Auburn Tigers quarterback Robby Ashford (9) runs an option play as Auburn Tigers take on Mercer Bears at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. Auburn Tigers leads Mercer Bears 28-7 at halftime.

Auburn enters San Jose State game with QB questions

The Auburn Tigers are seeking a 2-0 start as they look to make last season’s disastrous finish a distant memory when they host San Jose State on Saturday.

Quarterback T.J. Finley threw for a touchdown and running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter combined for five scores on the ground as the host Tigers rolled to a 42-16 win over FCS opponent Mercer last week.

Last season, Bryan Harsin’s Tigers became the first Auburn team in 71 years to end a season with five consecutive defeats. They finished 6-7 after losing to Houston in the Birmingham Bowl and endured an offseason in which Harsin’s future was very much in doubt.

The Tigers’ biggest question mark is at quarterback where junior Finley was 9-for-14 passing for 112 yards with a touchdown against Mercer. But his two interceptions opened the door for Robby Ashford, a transfer from Oregon, to get playing time. Ashford went 4-for-7 passing for 100 yards and rushed for 68 yards on just six carries.

Harsin said Finley will start against San Jose State (1-0), but Ashford will be involved in the game plan.

“Everyone feels like if there’s two guys playing, there’s some controversy,” Harsin said. “If they’re good enough to play, then we should find a role for them.”

Regardless of who is under center, expect Bigsby and Hunter to get the ball frequently in Auburn’s run-oriented offense.

Bigsby rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries — an average of 9.2 yards per attempt — while Hunter had 34 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries.

Nine Tigers had at least one carry, as Auburn rushed for 285 yards and five scores on 41 attempts, an average of seven yards a carry.

San Jose State rallied for a 21-17 win over visiting Portland State when quarterback Chevan Cordeiro’s two-yard run with 1:11 left capped a six-play, 32-yard drive that gave his team the lead for good.

Cordeiro completed 15 of 30 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, while Elijah Cooks had six catches for 123 yards and Kairee Robinson added 35 yards on 10 carries.

However, the Spartans gave up seven sacks and mustered just 49 rushing yards on 29 carries, an average of 1.7 yards per attempt against Portland State.

“It’s going to be an incredible environment,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said of playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “We are expecting a really tough game. We have to play clean football and that’s the biggest challenge.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs defensive lineman Sefo Mailangi (55) tackles San Jose State Spartans running back Shamar Garrett (24) for a loss during the second quarter at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 SDSU pulls out double-OT win over SJSU

Backup quarterback Lucas Johnson found Jesse Matthews for a 24-yard touchdown pass in the second overtime Friday night, lifting No. 24 San Diego State to a 19-13 win over host San Jose State.

The Aztecs (6-0, 2-0 Mountain West) earlier stopped the Spartans in the second OT when Trenton Thompson intercepted Nick Nash’s pass for Derrick Deese Jr. in the end zone. On third down, Johnson and Matthews teamed up for the game-winner.

Johnson entered the game late in the fourth quarter for Jordon Brookshire, who completed 13 of 27 passes for 132 yards. Nash was 16 of 34 for 228 yards.

San Diego State was outgained 354 yards to 240 and got a great game from punter/kicker Matt Araiza. He averaged 52.9 yards on seven punts, including an 86-yarder in the third quarter, and downed five kicks inside the Spartans’ 20 while also booting two field goals.

Each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime. San Diego State got a 14-yard TD pass from Johnson to Matthews, but Tyler Nevens’ 1-yard plunge forced another overtime. It also made the Aztecs the last FBS team this year to allow a rushing touchdown.

San Jose State (3-4, 1-2) could have won the game on its last drive of regulation, but Matt Mercurio came up short on a 52-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining.

Araiza initiated the scoring with 11:16 left in the first half, booming a 53-yard field goal one play after San Jose State was flagged for being offside. That was one of seven first-half penalties on the Spartans for 60 yards.

Mercurio converted a 32-yard field goal less than three minutes later to tie the game. Nash hit Jermaine Braddock and Deese for 29- and 37-yard gains, respectively, to set up the score.

San Diego State responded with its best sustained drive of the half, running 11 plays and reaching the Spartans’ 9. However, a third-down pass fell incomplete, and Araiza kicked a 26-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining, giving the Aztecs a 6-3 lead at intermission.

