No. 24 Spartans eye 11th win in Military Bowl

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No. 24 Spartans eye 11th win in Military Bowl

Mike MacIntyre engineered a stunning turnaround at San Jose State that allowed him to move to a more high-profile job.

Dave Clawson went backwards a bit after a solid first season with Bowling Green, but the fourth-year coach now has his program on the upswing.

Teams that combined for three victories two years ago meet Thursday in the Military Bowl when the No. 24 Spartans face the Falcons for the first time.

Neither of these teams could have been expected to be headed to bowls in 2012 based on how MacIntyre fared at San Jose State in 2010 and Clawson did at Bowling Green that same year.

MacIntyre inherited a program that won two games in 2009 and guided the Spartans to a 1-12 mark in his first season. A 5-7 season followed before San Jose State went 10-2 this year to finish in second place in the Western Athletic Conference and clinch the program's first postseason game since the 2006 New Mexico Bowl.

"It's all new for all of us," senior tight end Ryan Otten said. "I was here on teams when we won one game, two games. We were toward the bottom of college football. Now, to crack the Top 25, we've come so far."

MacIntyre has moved on as he was named the coach at Colorado. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer will be the team's interim coach for this game.

"We want to thank Mike for the tremendous job that he did," San Jose State athletic director Gene Bleymaier said. "He turned the program around and did it the right way with character kids and by stressing academics. Mike provided us with a nice model moving forward for our next head coach to follow."

The Spartans have won six straight and can reach the 11-win plateau for the first time since the 1939 team went 13-0.

Clawson, meanwhile, took over at Bowling Green in 2009 and went 7-6 with a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl his first season. Campaigns of 2-10 and 5-7 followed before the Falcons went 8-4 this year - their first eight-win season since 2007 - and their coach is eager for this trip to RFK Stadium.

"We really hope all of Falcon nation, as many people as possible will come out and support us and hopefully make it a home-field advantage for us," Clawson said. "It's a much easier trip from Bowling Green, Ohio, than San Jose, California."

Although this will be a longer journey for San Jose State, it visited Washington earlier this season and beat Navy 12-0 on Sept. 29. The Spartans actually went through some of their plays on the National Mall.

Both teams feature the respective defensive players of the year in their conferences.

San Jose State lineman Travis Johnson earned the honor in the WAC after finishing with 12 sacks and leading the conference with 19 tackles for loss.

The 19 tackles for loss is the same total recorded by Bowling Green tackle Chris Jones, the Mid-American Conference player of the year. Jones finished third in the nation with 12 1/2 sacks for a defense ranked seventh nationally, allowing 289.7 yards per game.

Jones is the third Falcon to earn the honor, joining Vince Palko in 1993 and a name familiar to Bay Area football fans - former Oakland Raiders great Phil Villapiano - in 1970.

Bowling Green's defense was the top-ranked unit in the MAC. Linebackers Gabe Martin (69 tackles), Dwayne Woods (60) and Paul Swan (60) are other linchpins for the Falcons.

Woods is the only linebacker among that group who will be playing his final game.

"I've struggled this season with a back injury, ankle injury," Woods said. "It finally feels good to really be healthy and just really push through everything."

The Falcons will try to slow down David Fales, a junior college transfer in his first year as the Spartans quarterback. Fales finished seventh in the nation with 3,798 passing yards and tied for the WAC lead with 31 touchdown passes.

Fales has inviting targets in receivers Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Jones led the team with 10 TD receptions while Grigsby had nine and 1,173 yards.

Bowling Green was not known for offense, finishing 11th in the MAC with 373.9 yards per game. Anthon Samuel gained a team-best 966 yards rushing, although eight of his team-high 10 touchdowns on the ground came in the first six games.

Three-year starter Matt Schilz is third in school history with 7,673 passing yards. He had 2,426 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.

This is the first time in the five-year history of the Military Bowl that it has featured a ranked team.

Local college players turn heads at respective Pro Days

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AP

Local college players turn heads at respective Pro Days

Last week both Stanford and Cal held “Pro Day,” an annual showcase where each school’s departing players audition for NFL scouts. 

To those unfamiliar with Pro Days, these events typically feature lots of men with stopwatches, a few TV news crews, and a group of players running 40-yard dashes, cone drills and 20-yard shuttles. The objective is to give NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate prospects up close and personal.

Since 1982, the top 300 or so prospects in the country have been invited each year to the NFL Scouting Combine, a centralized evaluation for all pro teams. Subsequent Pro Days held by individual schools provide a stage for players who weren’t invited to the combine. They also offer participants a chance to improve their combine performance or give interested teams another look.

At Cal’s Pro Day on Friday, Khalfani Muhammad turned a lot of heads with a 4.35 40-yard dash, faster than any running back recorded at the combine earlier this month. In fact, Muhammad’s time would have tied for fourth best overall. Wide receiver Chad Hansen also impressed with a 4.45 in the driving rain. Quarterback Davis Webb, who had some accuracy issues at the combine, had a good outing despite throwing a wet ball for much of the day. His predecessor, Jared Goff, was the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL draft.

