NCAA Football

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Fresno State Bulldogs

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 8-5, 6-2
Bowl Game: New Mexico Bowl (L 35-28 2OT vs. Wyoming)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 3rd WAC
Offensive rank: 17
Defensive rank: 98

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Ryan Mathews, 1,808 yards, 19 TD
Passing: Ryan Colburn, 2,459 yards, 19 TD, 11 INT
Receiving: Seyi Ajirotutu, 677 yards, 7 TD
Tackles: Ben Jacobs, 106 total tackles
Sacks: Chris Carter, 5 sacks (5 solo)
Interceptions: Phillip Thomas, 2 interceptions (1 touchdown)

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 4 vs. Cincinnati: This one will be nationally televised and gives the Bulldogs an excellent chance to prove they belong in an automatic qualifying conference, which is what the Mountain West stands to be in a few years if BYU stays put. This will be a tremendous test for a defense that was, well, not very good last season. The pass defense wasn't half bad, though, and they'll need to be on their toes against the Bearcats.

November 13 vs. Nevada: Both of these squads ranked in the top 10 in rushing offense, but Nevada took it to another level, finishing first in the country in rushing with an average of 344.9 yards per game. For a Bulldogs front that was awful at stopping the run, it's a scary proposition playing a team that last year gained 461 yards on you. And remember, they've got a pretty big game the next week…

November 19 @ Boise State: If Fresno State wants to win the WAC, they'll have to knock off the Broncos. There's only one more opportunity to do it as members of the WAC and earn their first outright WAC title (they've so far only shared the title: 1992, 1993, 1999). So the time is now.

AP: Not Ranked

Coaches': Not Ranked

Key Losses

Ryan Mathews, RB; Seyi Ajirotutu, WR; Moses Harris, S; Robert Malone, P

Key Returning Players

JRyan Colburn, QB; Jamel Hamler, WR; Chris Carter, DE; Ben Jacobs, LB

Offensive Overview

ISo Ryan Mathews, who led the nation in rushing a year ago, is gone, which leaves question marks all over the rushing game. Fortunately, Robbie Rouse looked good this offseason and while he doesn't have the power of Mathews at just 5'7, 185 pounds, he's quick and came away with a nice season a year ago as a backup. A.J. Ellis and Michael Harris will provide some nice depth, although neither has the size that Mathews did at 6'0, 218 pounds.

With the offense likely relying less on the running game, although they'll still see plenty of action, quarterback Ryan Colburn will be counted on to do more in the passing game. He'll be without three of his top four receivers, but Jamel Hamler returns after finishing second on the team with 503 yards and 5 touchdowns. Now healthy, Devon Wylie also returns looking to make an impact and Rashad Evans returns from an injury that kept him out of action last season. Colburn will have plenty of fast targets in the passing game to make up for the loss of Mathews in the running game. Derek Carr, David Carr's little brother, is sitting behind Colburn on the depth chart, but could redshirt this season after burning it last season.

The offensive line will see all five starters return to a unit that should be among the best in the WAC. They may not be the nation's top offensive line, but they're a veteran bunch with enough experience and talent to keep Colburn upright and to create some nice holes for the backs. Right tackle Kenny Wiggins and right guard Andrew Jackson protect Colburn's blindside and are all-star caliber players.

Defensive Overview

The pass defense was actually pretty good last year. The Bulldogs ranked 32nd in the nation, allowing just under 200 yards per game, but that doesn't mean they couldn't stand to see a little improvement. Seven players recorded an interception, but nobody came away with more than two. The secondary needs to come away with more than just eight picks and needs a cornerback to emerge as a reliable shutdown option. Desia Dunn will come into the season as the team's top corner, but the hope is that sophomore Jermaine Thomas can eventually emerge as the leader of this group. This season, safety Lorne Bell will be the top dog in the secondary after finishing second on the team with 65 tackles. Phillip Thomas will join him at the strong safety spot after serving as a reserve a year ago.