Mercurio kicked a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to tie the score.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA;   USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) sets to pass in the first half of the game against the San Jose State Spartans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

No. 15 Southern California pulls away from San Jose State

Greg Johnson’s 37-yard interceptions return for touchdown punctuated a strong defensive effort from No. 15 Southern California, and the Trojans overcame San Jose State’s own stout defense to win their season-opener 30-7 on Saturday in Los Angeles.

USC (1-0) intercepted San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel twice, both of which led to Trojans’ touchdowns. Johnson jumped a route in the fourth quarter and streaked down the sideline untouched for a score with 11:42 remaining that effectively put the game away.

Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis finished 25-of-36 passing for 263 yards and no interceptions.

USC struggled to put distance between itself and reigning Mountain West Conference champion San Jose State (1-1), which went scoreless for the game’s first 37:35 but pulled to within 13-7 on Tyler Nevens’ 2-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.

After Slovis threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tahj Washington in the opening quarter, San Jose State, playing an aggressive defensive style heavy on blitz packages, kept the Trojans out of the end zone for the next 40:19 of game time. The Spartans recorded eight tackles for loss on the day and brought consistent pressure on Slovis with three quarterback hurries.

Viliami Fehoko sacked Slovis in the early fourth quarter to limit USC’s most promising drive since the mid-first quarter touchdown.

That score — set up after edge-rusher Drake Jackson intercepted Starkel at the San Jose State 39-yard line — looked like it was going to open the floodgates for the Trojans.

Slovis found Washington, who went over a Spartans defender to haul in the score and give USC a 10-point lead less than eight minutes into the game. The Trojans scored on a 27-yard Parker Lewis field goal just 2:39 earlier.

But USC’s inability to complete drives relegated it to three Lewis field goals, all attempted in the red zone.

The Trojans finally broke through for another offensive touchdown when Slovis found a sliding Erik Krommenhoek for a 20-yard score with 2:07 remaining.

USC’s Drake London caught a career-high 13 passes for 144 yards, and Washington hauled in four passes for 56 yards.

Keaontay Ingram rushed for 86 yards, and USC totaled 423 yards as a team.

San Jose State totaled 356 yards, with Starkel’s 308 yards on 24-of-46 passing leading the way. The Spartans finished just 1-of-3 on red-zone opportunities.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; San Jose, California, USA;  San Jose State Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel (17) passes the football during the first quarter against the UNLV Rebels at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

No. 22 San Jose State, Ball State embrace trip to Arizona Bowl

San Jose State coach Brent Brennan and Ball State coach Mike Neu have never coached against each other because they have primarily operated in two different regions of the country throughout their coaching careers.

They have achieved similar success, however, with programs that will take part in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve at Tucson.

“I’ve been following him since he took over there,” Brennan said of Neu, who was hired by Ball State, his alma mater, in 2016. “And there’s a really similar path to ours. I think this is a really fascinating matchup, if you look to where he was in 2017 and ’18. There’s some real similarities there. What they’ve been able to do this year has been awesome.”

The 22nd-ranked Spartans (7-0) were 3-22 in Brennan’s first two seasons in 2017 and 2018. After going 5-7 last season, his team is unbeaten and Mountain West champions for the first time in program history.

Brennan is becoming a noted coaching candidate, specifically at Arizona, where he was a graduate assistant in 2000. He is also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year award.

Neu did not have more than four wins his first three seasons, but last year, the Cardinals went 5-7 and they are 6-1 this season with a Mid-American Conference title for the first time since 1996.

“(Playing in the Arizona Bowl) is a tremendous opportunity for our program,” Neu said. “A lot of hard work has to be done between now and then facing a great opponent in San Jose State. We’re really looking forward to it. A lot a lot of good preparation lies ahead here for the next several days before we get a chance to leave.”

Neu said that preparation includes becoming hydrated to better handle Tucson’s warmer weather than Muncie, Ind., this time of year. The last time Boise State has traveled this far west was in 1993 to play in the Las Vegas Bowl — when Neu was the starting quarterback.

“The first thing when we found out (when the bowl matchup was announced) we saw that it was 76 degrees in Tucson,” Neu said from Muncie, where the high was 44 with precipitation. “The first thing we have to communicate with our young men is hydration. That starts now.”

