The best season in San Jose State history? There’s a good case for it, yet it’s one nobody could make if the person with the awkward role of interim, on-the-way-out coach hadn’t finished the job.
The Spartans are done for the year with an 11-2 record. Ten wins go to Mike MacIntyre, who rebuilt a program that was 1-12 just two years ago before leaving this month for a better payday at Colorado.
Win No. 11 goes to defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who was put in charge and got to speak in a victorious locker room after Thursday’s 29-20 win over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl.
‘‘I didn’t cry, but I wanted to,’’ Baer said. ‘‘I stood tall, took a couple of deep breaths. It’s been a little emotional the last few days.’’
Baer wanted to stay at San Jose State, but he was passed over for the full-time job in favor of San Diego’s Ron Caragher and plans to follow MacIntyre to the Buffaloes. With all those distractions going on, the No. 24 Spartans could be forgiven for being a little rattled ahead of their first bowl game since 2006.
Instead, San Jose State, in the national rankings for the first time since 1975, capped the year with a seven-game winning streak for its first 11-win season since 1940, recovering quickly from the shock of MacIntyre’s departure with the help of Baer.
‘‘We were kind of, ‘What’s going to happen next year?’ ’’ defensive end Travis Johnson said. ‘‘We started thinking too much, and we started trying to figure out what coaches are going to be here, what players are going to be here, and then Coach Baer came in the next day and he basically told us that it doesn’t matter — and what we set out to do, we’re going to accomplish.
‘‘It stopped all the thought of Coach Mac being gone. We still thought about him, but it was, ‘OK, he’s somewhere else. We’re going to go and get the win and we’re going to do it with what we have.’ ’’
What they do have is a stellar quarterback, David Fales, who led the nation in completion percentage in the regular season. The dart-throwing transfer started strong and finished stronger in the wind and cold at RFK Stadium, completing 33 of 43 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
Fales led the drive that set up Austin Lopez’s 27-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining, and De’Leon Eskridge’s 1-yard run with 2:34 left provided the insurance. Fales was an unknown when he arrived on campus in the spring, but he quickly became the offensive leader the Spartans needed.
‘‘He was like that puzzle piece that was able to make everything come together,’’ Johnson said.
Bowling Green (8-5) had a similar turnaround, improving from 2-10 in 2010 under coach Dave Clawson. A defense that allowed only 15.8 points per game in the regular season — ninth best among FBS schools — did a decent job against a San Jose State team that was averaging 35.3 points.
But give Fales enough chances and he'll find a way to put points on the board. He went over the 4,000-yard passing mark for the season, hitting Kyle Nunn for a 33-yard score to give the Spartans a first-quarter lead and finding Chandler Jones for an 18-yard reception that put San Jose State back in front, 19-13, in the third quarter.
Bowling Green retook the lead in the fourth quarter with a 68-yard drive, finished off by John Pettigrew’s 1-yard run with 10:26 remaining.
But Fales went 7 for 10 on a 68-yard march that got well within range for Lopez, who had a perfect season — making all 17 of his field goal attempts. The Spartans then forced a turnover that led to Eskridge’s clinching touchdown.
Cincinnati 48, Duke 34 — Brendon Kay wasn’t sure if he'd get another shot. When he did, he made the most of it.
Duke running back Josh Snead fumbled at the Cincinnati 5 with 1:20 left and Kay threw an 83-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce with 44 seconds to go, lifting the Bearcats to an improbable win over the Blue Devils in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
Kay threw for 332 yards and his four scoring passes were a Belk Bowl record.
Duke appeared to have the game in hand and was driving for the go-ahead score — and its first bowl victory since 1961 — but the final 80 seconds proved disastrous. With the game tied at 34, Snead fumbled and Bearcats defensive lineman John Williams recovered.
Kay quickly took advantage of the change in momentum, connecting with Kelce down the middle for the go-ahead score. Kelce got behind the Duke defense on a seam route, caught the ball in stride and raced the final 60 yards to the end zone as Blue Devils fans looked on in stunned silence.
Cincinnati (10-3) sealed it on the next series when Maalik Bomar came crashing into Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, forcing a deflection that Nick Temple returned 55 yards for a touchdown.
Renfree threw for 358 yards — another Belk Bowl record — for the Blue Devils (6-7). Conner Vernon, the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, had 190 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his final game for the Blue Devils.
Duke, which came in having allowed 51 points and an average of 294.5 yards rushing over its previous four games, struggled to stop Cincinnati after the first quarter.
Baylor 49, UCLA 26 — Glasco Martin ran for three touchdowns, Nick Florence threw for two scores and ran for another, and the Bears overwhelmed the Bruins in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Lache Seastrunk rushed 16 times for 138 yards and one score for Baylor, which outgained UCLA, 494-362. The Bears came in leading the nation in total offense with 387.7 yards per game.
Florence’s 188 yards passing gave him 4,309 for the season, breaking Robert Griffin III’s 2011 school season record of 4,293.
Baylor’s defense came up big, too. The Bears sacked Brett Hundley six times, including two by Chris McAllister.
Baylor (8-5) won its final four games and five of six. UCLA (9-5) lost its final three.
New Mexico 55, Cincinnati 54 — Alex Kirk scored 15 points and blocked Sean Kilpatrick’s shot just before the buzzer in Cincinnati, preserving the No. 16 Lobos’ win that handed the No. 8 Bearcats their first loss.
New Mexico (13-1) rallied in the second half behind its 7-foot center, who hit a 3-pointer, got a team-high seven rebounds, and slapped away Kilpatrick’s jumper off an inbounds play.
Cincinnati (12-1) moved up to No. 8 this week and was trying to go 13-0 for only sixth time in school history. The Bearcats couldn’t salvage a tight game against a team known for knocking off top teams.
St. Mary’s 82, Rhode Island 59 — Stephen Holt came off the bench to lead five players in double figures with 17 points as the host Gaels (9-3) defeated the Rams (4-8) in Moraga, Calif. Xavier Munford led Rhode Island with 20 points.