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.”