Talk about a rude welcome to head coaching.
San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre will make his debut on Saturday when he takes the Spartans into one of college football's toughest environments at No. 1 and defending national champion Alabama.
"We're going to go in front of 102,000 people; they're going to lower down the national championship banner; they're going to hand out the Heisman Trophy; and we're going to kick it off," MacIntyre said Monday. "It's a great opportunity for these young men. You dream of it since being a little kid to always play against the best. We're going to get a chance to play the very best and see how we do."
MacIntyre had been an assistant in college and the pros for two decades before being hired last December to replace Dick Tomey at San Jose State. He took over a two-win team at a school that has had little success in recent years.
He was then greeted with the schedule that opened with the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This marks the second time the Spartans have opened the season against the preseason No. 1 team, having lost 49-13 at Nebraska in 2000.
But MacIntyre does have experience beating Alabama, being a freshman on the 1984 Vanderbilt team coached by his father that beat the Crimson Tide 30-21 in Tuscaloosa.
"That's the only time Vanderbilt has done it in like 100 years of football," MacIntyre said. "I had the experience of having had that happened. It was exhilarating and a fun time."
Repeating it would be almost unfathomable against a team that features Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, a backup running back nearly as talented in Trent Richardson, a quarterback in Greg McElroy who has won 30 straight starts since high school, a game-breaking receiver in Julio Jones and a defense coached by Nick Saban that's always one of the toughest in the nation.
The Spartans have played at Nebraska, at Southern California and twice against Boise State the past two seasons but none of that measures up to what they'll face Saturday.
"They're the best right now," quarterback Jordan La Secla said. "They're one step ahead of every team we've ever played. You want a challenge. You don't want to back down from any challenge. We look forward to it. We want to step up and meet the challenge. This is our schedule. We can't do anything about it. We want to embrace it. We're happy about it."
The Spartans players have been looking to this game for months. The scouting for many of them began when they watched the Crimson Tide beat Texas in January for the national championship. The players looked for any tips they could gain and also wanted to see Alabama win to make for an even bigger stage for this week's game.
"If you're going to open against Alabama, you want them to be national champions, you want them to be No. 1, you want Mark Ingram to win the Heisman so you have the opportunity to compete against the best," safety Duke Ihenacho said.
This game was added to the schedule in place of the usual game against Bay Area rival Stanford in order to bring in more money for the football program. San Jose State also replaced a game at Arizona State with a more lucrative trip to No. 12 Wisconsin next week.
In all, the Spartans will play three games against teams ranked in the top 12 of the preseason poll — including a home game in conference play against No. 3 Boise State — as well as a visit to Utah, which narrowly missed making the preseason poll.
"It helped us in recruiting, which is the life blood of your program," MacIntyre said. "When you want to build a program back to respectability, it all starts with recruiting. This game helped us recruit some young men to this football team and also gave us a lot of exposure this week all over the country."