San Jose State season preview

San Jose State

Coach: Ron Caragher (0-0, first year)

2012 record: 11-2 (5-1, WAC)

Key losses: OT David Quessenberry, RB De’Leon Eskridge, DE Travis Johnson, DE David Tuitupou, CB Ronnie Yell, TE Ryan Otten.

Key returnees: QB David Fales, WR Noel Grigsby, DT Travis Raciti, LB Keith Smith, DB Bené Benwikere, WR Chandler Jones.

Newcomer to watch: Linebacker Christian Tago -- a redshirt freshman -- had a strong enough spring that the new coaching staff feels confident enough to move Vince Buhagiar from the middle to outside linebacker in the new defensive system.

Biggest games in 2013: The Bill Walsh Legacy game at Stanford (Sept. 7) is always big for the Bay Area, and with a top-five Stanford team, it adds to the excitement. The Spartans Boise State this season, but showdowns against San Diego State (Nov. 9) and the season finale against Fresno State could go a long way toward determining the Mountain West crown.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The most obvious question is how the Spartans will fare without Mike MacIntyre, who turned them into a Top 25 team before leaving for another reclamation project at Colorado. Ron Caragher is seasoned at the FCS level, leading non-scholarship San Diego to a 44-22 record as the guy who replaced Jim Harbaugh. The Bay Area native wanted the job three years ago when it went to MacIntyre, so the Spartans are getting someone who isn’t necessarily looking for a stepping stone job. What remains to be seen is if his recruiting and schemes translate to the FBS level.

Outlook: In the season opener in 2012, when the Spartans played Stanford to a tight 20-17 loss, everyone was wondering what was wrong with Stanford. Turns out San Jose State was that good. Fales is one of the nation’s elite quarterbacks, and he and Grigsby make up one of the most feared pitch-and-catch tandems in the nation.

There are some holes to fill -- specifically on the defensive line where Johnson and Tuitupou and depart after combining for 30.5 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks between them. However, the Spartans are also moving from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under Caragher, and Raciti should again be one of the league’s premier defensive linemen. The secondary is also being reconstructed. Damon Ogburn made the move from corner to safety in the spring, which opens things up for Simon Connette at safety. DB Jimmy Pruitt also saw a lot of playing time at the end of 2012.

There are also a few hot position battles to consider throughout camp -- starting with the left tackle spot to replace Quessenberry. Wes Schweitzer and Evan Sarver will be fighting for the lone opening as the Spartans return four starters on the line. Tight end Billy Freeman should be in the hunt for the starting tight end spot after Ryan Otten and Peter Tuitupou used up their eligibility and were signed as undrafted free agents.

Missing Boise State in the regular season helps as San Jose State begins anew in the Mountain West Conference. But the West Division won’t be easy. The Spartans have to travel to Reno to face Nevada, but get San Diego State and Fresno State at home. The Spartans were 5-1 on the road last season and are 13-2 in their past 15 games -- including a 6-1 mark on the road.

MacIntyre laid a solid foundation. We’ll see if Caragher can keep it rolling.