In the weeks leading up to his team's season opener against USC, San Jose State Head Coach Dick Tomey kept stressing the positives of stepping up to a national powerhouse in a hostile environment.
He cited the months of offseason preparation the team spent in anticipation of their Week One showdown.
He cited the step-up in competition as a way to raise the level of practice and on-field performance, both through the pregame preparation and the on-field experience against a legitimate national title contender.
He also cited the overall exposure for the program, both to potential recruits in Southern California (a region that produced much of the Spartans' current roster) as well as on a national level.
Tomey certainly netted the exposure he referred to, but in light of the 56-3 drubbing his squad took from the Trojans, it's doubtful that any positives came out of the experience yesterday.
Much of the game was typical for the Tomey-era Spartans when taking on an overwhelming opponent.
They started off strong in the first quarter, with their defense forcing a few turnovers and their offense being servicable and predictably unspectcular.
They carried a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, and after a few momentum-killing turnovers by the Spartans' offense, USC put up some quick scores and the lack of Spartan depth on both sides of the ball led to the inevitable:
An embarrasingly hard-to-watch ass-kicking.
Whatever the gameplan was heading into Week One, it was all wrong.
Wrong offensive scheme.
Wrong defensive matchups.
Most importantly, wrong game at the wrong time.
Unfortunately, the current landscape of college football—as well as the current financial state of California's public universities—dictates that mid-major schools like San Jose State must schedule BCS conference juggernauts in order to survive.
But forcing your players to start the season off against a team that would smash the majority of large conference schools throughout the country could be a season-killer.
Last season, the Spartans faced a similar up-hill battle, traveling to Lincoln, Neb., for a Week Two game against the Cornhuskers in front of 80,000 fans (probably the most populated place in the state on that particular weekend).
The difference in that game from the waxing they took at the hands of USC yesterday (aside from the fact that USC is leaps and bounds better than Nebraska), is that San Jose State was able to take some game experience—and much-needed momentum on the heels of a Week One victory against UC Davis—into Memorial Stadium last season.
This time they were broken in for 2009 the hard way, trying to fight through insurmountable odds in a game that was already decided mid-way through the second quarter. It eventually became a contest of whether the Spartans could even muster some offensive points.
And it shouldn't come as a shock to the coaching staff or athletic director.
The Spartans took an undecided quarterback situation, a secondary with no seniors and three sophomores starting, and a revamped offense under a new coordinator into the Coliseum with hopes of winning that would be comprable to those of a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
How much this sets the team back remains to be seen.
It's a little early to tell what the injury toll was, but the mental strain of being thoroughly dominated could be too much to overcome in the week's time they have to prepare for their second-straight 2008 BCS Bowl-winning opponent.
Utah travels to Spartan Stadium next week, and if Saturday was any indication, Tomey's squad is likely to be overmatched and under-prepared for a second straight week.
By Week Three against a rising Stanford team, there could be some serious questions about San Jose State's scheduling strategy, not to mention serious doubts about the remainder of the season—this team has shown in recent years that momentum is a serious component to it's success (or lack thereof).
What's unfortunate is they could have taken a safer route and still played stiff competition.
A look around Saturday's results yields a familiar picture of mid-major teams stepping up to BCS conference foes, but without such dire consequences.
Ohio hosted Conneticut. Northern Illinois traveled to Wisconsin. San Diego State faced UCLA.
The difference for these smaller programs is their steps up in competition weren't against national title contenders, and thus the results weren't as thoroughly demoralizing.
Heading into the USC game, anyone following San Jose State's program knew that simply hanging in there for a half and putting forth a respectable effort would be a moral victory.
What the people in charge at San Jose State apparently ignored was the potential for the opposite happening, and the consequences that could follow.
They took a team that had one of the worst offensive units in the nation last year and asked it to unveil a new attack against one of the staunchest defenses in the nation, year in and year out.
They also asked a young and inexperienced secondary to hang tight while their undersized defensive linemen and linebackers tried in vain to keep USC's freshman quarterback in check.
What ultimately led to the Spartans' demise on Saturday was the depth, which took over in the second quarter as USC started to roll out two and then three strings of players, most of whom would start at any WAC program.
In the end, it was simply too much to ask of the Spartans.
It's not hard to expect a Dick Tomey-coached team to keep their heads high and fight through an adverse start to the season. One week certainly doesn't guarantee season-long failure, no matter how brutal that week's result was.
But at the same time, it's just as hard to expect any team to pick itself up off the ground, dust itself off and take a positive mental state into the following week's home opener...against the undefeated team that finished second in the nation last year.
Time will tell, but at the very least there appears to be a very difficult—if not downright ugly—month ahead for the fans of Sparta.
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