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San Jose State looks like an expensive cupcake for UCLA

San Jose State will play football Saturday at the Rose Bowl, a gift of scheduling for UCLA that the Bruins paid for with a hefty guarantee.

The Spartans have lost 17 consecutive games to teams from Bowl Championship Series conferences. That includes last week’s 57-3 loss to Stanford, which left San Jose 2-34 against BCS teams since 1996.

Meanwhile, UCLA has not lost to a non-BCS team since . . . well, last week against Houston.

Still, the Bruins are 21-point favorites, and what happens in Vegas often happens on the field — UCLA was a 31/2 -point underdog in Houston and lost by four, 38-34.

“If the San Jose coach [Mike MacIntyre] is worth his salt, by Thursday his players were confident they could win this game,” said former Cal State Fullerton coach Gene Murphy, who coached the Titans in many “money” games.

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Win or rout, “You play one of these guarantee games and your program will be solvent for a time,” Murphy said.

San Jose State, a Western Athletic Conference team, plays a lot of them, and brought in $1 million from games at Alabama and Wisconsin last season. UCLA is paying the Spartans $425,000.

MacIntyre sounded hopeful when he noted that UCLA’s defensive ends and linebackers were not as “big and strong” as Stanford’s.

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel propped up the Spartans by pointing out that, “There were three times Stanford had to take three downs from the one-yard line to get it in.”

While only delaying three Stanford touchdowns sets the toughness bar rather low, UCLA safety Tony Dye said, “We played Houston, which isn’t a Pac-12 powerhouse, and look what happened to us.”

San Jose State belongs to the Western Athletic Conference, the same league that sent Utah State against defending national champion Auburn last week. And Auburn barely survived that one, 42-38.

“These games can be won,” Murphy said.

He added, “If San Jose plays lights out and loses, I’m not going to say moral victory, but their kids will go away confident.”

San Jose State’s program is better off for these types of games, even when they result in 57-3 (Stanford) and 56-3 (USC, two years ago) losses.

MacIntyre said the money games are “a big value for us. If we would play better, it would be a huge value. And we will play better.”

Some universities in the Cal State system have walked away from college football. Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State dropped programs in the 1990s.

Both schools played “money ball” and had a combined record of 2-23 against power conference teams. Those cash-and-carry games were only short-term fixes.

“The amount of spending is drowning when you play football,” Long Beach State President F. King Alexander said. If Long Beach State brought back football, Alexander said, there would be “mediocrity in our other programs.”

San Jose State has hung on. The Spartans are one of three state universities playing on the Football Bowl Subdivision level. San Diego State and Fresno State are the others.

San Diego State has had bright moments — the Aztecs produced Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, and had a solid season last year — and dark stretches. Fresno State, under Coach Pat Hill, is the poster program for these types of games. The Bulldogs opened this season against California, then have Nebraska on Saturday, followed by games against Mississippi and Boise State.

Fresno State has also experienced some success. The Bulldogs have won seven of their last 11 games against BCS opponents, though they have lost 12 straight against top-25 teams.

UCLA has a 32-2-1 record against state schools. USC is 8-1-1. UCLA and USC’s combined three losses have all been against Fresno State.

“Fresno State is an entity upon itself,” Murphy said. “Holy cow, they’re the only game in town. The city raises them a lot of money.”

San Jose State’s program was teetering when Dick Tomey arrived as coach in 2005. Tomey was an aggressive fundraiser and took the Spartans to the New Mexico Bowl in 2006 — their first bowl since 1990.

Now that he has taken over, MacIntyre said, “We need to find a way to win one of these games. Then the tables turn.”

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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