By JOSEPH WHITE
WASHINGTON — Maybe they should call it the Transition Bowl.
For the third consecutive year — which accounts for 60 percent of the lifespan of this particular event — the Military Bowl had coaching news between the selection date and the game.
Ralph Friedgen was fired by Maryland in 2010, but he was allowed to coach the game and ended his Terrapins career with a big win over East Carolina.
Last year, Tim Beckman left Toledo for Illinois, leaving replacement Matt Campbell to lead a one-point victory over Air Force.
This year, it’s even more complicated.
Having rebuilt San Jose State (10-2), Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado after the Spartans accepted the bid that will have them facing Bowling Green (8-4) today at RFK Stadium. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer was selected as the interim coach for the game and wanted the job full-time, but he wasn’t even granted an interview.
Instead, San Diego’s Ron Caragher was hired, and Baer is going to follow MacIntyre to Colorado.
So, talk about awkward: Caragher has already started to set up shop with the Spartans during Baer’s final days at the school. Caragher watched practices back in California last week and traveled with the team to the nation’s capital as an observer.
“In some ways, it can be very confusing,” said Baer, who also had an interim bowl gig with Notre Dame in 2004. “Sometimes it’s confusing to me, to be honest with you. But once we get out to practice and we’re handling our business in meetings, it’s this group of coaches and this group of players that’s been here all year. That’s how we’re handling it. It’s going to be his football team after this, but not ‘til.”
The shake-up has jarred the players just as they were hoping to put an exclamation point on perhaps the best season in school history. The No. 24 Spartans are playing in a bowl for the first time since 2006, are in the AP rankings for the first time since 1975, and will be trying to win 11 games in a season for the first time since 1940.
That’s quite a feat considering that San Jose State was 1-12 just two years ago during MacIntyre’s first season. Baer has been around longer, having joined the Spartans staff in 2008.
“I’ve been here with a group of young men, a couple of coaches, that have seen some really tough times and seen this thing turn around,” Baer said. “Really the goal is — I don’t know if it’s a parting gift to the university or the kids, or just saying, ‘Look, we’ve been in this together. Let’s finish this together. This is still the 2012 football team. This is the last time we’ll be together.’ We’re very focused on trying to be the best team ever in San Jose State history. I’m not doing it for anybody but this group of men and coaches.”
Bowling Green has a different kind of mission in mind. The Falcons also rebuilt their program in a hurry — rebounding from 2-10 two years ago — and are one of seven Mid-American Conference teams in the bowls.
Yet the MAC is off to a rough start: 0-2 so far, both blowouts.
“We’d like to finish with a statement in the bowl games,” coach Dave Clawson said. “It’s going to be a challenge. I think we’re underdogs in every one of the seven games, but I think that’s a little bit of the nature of the MAC, that we’re always fighting uphill. This year we had a very good year in the field and we’d love nothing more than to finish with a pretty strong performance in the bowl season.
“But, at the end of the day, Bowling Green only has control over one of those games, and all we can control is how we play in the Military Bowl.”
Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2), 10 a.m. (ESPN)
Line: San Jose State by 7
Series Record: First meeting
What’s at stake: A successful bowl comeback. Bowling Green hasn’t played in a postseason game since 2009, San Jose State since 2006. To see how far these schools have come in a short time, look at 2010 — when Bowling Green went 2-10 and San Jose State was 1-12. San Jose State’s quick turnaround cost the school its coach: Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado, leaving defensive coordinator Kent Baer to lead the Spartans against the Falcons. Ron Caragher, hired from San Diego to replace MacIntyre, will attend the game as an observer.
Key matchup: San Jose State’s high-scoring offense vs. Bowling Green’s stingy defense. The Spartans averaged 35.3 points (26th among FBS schools), while the Falcons allowed only 15.8 (9th).
Players to watch: Bowling Green: DT Chris Jones, Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year, has 12½ sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
San Jose State: QB David Fales leads the nation in completion percentage (72.1) and ranks fourth with a 170.9 passer rating. He has 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Facts & figures: San Jose State, No. 24 in the AP poll, is the first Top 25 team to play in the Military Bowl, now in its fifth year. … The Spartans have won six straight to move into the national rankings for the first time since 1975. They will be trying to win 11 games in a season for the first time since 1940. … San Jose State also has a conference defensive player of the year: DE Travis Johnson took the honors in the Western Athletic Conference. … Bowling Green has won seven of eight, losing only to No. 25 Kent State since a 37-0 loss to Virginia Tech in September. … Falcons coach Dave Clawson also turned around programs at Fordham and Richmond.