-ranked team in the country for just the second time in its history. The only other previous season-opening encounter against No. 1 took place in 2000 when the Spartans challenged Nebraska. SJSU's last win over a ranked foe was also in 2000 when it defeated No. 9 TCU at home, 27-24. The Spartans' last road win over a ranked opponent was back in 1980 when they won at No. 9 Baylor, 30-22.
San Jose State went a dismal 2-10 a year ago and enters the 2010 season with a new head coach as Mike MacIntyre takes over for the retired Dick Tomey. MacIntyre, the son of former Vanderbilt head coach George MacIntyre, has never been a head coach at the major college football level before, instead serving as an assistant most recently at Duke, and also in the NFL.
Alabama, under the guidance of Nick Saban, went a perfect 14-0 last season, capturing the 13th national championship trophy in its storied history. The top-ranked Tide took out No. 2 Texas in the BCS Championship Game, 37-21.
Saban owns an official record of 28-8 in his three years at 'Bama, and is one of two coaches to have won two BCS National Championships (Florida's Urban Meyer being the other), having also accomplished the feat while at LSU in 2003.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between San Jose State and Alabama on the gridiron.
The Spartans are young, with nearly 30 players preparing to make their college football debut. MacIntyre pointed out that fact recently, "Fifty percent of our two-deep are first-time players. It will be their first time playing in a major college football game. I would say we have 'diaper rash.' We're young."
Jordan La Secla (near-60 percent completion rate in 2009, with 10 TDs and 11 INTs) has been named the starter at QB, at least for this opener, as the fifth-year senior will try to lead to the Spartans by example, both on and off the field.
La Secla is thrilled at the opportunity handed to him, "Obviously, I was excited (to hear the news). It's been a tough camp for me - a lot of competition, but you have to be ready for that every year. I'm just really excited we can take the next step now. The team's been waiting for somebody to be announced. Now that Coach has made the decision, we can take the next step forward as an offense to get things rolling."
Getting things rolling won't be easy against an Alabama defense that is among the best in the nation. San Jose State ranked nearly last in the FBS in scoring (13.8 ppg) last year, and finished 117th in rushing (76.7 ypg). Hoping to improve upon both figures, the Spartans will likely hand the ball to either Lamon Muldrow or Brandon Rutley, the former having rushed for 592 yards and three TDs in '09, and the latter also expected to see time in the defensive backfield for San Jose State this fall.
With regard to the receiving corps, Jalal Beauchman and Josh Harrison are expected to be the guys La Secla looks to most often, but both will need to raise their respective games if the Spartans are to have any success on offense this season.
Defensively, the Spartans were downright terrible against the run last season, ranking 119th nationally (259.2 ypg). At first glance, this year's defense doesn't appear to be overly impressive, but there is some talent, notably guys like Duke Ihenacho and Mohamed Marah.
Coach MacIntyre loves the way Ihenacho, a two-time All-WAC performer, plays the game, "If he (Ihenacho) keeps doing well, after coaching in the NFL for five years, this young man has the ability to do it if all the breaks come his way."
Marah is back after suffering a season-ending injury last year, and could be one of the players that MacIntyre tries to have go both ways as the 6-0 senior has played both linebacker and running back while at SJSU.
Last season, Alabama ranked fourth in the SEC and 22nd nationally in scoring (32.1 ppg), and the team averaged 403.0 total ypg. With eight starters back on offense, it wouldn't be that surprising if the Tide were somehow able to increase those figures. In order for that to happen, reigning Heisman Trophy- winning tailback Mark Ingram must have the kind of campaign he did a year ago when he rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Ingram underwent knee surgery on Tuesday and will miss this game, and potentially more time moving forward.
Saban explained what went into the decision to address the situation now rather than later, "It was a situation where everyone involved thought it would be better to take care of now, so he would not have any issues with it later in the season." The coach continued, "This is not an injury that will affect Mark's future ability to make a full recovery in a relatively short time frame."
In Ingram's absence, sophomore Trent Richardson is expected to get the bulk of the carries in the opener, but it will likely be QB Greg McElroy's job to put the offense in position to score after throwing for 2,508 yards and 17 TDs with only four INTs a year ago.
Three starting wide receivers are back in place, and Julio Jones appears to be the best of the bunch. Jones was inconsistent in '09, but he has NFL ability and will be expected to take a major step forward as a junior.
The offensive line isn't as stable as Saban would like, at least not yet, but the hope is three returning starters will have the unit as a whole whipped into shape in no time.
While the Alabama offense is loaded with returning starters, only one starter is back on defense. Saban, while reserving judgment on his defense at the outset, is excited about the guys he expects to make plays on that side of the ball.
"We don't have a lot of depth, but I do like the talent level we have." He continued, "I do like the attitude that the players have worked with. I think this is going to be a defensive team that improves throughout the course of the season."
Alabama ranked first in the SEC and second nationally in scoring defense (11.7 ppg), rushing defense (78.1 ypg) and total defense (244.1 ypg) last season. The Tide also proved to be an opportunistic bunch, finishing with the fourth- best turnover margin in the country (plus-19).
The defensive line figures to be solid despite four new starters, as many holdovers saw extensive playing time in 2009. The man to watch is Marcell Dareus (6.5 sacks), who was the defensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game.
The return of LB Dont'a Hightower from a season-ending knee injury will be paramount to the unit's overall success as when healthy, he is among the best players at his position in the SEC. Another guy the coaches expect big things from is sophomore safety Mark Barron, who came up with seven INTs a year ago.
Talk about taking it on the chin right out of the gate. Even without Ingram, expect the Tide to roll over the Spartans, who will be outplayed, outcoached and outclassed. Next week's home clash with Penn State will be a better measuring stick for 'Bama, which has the talent to make another run at both the SEC and BCS championships.