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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Fresno State Bulldogs

2009 Record: 8-5 (6-2 in WAC)
2009 Bowl: New Mexico Bowl (lost to Wyoming 35-28)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Pat Hill (100-66 at Fresno State)
Non-Conference Schedule: Cincinnati (9/4), at Mississippi (9/25), Cal Poly (10/2), Illinois (12/3)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 33.8 points per game (3rd in WAC, 14th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 228 (2nd in WAC, 8th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 201 (6th in WAC)
Total Yards/Game: 430 (6th in WAC, 17th in Nation)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 28.4 points per game (3rd in WAC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 214 (7th in WAC, 111th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 199 (3rd in WAC)
Total Yards/Game: 413 (5th in WAC, 98th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.77 per game (7th in WAC, 109th in Nation)
Penalties: 39 yards per game (1st in WAC, 7th in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 7
Defense: 9
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Ryan Colburn, Sr (181 of 298 for 2459 yds, 19 TD, 11 INT, 189 ypg, 171 yds rushing)
Rushing: RB Robbie Rouse, Soph (82 carries for 479 yds, 4 TD, 5.8 ypc, 36 ypg)
Receiving: WR Jamel Hamler, Jr (37 rec, 503 yds, 5 TD, 2.8 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Ben Jacobs, Sr (106)
Sacks: DE Chris Carter, Sr (5)
Interceptions: FS Phillip Thomas, Soph (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Phil Steele: #50
Sporting News: #81
Athlon Sports: #59

2010 Pre-Season WAC Prediction
Athlon Sports: #3
Phil Steele: #2 (tie with Nevada)

2010 Bowl Predictions
Athlon Sports: Kraft Foods Bowl (vs. California)
Phil Steele: Humanitarian Bowl (vs. Western Michigan)

Fresno State started off 1-3 after playing one of the toughest earliest schedules in all of college football (at Wisconsin, vs Boise State and at Cincinnati). The Bulldogs then reeled off 5 straight WAC wins before getting blown out at Nevada. This season Fresno State once again plays a tough out of conference schedule with games against Cincinnati, Illinois (the Illini will be looking for revenge for last years game) and at Ole Miss. Fresno State also must replace first round draft pick and 1800 yard rusher (and 19 TDs) Ryan Matthews. We reached out to Todd Kaufmann of The TKO Report to get his take on the 2010 Fresno State Bulldogs.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Strengths: I think the running game is still a big strength of this team, even after the loss of All-American Ryan Mathews. They're in good hands with Robbie Rouse, A.J. Ellis, and Michael Harris.

Weakness: They've got to be better defensively this season. They were getting beaten time and time again by good running backs or good running quarterbacks. They need to upgrade their defensive line and their linebackers if they're going to fix that problem.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

I think Cincinnati right off the bat is as tough an opening game as Fresno State could schedule. There's no question that this is not the same Cincinnati team that got to a BCS bowl game last season but they're still someone that Fresno State needs to take seriously.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

I don't think there's a game that I fear as far as opposing teams are concerned, but there's always that one game that Fresno State circles every year and it's against Boise State. This is a team that they just haven't been able to beat over the last few years and until they can do that, they'll never get over the hump to win an outright WAC title.

The one thing I do fear about this program is the a letdown. They play up to teams like Cincinnati, Wisconsin, and Boise State and play down to the Idaho's, Louisiana Tech's and San Jose State's. These are games they've lost in the past because they play to the level of their competition not to their own strength and ability.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Though running back Robbie Rouse is talked about all through the central valley, he's one player that, nationally, isn't going to get a lot of run. His teammates call him "Mighty Mouse" for a reason and he should surprise some people next year.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Jamel Hamler (503 receiving yards, 5 TD's) should be the go to receiver this year with Seyi Ajirotutu and Chastin West headed to the NFL. A lot of Bulldog fans would list Ryan Colburn as the best offensive player, but they'll have to forgive me for not being sold on him just yet.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

That's a tough one. You could go with linebacker Ben Jacobs who finished with 106 tackles last season or you could go with defensive end Chris Carter who had five sacks to go along with 47 tackles last season.

The opposting teams know where Chris Carter is at all times and you better believe the opposing quarterback is looking for him on every down.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Ryan Colburn. I've been called a "Ryan Colburn hater" but I need to see more from him this year if Fresno State is going to be anywhere near respectable. He made horrible decisions in games they should have won against both Wisconsin and Cincinnati.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

I'm stuck between Davon Dunn and Victor Dean. Both of them have good spead but with Dean's height (6'6") he makes an inviting target for Ryan Colburn.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

I think Derron Smith could have a big year for Fresno State especially with the secondary being one of the weakest points of this team.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

With Colburn having a full year under his belt it should bring him more experience to not push the envelope over the first few games, because they're going to be key for the Bulldogs to have a half way decent year.

They open the season at home against Cincinnati, then on the road to Utah State, where they've notoriously struggled, then to the SEC to take on Ole Miss. Three of their first four games are not going to be easy and if they can come out of it with a split, I think that's a successful start.

As for their final record, 8-4 is being generous but I believe they're good enough to go 7-3. If they can finish 8-4 or better, I would think most would say that's a successful season. There are, of course, going to be a lot of fans who would be angered by that statement but this team has a tendency to get up for the big games (Cincinnati, Ole Miss) and not play so well against the lesser games (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech).

Todd Kaufman writes for The TKO Report and is also a featured columnist for The Bleacher Report.  You can also follow him on Twitter @toddkaufmannbr.

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