Tough opening test for new San Jose St. coach

Talk about a rude welcome to head coaching.

San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre will make his debut on
Saturday when he takes the Spartans into one of college football’s
toughest environments at No. 1 and defending national champion
Alabama.

”We’re going to go in front of 102,000 people; they’re going to
lower down the national championship banner; they’re going to hand
out the Heisman Trophy; and we’re going to kick it off,” MacIntyre
said Monday. ”It’s a great opportunity for these young men. You
dream of it since being a little kid to always play against the
best. We’re going to get a chance to play the very best and see how
we do.”

MacIntyre had been an assistant in college and the pros for two
decades before being hired last December to replace Dick Tomey at
San Jose State. He took over a two-win team at a school that has
had little success in recent years.

He was then greeted with the schedule that opened with the game
at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This marks the second time the Spartans
have opened the season against the preseason No. 1 team, having
lost 49-13 at Nebraska in 2000.

San Jose State hasn’t beaten a ranked team since upsetting
LaDainian Tomlinson and No. 9 TCU 27-24 in 2000 and hasn’t done it
on the road since beating Mike Singletary and No. 9 Baylor 30-22 in
1980.

But MacIntyre does have experience beating Alabama, being a
freshman on the 1984 Vanderbilt team coached by his father that
beat the Crimson Tide 30-21 in Tuscaloosa.

”That’s the only time Vanderbilt has done it in like 100 years
of football,” MacIntyre said. ”I had the experience of having had
that happened. It was exhilarating and a fun time.”

Repeating it would be almost unfathomable against a team that
features Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, a backup running back
nearly as talented in Trent Richardson, a quarterback in Greg
McElroy who has won 30 straight starts since high school, a
game-breaking receiver in Julio Jones and a defense coached by Nick
Saban that’s always one of the toughest in the nation.

The Spartans have played at Nebraska, at Southern California and
twice against Boise State the past two seasons but none of that
measures up to what they’ll face Saturday.

”They’re the best right now,” quarterback Jordan La Secla
said. ”They’re one step ahead of every team we’ve ever played. You
want a challenge. You don’t want to back down from any challenge.
We look forward to it. We want to step up and meet the challenge.
This is our schedule. We can’t do anything about it. We want to
embrace it. We’re happy about it.”

The Spartans players have been looking to this game for months.
The scouting for many of them began when they watched the Crimson
Tide beat Texas in January for the national championship. The
players looked for any tips they could gain and also wanted to see
Alabama win to make for an even bigger stage for this week’s
game.

”If you’re going to open against Alabama, you want them to be
national champions, you want them to be No. 1, you want Mark Ingram
to win the Heisman so you have the opportunity to compete against
the best,” safety Duke Ihenacho said.

This game was added to the schedule in place of the usual game
against Bay Area rival Stanford in order to bring in more money for
the football program. San Jose State also replaced a game at
Arizona State with a more lucrative trip to No. 12 Wisconsin next
week.

In all, the Spartans will play three games against teams ranked
in the top 12 of the preseason poll – including a home game in
conference play against No. 3 Boise State – as well as a visit to
Utah, which narrowly missed making the preseason poll.

”It helped us in recruiting, which is the life blood of your
program,” MacIntyre said. ”When you want to build a program back
to respectability, it all starts with recruiting. This game helped
us recruit some young men to this football team and also gave us a
lot of exposure this week all over the country.”