San Jose State features quarterback Nick Starkel, who completed 32 of 52 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountain West title win over Boise State. He broke former Fresno State star Derek Carr’s championship record of 404 yards passing set in 2013 in win against Utah State.

“Nick has put up a huge year,” said Neu, who was a quarterback coach with the New Orleans Saints before his hire at Ball State. “We’ll have a lot of tape here to study and put a great game plan together and go take on that challenge.”

Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt has also had a productive season passing for 1,937 yards while completing 152 out of 232 pass attempts in only seven games. He has 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell holds up the AAC Championship trophy at the end of the game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Unbeaten Cincinnati receives New Year’s date with Georgia

Cincinnati’s long-shot hopes of somehow sneaking into the College Football Playoff were officially stomped into oblivion on Sunday.

The Bearcats (9-0) finished No. 8 in the final rankings, leaving them as one of three undefeated FBS schools that weren’t part of the CFP.

Coastal Carolina (11-0) finished at No. 12 and San Jose State (7-0) was No. 22.

The Bearcats did land the coveted New Year’s Six bowl berth later Sunday when they accepted an invitation from the Peach Bowl to face No. 9 Georgia (7-2) in Atlanta.

“It’s a really big deal for us to finish the season the way we started,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said on Sunday. “But I think it also puts you in a position for the following year to start off in a place where you have a chance to maybe reach the top because in our league and a lot of these games that we’re going to play, if you’re not recognized and noticed at the beginning of the season, it’s going to be tough to put yourself over the top unless you beat one of those top two, three, four, five teams.”

Playing on New Year’s Day will be a big deal for Cincinnati but the American Athletic Conference program will be hoping for a better outcome than its previous two appearances on the major bowl stage.

The Bearcats went 11-2 in the regular season in 2008 but lost 20-7 to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The next season, a 12-0 regular season netted a Sugar Bowl spot but Tim Tebow-led Florida blew out Cincinnati 51-24.

Coastal Carolina wasn’t ever a serious CFP option but accepting an invitation to the Cure Bowl in Orlando to face Liberty (9-1) seems to be a lesser quality bowl for the Chanticleers.

Coastal Carolina’s case for future credibility would have better served with a matchup against a power conference school. Their shining moment of this season was an exciting 22-17 upset of then-No. 8 Brigham Young earlier this month.

The Chanticleers, from the Sun Belt, will be making their first bowl appearance since moving up to the FBS ranks for the 2017 season. It was also their first winning season of the four-year run.

“We are excited to make history with our program’s first-ever bowl appearance at the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl,” Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said in a statement. “Our team, coaches, and staff have worked tirelessly during this unprecedented time with COVID-19 and are deserving of this opportunity. It has been a magical season this year and we look forward to this next opportunity in such a well-respected bowl that supports a great cause in the great city of Orlando.”

San Jose State has been one of the more stunning stories of the college football season as it enters the Arizona Bowl matchup in Tucson versus Ball State (6-1).

A downtrodden program that went 1-11 two seasons earlier suddenly transformed into the best team in the Mountain West. The Spartans won all their games by double digits and punctuated their rise with a solid 34-20 victory over Boise State in the conference title game. It was their first win in 15 all-time meetings against the Broncos.

San Jose State’s 7-0 start is its best since its 1939 squad went unbeaten in 13 contests. Legendary Pop Warner was an advisory coach that season.

“It’s just been a beautiful journey,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said after Saturday’s victory. “It’s been magical.”

The Spartans went to just four bowl games over the previous 30 seasons but won all four.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; San Jose, California, USA; San Jose State Spartans running back Tyler Nevens (23) is tackled by UNLV Rebels defensive back Bryce Jackson (24) during the fourth quarter at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State embraces ‘biggest game’ against Boise State

San Jose State is just two years removed from a 1-11 campaign, so excuse the No. 24 Spartans if they are a little bit giddy to be playing conference power Boise State in the Mountain West championship game Saturday in Las Vegas.

San Jose State (6-0, 6-0 MW) is typically a punching bag for the Broncos, who have won all 14 all-time meetings. The Spartans also are attempting to start 7-0 for the first time since the school’s 1939 squad went unbeaten in 13 contests.

The program last had a winning record in 2012 — its final campaign in the Western Athletic Conference before joining the Mountain West — and San Jose State coach Brian Brennan’s name is suddenly in the coaching speculation mill (with Arizona) despite having an 8-29 mark with the Spartans before this season.

