Bulldogs Look to Make a Statement

Fresno State is out to prove they are a better football team than the one which lost to Wyoming in last year's New Mexico Bowl. We'll know right away if they are--they host Cincinnati in the season opener.

Fresno State Head Coach Pat Hill has the advantage of having 17 starters return from last year's bowl team and that's a solid foundation for the fall.  All five members of a talented offensive line are back.  And with a year's experience under his belt, quarterback Ryan Colburn should be a reliable leader.

Colburn (6-3, 220) was 181-298 last season for 2,459 yards and 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.   He has great size and can move around enough to buy time.  He just needs to cut down on the mistakes, although to be fair, he did seem to do that in the latter part of the season.  He threw seven interceptions in
Fresno 's first four games and just four after that.  With Ryan Matthews gone to the NFL, Colburn will be counted on for more production.  

Derek Carr (6-3, 190) burned his redshirt year last season but only saw limited duty, hitting 10-of-14 for 112 yards.  He needs to work on his build and learn the offense.  Kelly O'Brien was a good pickup from the junior college ranks.  O'Brien (6-6, 210) has a strong arm and good football knowledge (he is the son of former NFL quarterback Ken O'Brien.)  Fresno State coaches are hoping Colburn really asserts himself this fall, O'Brien is ready as a backup and Carr can redshirt to be the starter next season.  

Matthews was superb last year (1,808 yards and 19 touchdowns) and gained respect nationally for what he could do running the football.  His decision to depart early for the National Football League will hurt the team.  Those kind of moves are sometimes good for the individual (although he misses out on completing his schooling) but they are bad for the team concept.  That said, Robbie Rouse proved he could be a force last season as a true freshman and now he gets a chance to shine.  Rouse gained 479 yards on 82 carries and scored 4 touchdowns.   There is no doubt that Rouse (5-7, 185, So.) has to be a star this fall for the Bulldogs to succeed.   

A.J. Ellis (5-11, 180, So.) barely got his feet wet last season but he'll be counted on for a good portion of the work this fall.  Ellis has good speed and athleticism.  Michael Harris (5-11, 200, So.) is the biggest of the Bulldog runners.  He averaged 9.73 yards per carry in his final year of high school and Coach Hill is hoping he can make his presence known.   

Junior Austin Raphael (6-2, 230) started out as a linebacker but will play fullback when called upon in the Fresno State offense. 

Jamel Hamler is the top returning receiver with 37 catches for 503 yards and 5 scores.  With 3 of the top wideouts gone, Hamler (6-2, 205, Jr.) is the man.  Hamler has great hands and with his size, he can catch in a crowd and take the tough hits.  With more of an emphasis on the passing game, Hamler needs to be a major factor.  Senior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) battled injuries last season and finished with just 17 catches for 259 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Sophomore Rashad Evans (5-9, 180, So.) will be a familiar name across the Western Athletic Conference this season.  Evans had 21 catches for 232 yards as a freshman in 2008 but he missed the entire 2009 campaign with a bad hamstring.  Evans has great speed and enjoyed a good spring.   Plus, he is stronger than before after hitting the weight room hard.  

Redshirt freshman A.J. Johnson (6-0, 180) was a high school quarterback and is trying to make the transition to receiver.  He was impressive in the spring and with his speed is a deep-ball threat.  True freshman Davon Dunn (5-11, 175) was a gem in the 2010 recruiting class.  He could have played anywhere in the Pac-10 but chose Fresno State instead.  He is a threat to score from any point on the field and will be a star for the Bulldogs.  

Senior tight end Vince Pascoe (6-0, 230) is a good blocker but needs to become a factor in the passing game.

Joe Bernardi (6-2, 280, Sr.) is back at center for the Bulldogs.  He had nagging injury problems last year but is a tough, physical competitor and a leader on the line.
Fresno State has an all-star right side to protect Colburn's blindside.  Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295, Sr.) was an All-WAC performer at right guard.  He was a key reason why Matthews was so successful.  Jackson moves well, knows his assignment, and performs at a high level.  Jackson earned Academic All-American honors last year.  Tackle Kenny Wiggins (6-7, 310, Sr.) was a second-team All-WAC player.  Wiggins is tall and relentless in flattening his man on the line of scrimmage.  Big senior left guard Devan Cunningham (6-6, 350) is an immovable object that is an athletic part of Fresno 's formidable front.  Bryce Harris (6-6, 295, Jr.) showed the skills to be a good pass protector but still has upside at left tackle.  His job was to keep speed rushers away from Colburn and he performed admirably.   

Sophomore Matt Hunt (6-2, 315) has been impressive in practice.  He can play if needed but with the consistency shown by the starters, his time is next year.  Leslie Cooper (6-4, 305, Jr.) saw plenty of playing time last year.  Cooper is strong and could play either guard spot.   

The line helped Fresno State lock down the eighth-best rushing attack in America last season.  A running back like Matthews comes around only once in a while, but the Bulldog line plows over people and opens holes.  It will be up to the backs to take advantage of such a gifted front five.  

Defensive coordinator Randy Stewart is calling on his unit to step it up this fall.  The Bulldogs were 111th against the run and second-to-last in sacks.  Stewart also wants the defense to be more aggressive and force more turnovers.   

