Mountain West

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#105 Air Force Falcons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#105

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 49-41 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 105 Air Force.

Previewing Air Force’s offense for 2014

Nate Romine directed a diverse offense last season, at least by Air Force standards. Romine is the rare Falcons quarterback who is a better passer than runner. The Falcons went to six straight bowl games with a run-oriented offense. They stayed home last season with a 2–10 record employing their more diverse attack.

Coach Troy Calhoun faces a complicated decision for 2014. Does he go with Romine, the superior passer, or Kale Pearson, the superior runner? A run-first attack will keep opposing offenses off the field. The struggle between Romine and Pearson will define the season. Pearson is returning from a surgically repaired right knee, but he’s such a gifted runner that he might return kickoffs if he fails to win the starting quarterback job.

Senior tailback Jon Lee has long been a can’t-miss future star for the Falcons. He boasts sprinter’s speed and strength, and he’s elusive in the open field. But nagging ankle and elbow injuries might prevent Lee from reaching his considerable potential. Broam Hart, who played fullback last season, could switch to tailback while Lee watches, yet again, from the bench.

Under assistant coach Clay Hendrix’s direction, the Falcons’ offensive line consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most athletic. Air Force linemen are often seen decking defenders 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Center Michael Husar leads what could be a dominating unit.

When watching wide receiver Jalen Robinette, the question arises: Why did this big, fast, gifted pass-catcher decide to play for a running team? If Romine wins the quarterback job, Robinette will become one of the Mountain West’s most dangerous receivers. Sam Gagliano could serve as an effective sidekick to Robinette but must solve his habit of dropping passes.

Previewing Air Force’s defense for 2014

The Falcons return seven defensive starters, but here’s the key question of the 2014 season: Is that good news? Air Force’s defense was comically inept last season, surrendering averages of 40.0 points and 490.3 yards of total offense per game.

There is hope. Joey Nichol, if healthy, and Spencer Proctor lead an aggressive group of linebackers, and Weston Steelhammer, Christian Spears and Dexter Walker bring attitude at safety.

The Falcons need to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. No one on the Falcons’ defensive front weighs more than 265 pounds. Air Force employed three down linemen during most of last season but tinkered with formations in the offseason. The Falcons could surprise opponents with a 2-5 alignment in the fall.

Previewing Air Force’s specialists for 2014

Will Conant owns an accurate (11-of-13 last season) and powerful leg. He should rank among the Mountain West’s top placekickers. The punting job is wide open.

Final Analysis

Calhoun arrived in 2007 to rescue a program that struggled in the final years of Fisher DeBerry’s guidance. He revived the Falcons with players recruited by DeBerry, but the program has gradually regressed with players recruited by Calhoun, who has lost 14 of his last 17 games. Lack of talent and size were the glaring problems last season. The 2014 team is more experienced but still lacks the talent to thrive in the Mountain West. Calhoun needs the running attack to dominate once again. Pearson runs with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, and he’s capable of leading the Air Force offense — which ranked last in the Mountain West last season in yards per game — back to prominence.

However, for this team to flirt with a winning record, the defense — which gave up an astounding 51 touchdowns in eight Mountain West games — must show significant improvement.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#103 San Jose State Spartans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#103

MW West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Ron Caragher, 6-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimmie Dougherty | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Robinson

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 103 San Jose State.

Previewing San Jose State’s Offense for 2014

The big question heading into fall camp is who will replace record-setting David Fales — the first player in school history to pass for over 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons — at quarterback. Senior Blake Jurich and junior Joe Gray both backed up Fales and battled for the No. 1 job in spring practice, but coach Ron Caragher says that the competition will carry over until fall camp.

The Spartans also must replace the two top receivers statistically in school history in Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Jones, a first-team All-Mountain West pick, set a school record with 15 touchdown receptions in 2013, including a single-game record-tying three in the upset of Fresno State. But the cupboard is hardly bare. Tyler Winston returns after earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors with 58 receptions for 858 yards and five touchdowns, and senior Jabari Carr has 120 career receptions. Tight end Billy Freeman is another weapon, earning honorable mention All-Mountain West recognition as a freshman when he caught 27 passes.

Jarrod Lawson anchors a deep group of running backs that includes fellow sophomores Thomas Tucker and Tim Crawley. The trio combined for 1,345 yards and eight touchdowns and 65 receptions and four more scores.

Center David Peterson and left tackle Wes Schweitzer return to anchor an offensive line that must replace three starters, including second-team All-Mountain West guard Nicholas Kaspar.

Previewing San Jose State’s Defense for 2014

Caragher’s biggest recruiting coup might been landing highly respected Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Robinson will oversee the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3. He brings five decades of NFL and FBS coaching experience, serving as defensive coordinator for the two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and Rose Bowl champion Texas Longhorns.

Robinson has four veteran defensive linemen returning, led by tackle Travis Raciti, a three-year starter who was a first-team All-WAC choice in 2012.