“We are climbing the mountain, and that’s all I’m worried about right now. That’s it,” Brennan said, swiping off rumor chat. “This team, moving forward, is playing in the biggest game in the history of our school.”

The “biggest game” tag fits in the eyes of junior defensive end Cade Hall, who has a team-leading eight sacks this season to earn Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“Being on a team that was 1-11 and then being where we’re at now feels really good because we’ve been on both sides,” Hall told reporters. “We’ve put in the work to try and turn this thing around. It feels great.”

San Jose State is the host team for the game in Sam Boyd Stadium because it recently relocated its program to Las Vegas due to Santa Clara County’s restrictions on contact sports because of the COVID-19 surge in the area.

San Jose State and the Broncos (5-1, 5-0) were scheduled to play in Boise on Nov. 28 but the contest was scrapped just hours before kickoff due to COVID-19 issues in the Boise State program. The Mountain West declared the game a no-contest.

The Broncos have continued to have COVID-19 issues and played short-handed — only two quarterbacks suited up — and without multiple assistant coaches for last Saturday’s 17-9 win in the snow at Wyoming.

“It’s tough,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said earlier this week. “I can tell you that. We had some of our players doing things coaches normally do.”

The Broncos have won three straight games since being trounced 51-17 by then-No. 9 BYU on Nov. 6 in Boise.

Though Boise State typically has few issues with the Spartans — six of the wins are by at least 35 points — Harsin is concerned about the latest matchup.

“It is all San Jose State. We are focused on what we have to do this week to play against a very good team,” Harsin said. “San Jose State is good. We have done some good things this season. We got to get ourselves ready.

“This is why you work so hard to be in a game like this and play for a championship.”

Quarterback Hank Bachmeier has passed for 929 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions in four games for a Boise State offense averaging a Mountain West-leading 36.2 points per game. Receiver Khalil Shakir had 46 catches for 634 yards and six touchdowns.

The Broncos allow 26.0 points per game with standout all-conference cornerback Avery Williams also being named Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year for the second straight season. Williams scored three special teams’ touchdowns this season — two on kickoff returns, and one on a blocked punt that he returned for a touchdown.

In his career, Williams has returned five punts and three kickoffs for scores.

The Spartans are averaging 30.3 points on offense while limiting opponents to 17.5 points per game. San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel, a transfer from Arkansas, has passed for 1,453 yards and 13 touchdowns and been intercepted just four times.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; The against the San Francisco 49ers take on the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium.The team bench areas have been extended along the sidelines to allow extra spacing for social distancing room for players and coaches and team personnel. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers need temporary home due to county sports ban

The San Francisco 49ers appear in need of a temporary home after Santa Clara County officials on Saturday banned professional, college and youth sports games and practices through Dec. 21.

The strict health mandate was announced due to the “severe surge” of COVID-19 in a county that is also home to college programs Stanford and San Jose State.

The mandate goes into effect on Monday.

“The update today, to the professional sports and collegiate sports directive, will temporarily suspend activities that require direct physical contact or interaction in Santa Clara County,” County Counsel James Williams told reporters on Saturday. “So that means for those teams, they will not be able to play games or have practices where they have direct contact within the county.”

Neither the 49ers nor the NFL issued an immediate response to the ban.

The 49ers (4-6) play at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, but are slated for three more home games: Dec. 7 against the Buffalo Bills, Dec. 13 against the Washington Football Team and Jan. 3 versus the Seattle Seahawks.

Santa Clara County health official Dr. Sara Cody is deeply troubled by the recent uptick in cases.

“I am gravely concerned by the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Cody said in a statement. “The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in our county has doubled in just the past couple of weeks, and we are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity very soon if current trends continue.”

The county had a single-day record of 760 cases on Saturday, according to the Mercury News.

The 49ers haven’t had fans in the stands of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara due to county health orders.

Another complicating factor for the 49ers is a new travel ordinance going into effect that will require a 14-day quarantine for people traveling in and out of the county from more than 150 miles away.

The 49ers could elect to remain in Los Angeles after Sunday’s game as they sort out destinations. Oakland and the Phoenix area — perhaps Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe — could be possible sites for upcoming home games.

