Rivals will square off on Thanksgiving afternoon when the Fresno State Bulldogs visit the San Jose State Spartans at CEFCU Stadium in The Battle for the Valley Trophy. Fresno State is still in contention for the West Division crown at 8-3 (5-2 MWC) after most recently playing on November 13 in a 34-7 home blowout of the New Mexico Lobos as a 24-point favorite. San Jose State is playing for bowl eligibility at 5-6 (3-4 MWC) after taking an ugly 48-17 home loss to the Utah State Aggies as a 3.5-point favorite back on November 13.
This is historically a competitive rivalry matchup, with Fresno State holding a narrow 42-38-4 lead all-time. San Jose State won the most recent matchup 17-16 at home in 2019.
Fresno State returns from bye with eyes on division titleIt has been a fantastic season for the Bulldogs already, and they are still in the race for the West Division title, needing a win and San Diego State loss to Boise State in the final weekend of the regular season. Fresno State had no trouble with New Mexico in its most recent game before a bye, as Ronnie Rivers opened the scoring in the first quarter with a short run before Raymond Pauwels and Josh Kelly also finding the end zone in the second to help the Bulldogs build a 27-0 lead by the midway mark of the third.
Quarterback Jake Haener had another terrific game, completing 24 of 31 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Rivers had 20 carries for 71 yards and a score, while Jordan Mims was a big play threat with four catches for 103 yards and one score. It was an excellent effort from the Bulldogs defense, which held New Mexico to 196 yards of total offense including just 34 through the air.
"It feels good to be sitting here seeing these guys talking about the game and the excitement they have. I'm just proud of the seniors… they're a special group. I loved the energy, I loved the vibe I was getting," head coach Kalen DeBoer said to Fresno State's website. about the senior day win. "It felt like once they kicked off the ball they were able to put that to the side and play football the way they know how to do."
The Bulldogs have been a strong bet at 7-4 against the spread while covering in two of its last three games, although it was hammered 40-14 at home by Boise State three weeks ago as a slight favorite. Overs are 5-6 for the Bulldogs, with four of their last six games going under the betting total.
It has been a strong season for the Fresno State offense, which is racking up 33.0 points and 461.4 yards per game. The Bulldogs defense is also inside the top 35 nationally in scoring, with opponents putting up 21.3 points and 344.3 yards per contest.
Haener has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation, completing 276 of 413 pass attempts for 3,467 yards, 28 touchdowns, and nine interceptions while adding three rushing scores. Rivers has carried the ball 156 times for 723 yards and five touchdowns while adding 273 yards as a pass-catcher, while Jalen Cooper leads a deep group of pass-catchers with 69 receptions for 751 yards and 10 touchdowns. Arron Mosby is a leader for the Bulldogs defense with 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups, and four forced fumbles.
Linebacker Tyson Maeva, who has 44 tackles including 5.5 for loss this season, is out for a couple more weeks with an undisclosed injury. The Bulldogs have otherwise gotten much healthier of late, and expect to have offensive linemen Braylen Nelson and Bula Schmidt back in the fold on Thursday.
San Jose State still has a shot at bowl gameWhile the defending Mountain West champions have been unable to recreate the magic of last year, the Spartans still have a chance to qualify for back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1987. The Spartans didn't help the cause last time out against Utah State, as they got out to a 14-0 lead thanks to Kenyon Reed's 56-yard pick-six and Tyler Nevens' short touchdown run early in the second, only for the Aggies to reel off 24 straight points before half before pulling away even more after the break.
Nick Starkel struggled under center, completing 19 of 29 pass attempts for 138 yards and one interception. Nevens only had 12 yards on 10 carries although, he did score the lone offensive touchdown for the Spartans, while Isaiah Hamilton had a team-high four catches for 43 yards. It was complete domination, as Utah State outgained San Jose State 410-150 while forcing three turnovers.
"I'm frustrated for our players. I'm frustrated for everybody at San Jose State because this was a really, really important game for us," said head coach Brent Brennan to 247sports. "It was a combination of not blocking their front effectively and then also some sacks."
The Spartans are also below .500 against the spread at 5-6, although they had covered in four straight games before getting blown out by Utah State. Overs are also 5-6 for the Spartans, with three of their last four games going over the betting total.
San Jose State has struggled badly this season, ranking in the bottom 25 nationally with 21.0 points and 342.6 yards per game. The Spartans defense has held up the best it could while often being put in bad situations, with opponents putting up 25.3 points and 360.8 yards per contest.
Starkel has been limited to six games with various injuries, completing 109 of 206 pass attempts for 1,385 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Nevens has been productive with 155 carries for 711 yards and seven touchdowns, while Derrick Deese is the leading pass catcher with 44 receptions for 687 yards and four touchdowns. Kyle Harmon is having a terrific defensive season to lead the Spartans with 122 tackles including 7.5 for loss, one sack and two pass breakups.
Tight end Sam Olson has missed significant time with an undisclosed injury and it's unclear if he can play on Thursday. Wide receiver Terence Loville hasn't played this season due to undisclosed issues.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
This won't be a blowout in a road rivalry game, but the Bulldogs are the far more well-rounded team while San Jose State has struggled to beat top half Mountain West teams, giving Fresno State some value with this spread in the single digits. The biggest difference here will be the quality of offenses, as DeBoer and Haener have built an ultra-explosive unit while San Jose State has scored more than 27 points just once all year.
Starkel hasn't been able to come close to matching his efficiency level from last season, struggling badly with accuracy and turnovers as the arm injury has proven difficult to play through. Throw in the fact that the Spartans run game has been middling at best, and this is suddenly an offense that is averaging just 5.0 yards per play against Division I competition after finding a lot of success last season.
On the other side, Haener is one of the most productive passers in all of college football with nearly nine yards per attempt and over 30 total touchdowns, giving the San Jose State secondary the biggest challenge it has faced all season. San Jose State's defense will eventually wear down against a potent opposing offense, and the Bulldogs will keep their division title hopes alive with a big win.
Full-Game Total Pick
Even though Fresno State has a prolific offense, the defense actually grades out better in terms of scoring and has been very good against bottom half Mountain West teams all season. The Bulldogs are particularly effective against the run with just 3.7 yards per attempt allowed, which provides a problem for the Spartans as they have leaned heavily on the ground game allowed.
San Jose State's defense has actually been quite excellent even with the team's overall struggles, allowing just 5.0 yards per play to rank just outside the top 30 in the nation. The Spartans will get in Fresno State's way enough, and don't figure to score much against a very good defense themselves.