Monday, July 10, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Fresno State Bulldogs

Fresno State Bulldogs
Tim DeRuyter came to Fresno State on a hot streak, and was even considered for the open USC job at one point a few years ago, but that all came to a crashing halt, and this once proud program that has known mostly success for the last three decades has now hit rock bottom. DeRuyter is gone, and now the administration turns to former California head coach Jeff Tedford. Tedford was a bit of a head scratacher when he was hired, as there were other candidates about that made more sense at the time, but Tedford does have a history at Fresno State, as he returns for his third go around on this staff. Make no mistake...Tedford has a total rebuild ahead of him to get the Bulldogs right again. After the Cal situation slipped through his fingers, and he missed a wide open window to dominate in the PAC-12, will this situation be any different?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Chason Virgil showed signs of coming along last season before missing part or all of the final three games of 2016. He returns to the QB job as a sophomore in 2017 after passing for 2021 yards and 13 TDs to 10 INTs. Of course, he still has plenty of work to do to get the engine running perfectly, but he has shown some ability, and they have not had that at QB since Derek Carr left. If he slips, the Bulldogs have brought in JC transfer Jorge Reyna to help out as QB depth is exceptionally thin.
The top two receivers from the 2016 team are both coming back in KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan. Johnson caught 66 passes for 773 yards and 10 scores last fall, and Jordan caught an additional 45 passes for 713 yards, and is a major big play threat, averaging 15.84 yards per catch.
The entire offensive line, while inconsistent last fall, will return intact, which can only be encouraging. Chriatian Cronk is back at LT, Logan Highes at LG, Aaron Mitchell at C, Micah St. Andrew at RG, and David Patterson (RT) will all be back.
Kody Kroening was a rare bright spot last fall at PK, as he hit 15/17 FG attempts. He will be back to give the Bulldogs a much needed scoring option this fall.
What To be Concerned About: Offense
The offense has been i complete implosion mode for the last couple of years, and the team really bottomed out last season when they averaged just 17.7 points per game. One of the main issues is with a run game that averaged just 116.17 yards per game, while running behind a freshman QB who was struggling to find his groove. The run game has got to improve upon these numbers, as not one back averaged at least five yards per carry, no matter their workload. The line had something to do with that, but with that group back intact, there are no more excuses.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Six returning starters are back for the Bulldogs, which puts them ahead of several other MWC teams in that category.
Three starters return on the line, which is a good start to show improvement this season. Nathan Madsen and Tobenna Okeke are back at DE, while Malik Forrester is back at DT. Forrester is the best of the group, as he finished with five TFLs last season. The returning ends combined for just four.
James Bailey and Robert Stanley are back at LB. Bailey finished with 59 tackles last fall, while Stanley had 54, and they combined for eight TFLs. Bailey added four PBUs in coverage.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defense crumbled under the weight of having to carry a stagnating offense last season, and allowed 30.9 points per game. Part of the concern this season is that only one returning starter is back in the secondary, and that could allow teams to have their way with the pass fairly early in the season and in games in general. DeShawn Potts is the lone returning starter. He finished with five PBUs last season and added 59 tackles.
The Punting game is also a concern, as Blake Cusick did not have a stellar freshman season. He averaged just 38.33 yards per punt on the year, and that will not help much.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Incarnate Word, 9/9 at Alabama, 9/16 at Washington, 9/30 Nevada, 10/7 at San Jose State, 10/14 New Mexico, 10/21 at San Diego State, 10/28 UNLV, 11/4 BYU, 11/11 at Hawaii, 11/18 at Wyoming, 11/25 Boise State
Final Overview
This, once again, is a total rebuild job. Tedford is going to have his hands full with this gig, and in his most recent years, he has not done a great job just about anywhere. He lasted just one season in his return to the CFL as head coach of the BC Lions, and had to leave his job with Tampa Bay in the NFL due to health issues, and then there was that implosion and slow slide at Cal. All signs point to this not working out long term, but one has to hold out hope. In short, a three win season would be a miracle this fall in Fresno, and just surviving the early schedule will be imperative, as the Bulldogs play two national semifinalist teams in consecutive weeks with games at Alabama and Washington. That was brutal scheduling. The Bulldogs will continue to take their lumps for a time, but for how long? Nobody knows.

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