The 49ers also have had repeated COVID-19 issues within their football squad in recent weeks. As of Saturday, San Francisco had five players on the reserve/COVID-19 list and removed three from the list during the week.

As for Stanford, the program has a home football game scheduled for Dec. 12 against Oregon State.

San Jose State has upcoming home games against Hawaii (Dec. 5) and Nevada (Dec. 11).

The NHL’s San Jose Sharks could also be affected in terms of preseason practice sessions. Their upcoming regular-season schedule hasn’t yet been announced.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA; Boise State Broncos cornerback Avery Williams (26) scores an eighty eight yard kickoff return in the second half against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

More COVID-19 issues cause Boise State to cancel vs. San Jose State

A key Mountain West contest between San Jose State and host Boise State was canceled Saturday due to increasing COVID-19 cases in the Boise State program.

The Mountain West announcement the cancellation and declared it a no-contest.

“Due to an upward trend of COVID-19 cases and contact tracing within the Boise State program, the Broncos are unable to participate in the game on Nov. 28 vs. San Jose State,” the Mountain West said in a statement. “Therefore, the MW is canceling the game and declaring it a no-contest. There is no plan to reschedule.”

Boise State has had major COVID-19 issues in recent weeks. The Broncos played a game against Colorado State on Nov. 12 with 14 players out due to COVID-19 protocols and had 12 players sidelined for a Nov. 21 game at Hawaii.

Leading up to the San Jose State game, reports had the Broncos with five players testing positive and four others out due to contact tracing.

However, the number could be much higher as Boise State was still sorting through lab results late Friday night before deciding Saturday morning that it couldn’t move forward with playing the game.

“Because of a delay at the lab, our results from Thursday’s tests didn’t come back until late yesterday, which meant our staff were contact tracing until late last night,” interim athletic director Bob Carney said in a statement. “Under the circumstances, and with limited numbers within specific position groups, our coaches, administration and medical personnel met this morning and determined that it was not in the best interest of our student-athletes’ safety and well-being to play today’s game.

“I am disappointed for the student-athletes, coaches and fans, both at Boise State and San Jose State, and am hopeful the Broncos will be able to return to the field (on Dec. 4) against UNLV.”

The Spartans (4-0, 4-0 Mountain West), who are enjoying a surprisingly strong season, were dejected over the cancellation of the game against Boise State (4-1, 4-0).

“We arrived in Boise on Friday and learned this news Saturday morning,” San Jose State athletic director Marie Tuite said in a statement. “Our players and coaches were looking forward to this game with great anticipation. It is a big disappointment to everyone that we are not able to play this game.”

The Spartans are next slated to play at home on Dec. 5 against Hawaii.

–Field Level Media

Nov 18, 2017; Laramie, WY, USA; A general view of the  Fresno State Bulldogs helmet against the Wyoming Cowboys during the second quarter at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Fresno State-SJSU canceled due to contact tracing

Contact tracing at Fresno State related to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the Bulldogs to cancel their scheduled Saturday home game against San Jose State.

The game won’t be rescheduled and was declared no contest, the Mountain West Conference announced Thursday.

The Bulldogs-Spartans game is the 16th to be postponed in the Football Bowl Subdivision this week, one more than last week.

Fresno State athletic director Terry Tumey said in a statement, “Though we have dutifully followed all proper protocols, and have received continual guidance from the Fresno County Department of Public Health, we unfortunately have confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 within our football program.

“In coordination with the Fresno County Department of Public Health and extensive contact tracing efforts, we have identified additional student-athletes who, per public health protocols, are required to be quarantined as a precaution.”

San Jose State coach Brent Brennan added in a statement, “We were looking forward to playing Fresno State this weekend. We had a great week of practice preparing for this game and playing for the Valley Trophy.

“While there is disappointment about not playing a game this weekend, this is another reminder how important it is to follow all the health and safety guidelines to beat COVID-19 — starting with wearing a face mask, washing your hands frequently, and practicing safe social distancing.”

Fresno State (3-1, 3-1 MW) is next due to play a home game against San Diego State on Nov. 27. San Jose State (4-0, 4-0) is scheduled to resume action Nov. 28 at Boise State.

The Mountain West has canceled three games this week. Utah State at Wyoming, slated for Friday, and UNLV at Colorado State, scheduled for Saturday, also were scrapped.

–Field Level Media