CSJ 2020 Offerpad Arizona Bowl Preview: Ball State vs. San Jose State

Ball State vs. San Jose State
When: Thursday, December 31st, 2:00 PM EST
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
TV/Streaming: CBS, CBS Sports Live

The 2020 Offerpad Arizona Bowl will feature two surprising conference champions in the Mid-American’s Ball State and the Mountain West’s San Jose State. This matchup is one of only two bowl games to feature two conference champions this bowl season (CFP Semifinal Ohio State vs. Clemson in the Sugar Bowl is the other).

In his first three seasons as Ball State Coach Mike Neu never won more than four games while San Jose State Coach Brent Brennan went 3-22 in his first two seasons at the helm of the Spartans. Then 2019 changed everything. Both teams finished 5-7, narrowly missing a winning season, but also having a few confidence-building wins. Each turned their teams around completely in 2020 to be conference champions.

Ball State has not played in a bowl game since 2013, and they are 0-8-1 all-time in bowl games. The Spartans are 7-3 in their bowl history, and this is their first bowl game since 2015.

Ball State’s last bowl was a loss to Arkansas State in the 2013 GoDaddy Bowl, while San Jose State last bowl was a win in the 2015 Cure Bowl over Georgia State.

These two teams will meet for the first time in their histories. It is also another first with their athletic directors Marie Tuite (San Jose State) and Beth Goetz (Ball State), in an Arizona Bowl game run by a woman named Kym Adair.

This game looks very close between these two conference champions. Here is a statistical comparison between these two squads.

Ball State Cardinals (1st MAC West, 6-1 Overall, 5-1 MAC)

Ball State is coming off of a thrilling Mid-American Conference victory over Buffalo. The Cardinals have now won six games in a row after losing its season opener at Miami (OH).

QB Drew Plitt leads the Ball State offense. He has 1,937 passing yards and 16 touchdown passes. WRs Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler are among the top receivers for the Cardinals. Hall has 49 catches for 665 yards and four touchdowns. Tyler has 38 catches for 504 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Cardinals were a team though that used a good mix of the run and pass. The leader of that group was RB Caleb Huntley, who put together a string of seven straight 100-yard games. Unfortunately for BSU though, he has opted out of this game.

The Cardinal defense is not as good statistically as San Jose State but do have a knack of getting turnovers. The Cardinals are +6 on the year with ten takeaways over the last four games.

Key Player: QB Drew Plitt

Without Huntley in the backfield, Plitt will likely be asked to throw the ball more than usual this season. He will still need to rely on the run game with Will Jones and Tye Evans will both likely get carries and those two will also need to produce at least enough to keep the stingy SJSU defense honest.

San Jose State Spartans (1st MWC West, 7-0 Overall, 6-0 MWC)

San Jose State won the Mountain West title game against Mountain West stronghold Boise State this year to cap off a full undefeated season.

The big turnaround from just a five win season a year ago has to be the play of QB Nick Starkel, who has 1,906 passing yards with 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions in 2020.

Starkel though has plenty of talent around him. He has two big wideouts in Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither. He also have a capable RB Tyler Nevens who only had 486 rushing yards in seven games but he is averaging a wooping 8.1 yards per carry. And another receiving threat has emerged lately in TE Derrick Deese, Jr., who has a team-leading seven touchdown catches and is coming off a seven-catch, 76-yard performance in the MWC title contest.

San Jose State ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 17.9 points per game, and has not surrendered more than 24 points in a game this season. The Spartans are holding opponents to an average of 111 yards on the ground and 338 total.

Key Player: TE Derrick Deese, Jr.

The Ball State defense will likely try to take out the two big WRs in Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither. This should leave Deese with very manageable coverage. He will need to run routes for QB Nick Starkel to find him to open up the big plays.

Final Forecast:

While Ball State overcame a ranked team in the MAC title game win over Buffalo, it will likely be playing the best team it has faced this year in this bowl game. The Spartans seem to have too much talent on both sides of the ball for the Cardinals to overcome. I think though a turnover or two will keep BSU in this game but SJSU will break the game open in the second half. I like the Spartans by a couple of touchdowns in the end. San Jose State 38 Ball State 24