Chris Carter (6-2, 230, Sr.) had five sacks last year but, as the leader of the defensive line, that total needs to double.  Carter has good speed and quickness, getting 13 tackles for loss last season.  Logan Harrell (6-2, 275, Jr.) needs to have a good year to help Carter.  Harrell will be the newcomer to the starting unit.  He provides a good pass rusher who is quick off the ball.  Senior Chris Lewis (6-3, 260) started every game at tackle, making 20 tackles with a pick and 4.5 tackles for loss.  He will move to the outside to give the Bulldogs more bulk opposite Carter.  Lewis is a transfer from Miami of Florida who is physical and can now use his athleticism to give Fresno another force at end.   Nose tackle Cornell Banks (6-3, 300, Sr.) was a part-time starter last year and finished with 30 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and a sack.  Banks needs to use that big body to stop the run.   

Junior Chase McEntee (6-3, 265) will see playing time at nose tackle as well.  McEntee was credited with 19 tackles and 3.5 for loss.  Chase is tough, quick and athletic.  Redshirt freshman Nat Harrison (6-2, 215) isn't big but he's quick and gives the Bulldogs a good pass rusher at end.  Andy Jennings (6-2, 250) is another redshirt freshman who will be counted on to be a quick pass rusher but won't see significant time until he bulks up and can be more of a force against the run. 

Linebacker Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225, Sr.) leads by example.  The WAC all-star has great range, size (6-3, 225), and playmaking ability. He is among the best linebackers in the country, making 106 tackles last year with 8 for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and an interception.  Jacobs had 60 solo stops in 2009.  He has good speed, great instincts and an ability to get to the ball carrier.  Junior Kyle Knox (6-1, 215) is back on the weakside after making 32 tackles, 5.5 for loss last season.  Knox is a great athlete who moves well but he needs to improve his pass coverage.  Sophomore Travis Brown looks to take over the position at strongside backer.  Brown (6-2, 235), the son of the late Fresno State defensive coordinator and former Boise State star linebacker Dan Brown,  showed good hitting ability as a true freshman last season with 24 stops.  Travis has good size, football intelligence and heart that could make him a key factor on the Bulldog defense.  He'll jar some ball carriers and needs to shore up that side of the Bulldog defense to take the pressure off of Jacobs.  

Shawn Plummer (6-0, 200, Jr.) had 25 tackles, 3 for loss, with 3 pass breakups.  Plummer isn't big but he has speed that Bulldog coaches are hoping translates into a better pass rusher.  Jeremiah Toma is the heir apparent to Jacobs.  Toma (6-0, 215, Fr.) had 165 tackles for his California state championship high school team.  Toma displays great range in running from sideline to sideline to make the play.  Redshirt freshman Patrick Su'a (6-2, 215) is a great, dependable tackler in the open field.  Su'a is tough and needs to be a disruptive force to see more playing time.   

Sophomore cornerback Jermaine Thomas (5-11, 180) is one of the best pro prospects on the team. Thomas is the nephew of former Hawai'i and NFL receiver Ashley Lelie and has great athleticism.  Desia Dunn (5-10, 200) was fourth on the ‘Dawgs with 53 tackles and led the team with 6 passes broken up.  Dunn is a former walk-on that has a non-stop motor.  Senior free safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) also had a bad hamstring last year but still had 65 tackles, 5 for loss, with an interception.  Belle earned second-team All-WAC honors last season.  Phillip Thomas (6-1, 205, So.) was a great backup last season with 30 tackles and 2 interceptions.  Now, Thomas will use his size and hitting ability to secure the strong safety job.  Coach Hill wants to turn Thomas loose to use his athleticism in the Bulldog defensive backfield. 

True freshman Ed Dillihunt (6-0, 190) is expected to make an immediate impact in nickel and dime coverage. 
Fresno State expects big things from Dillihunt.  Isaiah Green (5-10, 180, So.) will challenge for playing time at corner.  He is a speed merchant who anchored his 4 x 100-meter relay team to the World Youth Championship gold medal and helped his 4 x 200 team set a national high school record.  Bulldog fans are anxious to see what he can do.  Zak Hill (6-2, 200) played in every game last season and had 12 tackles, mostly on special teams.  Hill is smart and tough but needs to improve his pass coverage.   

Junior placekicker Kevin Goessling has been superb, hitting 15-of-22 field goals (including a 58-yarder) as a freshman and 15-16 last season.  Goessling was an easy choice for the WAC first team last year and could be a Lou Groza Award contender.  Punter Robert Malone averaged 45.2 yards per kick last year, but Matt Darr (6-2, 210, Fr.) was headed to USC until Coach Pete Carroll left, and is thought to be the top punting prospect in the nation.  Darr carries a 4.0 GPA with track star speed.  Andrew Shapiro will also challenge for the job.  
Wylie averaged 8.9 yards on punt returns last year, and Evans will be a dangerous kickoff returner this year.  

Fresno State can make a statement from the get-go with the season opener against Cincinnati , last year's Sugar Bowl representative from the Big East Conference.  The Bulldogs also must down Mississippi on the road and Illinois at home in the season finale to reach the level they are striving for.   

In the WAC, Fresno State has a favorable league schedule, hosting Hawai'i , Nevada and Idaho .  Coach Hill's team must travel to Louisiana Tech and Boise State .  With that schedule, the Bulldogs could be in contention for a Bowl Championship Series ( BCS ) bowl berth, even with one loss. 

The next team in BroncoCountry's series of opponent previews is Nevada, scheduled for Saturday, August 21st.



2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Cincinnati
Sept. 18 at Utah State
Sept. 25 at Mississippi
Oct. 2 Cal Poly
Oct. 9 Hawai'i
Oct. 16 New Mexico State
Oct. 23 at San Jose State
Nov. 6 at Louisiana Tech
Nov. 13 Nevada
Nov. 19 at Boise State
Nov. 27 Idaho
Dec. 3 Illinois







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