One word can describe the Fresno State Bulldogs in 2008 – OVERRATED. Pat Hill's club began the season ranked No. 25 in the USA Today poll and was labeled as a BCS Buster. After the Bulldogs lost four of its final six games to complete a 7-6 record (4-4 in WAC), Hill was officially placed on the hot seat. This year, Fresno faces another tough out-of-conference schedule as it goes on the road to play Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Illinois.
The Bulldogs offense wasn't as special as projected to be last year, much like the entire team. Quarterback Tom Brandstater was consistently inconsistent, but he will be holding a clipboard for the Denver Broncos this season and Fresno State is searching for its next signal-caller. Junior Ryan Colburn currently occupies the top spot on the depth chart, but Derek Carr (David Carr's brother) and Ebahn Feathers are two freshmen looking to siphon playing time away from Colburn. Feathers possesses throwing and mobility skills so he could be utilized in certain offensive packages. The offensive line is young after losing two starting tackles, and dealt with a few key injuries during the spring. Nine players were sent in and out of the line rotation during spring ball so the only sure-fire incumbent is two-year starting center Joe Bernardi.
Fresno is stacked at the running back position. Senior Lonyae Miller averaged 6.8 yards per carry last season to accompany his touchdown total of seven, and Anthony Harding led the team in rushing with 822 yards and six TDs. If junior tailback Ryan Mathews can stay healthy after missing almost half of last season (606 yards, 8 TDs), his talent could propel him to be one of the best backs in the WAC. Speed comes to mind when describing the Bulldogs wideouts. Seyi Ajirotutu led the receiving corps in 2008 with 47 catches, 795 yards and five TDs. He is flanked by fellow seniors Chastin West and Marlon Moore.
The Bulldogs defense did absolutely nothing to stop the run most of last season. It ranked No. 108 nationally, giving up 210.0 yards per game on the ground. Fresno also accounted for only 18.0 sacks in 2008, but is hoping the move of Chris Carter from linebacker to defensive end will shore-up that pressure problem. Junior Ben Jacobs will stabilize the Dogs linebacking unit after collecting a team-high 113.0 tackles last year. Fresno's secondary failed to make any big plays during its letdown season. The crop of cornerbacks and safeties were only able to muster five INTs in 13 games, the worst in the WAC by four interceptions.
San Jose State Special Teams Coverage vs. Fresno State Special Teams. The Bulldogs scored four return touchdowns last season as Pat Hill continually pieces together a spectacular special teams unit. A.J. Jefferson is one of the most explosive kickoff return men in the country who ranked fourth nationally in 2008 with a 29.29 ypr average. Fresno ranked No. 10 in punt returns after averaging 14.0 yards a clip with a trio of scores. The team solidified a Top 20 position in kickoff returns, averaging nearly 24 ypr. San Jose State has the players and personnel to combat a volatile special teams squad like Fresno. The Spartans ranked in the Top 25 in kickoff return coverage last year, yielding 19.07 ypr and only 1 TD. State ranked No. 30 in punt returns after giving up 6.27 ypr. In last year's 24-10 defeat in Fresno, receiver Chastin West pulled the Bulldogs into a 10-10 tie with the Spartans late in the third frame with a 49-yard punt return.
Despite returning 17 starters, Fresno State will remain the third-best team in the WAC behind Boise State and Nevada. And if the Bulldogs want to reach its tenth bowl game in the last eleven years, the team will have to improve upon its defense and turnover margin. That margin of -.85 was calculated from 13 TOs gained against 24 TOs lost, good for No. 107 in the country. If the Spartans can win the turnover matchup then there is hope. But The Battle of the 152 has decisively been dominated by Fresno over the last 15 years with the Bulldogs winning 13 of 14 contests. That trend will continue when the Bulldogs get a lengthy fourth quarter punt return to set up the game-winning field goal.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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