Mike MacIntyre engineered a stunning turnaround at San Jose State that allowed him to move to a more high-profile job.
Dave Clawson went backwards a bit after a solid first season with Bowling Green, but the fourth-year coach now has his program on the upswing.
Teams that combined for three victories two years ago meet Thursday in the Military Bowl when the No. 24 Spartans face the Falcons for the first time.
Neither of these teams could have been expected to be headed to bowls in 2012 based on how MacIntyre fared at San Jose State in 2010 and Clawson did at Bowling Green that same year.
MacIntyre inherited a program that won two games in 2009 and guided the Spartans to a 1-12 mark in his first season. A 5-7 season followed before San Jose State went 10-2 this year to finish in second place in the Western Athletic Conference and clinch the program's first postseason game since the 2006 New Mexico Bowl.
"It's all new for all of us," senior tight end Ryan Otten said. "I was here on teams when we won one game, two games. We were toward the bottom of college football. Now, to crack the Top 25, we've come so far."
MacIntyre has moved on as he was named the coach at Colorado. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer will be the team's interim coach for this game.
"We want to thank Mike for the tremendous job that he did," San Jose State athletic director Gene Bleymaier said. "He turned the program around and did it the right way with character kids and by stressing academics. Mike provided us with a nice model moving forward for our next head coach to follow."
The Spartans have won six straight and can reach the 11-win plateau for the first time since the 1939 team went 13-0.
Clawson, meanwhile, took over at Bowling Green in 2009 and went 7-6 with a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl his first season. Campaigns of 2-10 and 5-7 followed before the Falcons went 8-4 this year - their first eight-win season since 2007 - and their coach is eager for this trip to RFK Stadium.
"We really hope all of Falcon nation, as many people as possible will come out and support us and hopefully make it a home-field advantage for us," Clawson said. "It's a much easier trip from Bowling Green, Ohio, than San Jose, California."
Although this will be a longer journey for San Jose State, it visited Washington earlier this season and beat Navy 12-0 on Sept. 29. The Spartans actually went through some of their plays on the National Mall.
Both teams feature the respective defensive players of the year in their conferences.
San Jose State lineman Travis Johnson earned the honor in the WAC after finishing with 12 sacks and leading the conference with 19 tackles for loss.
The 19 tackles for loss is the same total recorded by Bowling Green tackle Chris Jones, the Mid-American Conference player of the year. Jones finished third in the nation with 12 1/2 sacks for a defense ranked seventh nationally, allowing 289.7 yards per game.
Jones is the third Falcon to earn the honor, joining Vince Palko in 1993 and a name familiar to Bay Area football fans - former Oakland Raiders great Phil Villapiano - in 1970.
Bowling Green's defense was the top-ranked unit in the MAC. Linebackers Gabe Martin (69 tackles), Dwayne Woods (60) and Paul Swan (60) are other linchpins for the Falcons.
Woods is the only linebacker among that group who will be playing his final game.
"I've struggled this season with a back injury, ankle injury," Woods said. "It finally feels good to really be healthy and just really push through everything."
The Falcons will try to slow down David Fales, a junior college transfer in his first year as the Spartans quarterback. Fales finished seventh in the nation with 3,798 passing yards and tied for the WAC lead with 31 touchdown passes.
Fales has inviting targets in receivers Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Jones led the team with 10 TD receptions while Grigsby had nine and 1,173 yards.
Bowling Green was not known for offense, finishing 11th in the MAC with 373.9 yards per game. Anthon Samuel gained a team-best 966 yards rushing, although eight of his team-high 10 touchdowns on the ground came in the first six games.
Three-year starter Matt Schilz is third in school history with 7,673 passing yards. He had 2,426 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.
This is the first time in the five-year history of the Military Bowl that it has featured a ranked team.