Ben Jacobs is the star of the defense coming off a first-team All-WAC team performance in which he recorded 106 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three forced and three recovered fumbles and a pick. He's an instinctive player who could again lead the team in tackles and will be all over the field in 2010. Kyle Knox also returns to the starting lineup with Travis Brown looking to handle the strongside duties in place of the departed Nico Herron.

Up front, Chris Carter is the star of the show at defensive end, but the Bulldogs were awful at getting to the quarterback last season, ranking ahead of only Western Kentucky in sacks. Their 11 collective sacks were worse than nine individual players and tied with eight others. Carter was the leader of the bunch, racking up a respectable five sacks of his own. The former linebacker needs help in getting to the quarterback and hopes to get it from former Hurricane Chris Lewis. Nat Harrison should also find himself in the end rotation as a speedy, although smaller at just 215 pounds, option. On the interior, Cornell Banks, Logan Harrell and Chase McEntee will form the rotation.

As a whole, this defense needs to shore up against the run. A more effective pass rush will help a secondary looking for a corner to emerge as a star, but if the running defense doesn't hold its own, the defense could be in for a long year.

Special Teams Overview

Kevin Goessling hit 15 of his 16 field goal attempts in 2009 with a long of 52 yards. He was the WAC's first team kicker and has missed just one of his career 102 extra point attempts. He'll return to give the Bulldogs an excellent option in the kicking game. Replacing punter Robert Malone, who led the Bulldogs to one of the top punting games in the nation, one that ranked 10th in net punting, will not be easy. Matt Darr was the considered one of the nation's top kicking prospects in last year's class and would have given the Bulldogs an excellent replacement for the star punter, but he was released and is off to Tennessee. Andrew Shapiro could take over the starting spot with Darr now a Volunteer.

Devon Wylie should see time as a punt returner coming off a season in which he averaged 8.9 yards per return. Rashad Evans is expected to take over the kick return duties for the departed A.J. Jefferson, who averaged a respectable 23.2 yards per return in 2009.

Head Coach: Pat Hill

Pat Hill has been the head coach at Fresno State since 1997, leading the Bulldogs to a 100-66 record. The .602 winning percentage may surprise a few people eager to brush off Fresno State, and those same people are often just as surprised to learn that he's taken his team to 12 bowl games in his 15 seasons. He even earned a share of the WAC title in his third season at the helm (1999). The back-to-back bowl losses to Colorado State and Wyoming don't help, but Hill has been an underrated but consistent winner in Fresno.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Kenny Wiggins, OT; Andrew Jackson, G; Chris Carter, DE

Season Prediction

3rd WAC

There's plenty of reason to be optimistic if you're a Bulldogs fan. The quarterback is good, a few talented backs are replacing Ryan Mathews in the backfield, the wide receivers are fast and the offensive line returns all five starters. There's also reason to feel good about the defense with Chris Carter and Ben Jacobs leading the way on the defensive line and in the linebacker corps, respectively. The move of Chris Lewis to the outside at end is expected to have an impact on the pass rush and there's talent beyond Jacobs in the linebackers corps as well. The secondary needs a true #1 corner to emerge, but Jermaine Thomas has tremendous upside and in time could emerge as a premier corner.

Before Fresno State can compete in the WAC, however, they'll have to find a way to increase their interceptions total, something they've struggled to do over the last several seasons, and they need to get to the quarterback more often. Eight interceptions and 11 sacks just won't cut it if you want to disrupt the Boise State passing game. And then there's the running defense. If you're letting up an average of 200+ yards a game, then Nevada is likely going to put up another 400+ rushing yards on you. If they can find a way to gel on defense, then this team could finish higher than third, and possibly win the WAC if they can pull off a huge upset against Boise State. Until then, they'll likely to finish behind the Broncos and Wolf Pack. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

 

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