San Jose, Calif. • Spartans coach Mike MacIntyre called this one of the biggest games in his school's football-playing history, such as it is, but you wouldn't have known it by looking around. There was no real buzz beforehand. No big-time atmosphere. No huge crowd arriving at Spartan Stadium, a building that holds at capacity less than half of what LaVell Edwards Stadium seats and just 7,000 more than the Marriott Center.
As settings go, it was BYU football's answer to BYU basketball playing in the high school gyms of the West Coast Conference. Not that a few of those teams aren't quality outfits, it's just that they house and hide themselves in more modest realms and smaller venues.
Same with San Jose. It's a nice, cozy place, where they average 9,000 fans a game.
The crowd here was bigger than that, but it still looked like a backyard barbecue, many of the attendees on this occasion decked out in the deepest shade of royal blue. The preview of BYU-San Jose State in Saturday's San Jose Mercury-News was of such import that it was placed on page 7 of the sports section, buried behind events that about five people in this town cared about.
What it meant for the 8-2 Spartans was a shot at the appearance of legitimacy on ESPN2, if that's what beating the 6-4 Cougars brings anymore. It meant adding to a rÃ©sumÃ© that included wins over mostly teams you've never heard of, but a good victory over San Diego State and a near-miss at Stanford.
The numbers this time: SJSU 20, BYU 14.
Still, the game likely had little bearing on San Jose State's bowl chances, considering Utah State and Louisiana Tech probably rank ahead of it on any list of invitations. The Spartans play La. Tech next week in their regular-season finale.
Certainly, for BYU, it was just another outing, a chance not to embarrass itself against a WAC team that had lost to Utah State on the Spartans' home field by 22 points. It's not that San Jose State didn't deserve respect. The Spartans did. It's just that, as far as marquee value, this game had almost none for the Cougars.
They were aware of the dangers.
"We got to match them," said defensive back Preston Hadley. "We have to match their level of intensity, their level of emotion and anything they bring to the game."
For much of the game, they didn't.
Either way, this whole thing marked what the Cougars hope will soon be the end of the sometimes-insipid transition into independence, playing here and then at New Mexico State next week, filling the initial schedules in a kind of desperate emergency mode.
An emergency mode that messed with them Saturday.