Stanford’s “Pro Timing Day” on Thursday attracted a lot of attention because of the presence of two projected first round draft picks — running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Over 40 NFL representatives were on hand, including 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Carolina Panthers head man Ron Rivera. Several sportswriters and local TV anchors covered the proceedings, which were also streamed live on ESPN3.

It was a far cry from the pre-Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw days, when Stanford had few pro prospects and Pro Days drew sparse turnouts. However, 31 Stanford players have been drafted in the last seven years, including four in the first round and six in the second. McCaffrey and Solomon will boost those numbers.

McCaffrey has been the Cardinal’s marquee player for the past two seasons. He set an NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards in 2015, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting, and then rushed for 1,639 yards in ’16. Thomas had 25 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in the last two seasons and was named the Pac-12’s defensive lineman of the year last fall.

Surprisingly, most pundits now believe Thomas will go higher than McCaffrey in the draft. McCaffrey is currently projected to go middle or late first round. Thomas is expected to go in the top five. In fact, NFL draft guru Mel Kiper now has Thomas being taken with the No. 2 pick in the draft by that team down the road in Santa Clara.

NFL teams are split as to whether McCaffrey can be an every down back. Some see him as more of a complimentary, third-down type. At the combine, he excelled in the 40-yard dash (4.48), vertical jump (37.5”), cone drill (6.57) and both 20 and 60-yard shuttles (4.22 and 11.03), but did only 10 reps in the bench press. His overall rating at the combine was 5.99 (out of a possible 8.0). At Pro Day on Thursday, he put on a brilliant display in a number of receiving drills, showing off the versatility that many teams crave.

Thomas was one of the top performers at the combine, registering a 4.69 40, 30 reps in the bench press, a 126” broad jump, 6.95 cone drill and 4.28 shuttle. His overall rating was 6.85. On Pro Day, he did a number of position specific drills.

Unlike McCaffrey, who elected to skip the Cardinal’s post-season game, Thomas played in the Sun Bowl and elevated his pro stock with several game-changing plays. The NFL’s post-combine analysis noted: “Thomas' bowl performance against North Carolina opened a lot of eyes, as he was all over the field in the Cardinal's win in a way that isn't even reflected in an impressive stat line (seven tackles, two for loss, sack).”

According to one NFL observer at Pro Day, “In the bowl game, Thomas went from the second round to maybe the second pick in the draft.”

Stanford coach David Shaw, understandably, is a huge fan of both players. He chafes at the suggestion McCaffrey can’t be an every down back.

“People may not want to talk about it, but race is a component in that discussion,” he told me at Pro Day. “Some teams want to put Christian in a box. ‘He’s a white running back, another Danny Woodhead.’ Well, he’s not. If you look at the film, what he did at the combine, and here today, he’s more of a Reggie Bush or a Ladainian Tomlinson. He’s a difference maker.”

Shaw also marveled at Thomas’s rise up the draft boards since his Sun Bowl performance.

“That’s the beauty of bowl games,” Shaw said. “What might seem meaningless to one guy can make 10 million dollars for another.”

Stanford rallies to beat Notre Dame, punches ticket to Final Four

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USATSI

Stanford rallies to beat Notre Dame, punches ticket to Final Four

BOX SCORE

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Alanna Smith's jumper with 23 seconds left capped Stanford's rally from a 16-point deficit in the second half, Erica McCall blocked a last-second shot and the Cardinal edged top-seeded Notre Dame 76-75 Sunday to reach its first Final Four since 2014.

Brittany McPhee scored 27 as the second-seeded Cardinal (32-5) won its eighth in a row overall. This was the third straight year Stanford and Notre Dame have met in the NCAA Tournament, with the Cardinal winning twice.

Down 47-31 in the third quarter, Stanford surged to end Notre Dame's 17-game winning streak. The Irish (33-4) had a final shot, but McCall blocked Arike Ogunbowale's drive near the basket.

The win in the Lexington Regional gives Stanford a chance to pursue its third national championship under coach Tara VanDerveer.

Among those in the crowd at Rupp Arena was Jon Samuelson, whose daughter, Karlie, scored 15 for Stanford. A day earlier, he was at the Bridgeport Regional to see another daughter, UConn star Katie Lou Samuelson, help the Huskies win their 110th straight game.

Smith finished with 15 points.

Ogunbowale had 25 and Marina Mabrey 20 for Notre Dame, which had sought its sixth Final Four in seven seasons.

After driving for a basket with 51 seconds left, Smith added her biggest shot for the go-ahead score. Stanford then denied Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen and Ogunbowale on successive attempts in the final 15 seconds to spark a wild celebration.

THE BIG PICTURE:
Stanford once again proved no deficit was too big to overcome. The Cardinal shot 12 of 26 on 3-pointers, Samuelson and McPhee each making five. Not bad, considering Stanford shot 2 of 15 overall in the second quarter while getting outscored 23-7. ... McCall had 15 rebounds.

Notre Dame seemed to do everything right for most of the game but couldn't stop Stanford's perimeter game in the second half. The Irish also made just 11 of 31 shots after halftime and were topped 33-32 on the boards.

UP NEXT:
Stanford faces the South Carolina-Florida State winner in the Final Four in Dallas next weekend.