No. 22 San Jose State, Ball State embrace trip to Arizonna Bowl
San Jose State coach Brent Brennan and Ball State coach Mike Neu have never coached against each other because they have primarily operated in two different regions of the country throughout their coaching careers.
They have achieved similar success, however, with programs that will take part in the Arizona Bowl on New Year's Eve at Tucson.
"I've been following him since he took over there," Brennan said of Neu, who was hired by Ball State, his alma mater, in 2016. "And there's a really similar path to ours. I think this is a really fascinating matchup, if you look to where he was in 2017 and '18. There's some real similarities there. What they've been able to do this year has been awesome."
The 22nd-ranked Spartans (7-0) were 3-22 in Brennan's first two seasons in 2017 and 2018. After going 5-7 last season, his team is unbeaten and Mountain West champions for the first time in program history.
Brennan is becoming a noted coaching candidate, specifically at Arizona, where he was a graduate assistant in 2000. He is also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year award.
Neu did not have more than four wins his first three seasons, but last year, the Cardinals went 5-7 and they are 6-1 this season with a Mid-American Conference title for the first time since 1996.
"(Playing in the Arizona Bowl) is a tremendous opportunity for our program," Neu said. "A lot of hard work has to be done between now and then facing a great opponent in San Jose State. We're really looking forward to it. A lot a lot of good preparation lies ahead here for the next several days before we get a chance to leave."
Neu said that preparation includes becoming hydrated to better handle Tucson's warmer weather than Muncie, Ind., this time of year. The last time Boise State has traveled this far west was in 1993 to play in the Las Vegas Bowl — when Neu was the starting quarterback.
"The first thing when we found out (when the bowl matchup was announced) we saw that it was 76 degrees in Tucson," Neu said from Muncie, where the high was 44 with precipitation. "The first thing we have to communicate with our young men is hydration. That starts now."
San Jose State features quarterback Nick Starkel, who completed 32 of 52 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountain West title win over Boise State. He broke former Fresno State star Derek Carr's championship record of 404 yards passing set in 2013 in win against Utah State.
"Nick has put up a huge year," said Neu, who was a quarterback coach with the New Orleans Saints before his hire at Ball State. "We'll have a lot of tape here to study and put a great game plan together and go take on that challenge."
Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt has also had a productive season passing for 1,937 yards while completing 152 out of 232 pass attempts in only seven games. He has 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
-–Field Level Media
Updated December 23, 2020