The Spartans must replace first-team All-Mountain West pick Keith Smith at linebacker, but they add Vince Buhagiar, who missed the 2013 season following right shoulder surgery after earning first-team All-WAC honors as a junior. Sophomore Christian Tago, who had 90 tackles (10.5 tackles for a loss) and four sacks, also returns.

The secondary loses standout cornerback Bene Benwikere, who had 14 career interceptions, but returns four players with starting experience, led by junior cornerback Jimmy Pruitt.

Previewing San Jose State’s Specialists for 2014

This area once again figures to be one of the strongest in the Mountain West. The Spartans last year shared the national lead in blocked kicks with seven. Junior kicker Austin Lopez has made 39-of-44 of his career field-goal attempts, including an NCAA-record-tying 23 in a row to start his career.

Final Analysis

The Spartans, who will be trying for their third consecutive .500 or better record for the first time since 1989-92, will enter the season with a big chip on their shoulders after getting bypassed for a bowl game despite a 6–6 record and impressive season-ending upset of then-undefeated Fresno State. Seventeen players with starting experience return, and the schedule, outside of early non-conference road games at Auburn and Minnesota, is favorable. Three of the first four Mountain West games are at home, including two against teams — UNLV and Colorado State — that San Jose State defeated on the road a year ago. If Gray or Jurich emerges as a quality option at quarterback and Robinson can fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed (35.1 ppg), the Spartans have enough returning talent to be a factor in the West Division.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#94 Wyoming Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#94

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 94 Wyoming.

Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2014

There are several changes in store as first-year coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen will go with a pro-style attack instead of the spread offense the team ran the previous five seasons with coach Dave Christensen.

The first step is to find a quarterback, and redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard is the leading candidate. He is the most experienced option on the roster, but he has played in only seven games (with one start) since he arrived in 2011.

“I feel comfortable. It’s just about going out there and executing,” Kirkegaard says.
The competition will continue through fall camp, with sophomore Tom Thornton and senior Sam Stratton on Kirkegaard’s heels.

Bohl wants a power run game, and Wyoming could have the right pieces. Junior Shaun Wick led the team last season with 979 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore D.J. May returns after missing last season with a torn pectoral muscle, but he led the team in rushing as a true freshman in 2012 with 374 yards. The offensive line is experienced — all five projected first-teamers have starting experience. That group is anchored by junior right guard Jake Jones, who has started every game of his career.

The Cowboys also have a deep and experienced receiving corps, led by senior Dominic Rufran, who led the team last season with 75 catches for 960 yards and was second with eight touchdowns. Three of the top four wide receivers from last season return.

Wyoming will use tight ends and fullbacks for the first time in five seasons. Expect those positions to have more of an emphasis in the run game.

Previewing Wyoming’s Defense for 2014

Wyoming returns eight starters from a unit that gave up 220.2 rushing yards, 261.8 passing yards and 36.7 points per game last season. The Cowboys were mostly a 3-4 team the last five seasons but will make the transition to a 4-3 squad under Bohl.
The starting group along the line has impressed Bohl, led by junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. He was a first-team All-Mountain West selection last season with 89 tackles and team-best marks with 12 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.

Senior middle linebacker Jordan Stanton was among the nation’s leaders in tackles last season (134), but part of that was a product of the defense being on the field for so many snaps. Senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha was all over the field during the spring, and he could thrive in the 4-3.

In the secondary, senior cornerback Blair Burns looks to regain his form after being named a Freshman All-American in 2011. Senior Darrenn White provides experience at free safety.

Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2014

The Cowboys’ kicking game is in decent shape thanks to the return of senior placekicker Stuart Williams and sophomore punter Ethan Wood. Wyoming attempted only seven field goals in 2013, the fewest in the nation. The Pokes ranked in the bottom third of the league in both kickoff returns (last) and punt returns (ninth).

Final Analysis

Wyoming hired a proven winner in Bohl, who led North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS national titles. But the transition in all phases of the game will take time. The Cowboys lost to five teams that finished above them in the conference standings by nearly 30 points per contest last season. This season’s schedule does them no favors, with road games at Oregon and Michigan State in September. Anything close to a .500 record should be considered a success.

“We made good progress during the course of the spring, but we are not anything to where we are a finished product,” Bohl says.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#82 Nevada Wolf Pack

NATIONAL FORECAST

#82

MW West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Brian Polian , 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nick Rolovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Boone, Bill Teerlinck

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 82 Nevada.

Previewing Nevada’s Offense for 2014

Nevada’s famed Pistol offense struggled in the first season under head coach Brian Polian and second-year offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. After years of being among the nation’s leaders in rushing offense and scoring, Nevada averaged only 26.9 points per game a season ago. And though Nevada improved as the season progressed, the Wolf Pack averaged a lackluster 3.8 yards per carry and dropped to No. 51 in the nation with 179.0 rushing yards per game. One of the major culprits: An offensive line that, despite the efforts of top lineman Joel Bitonio, struggled mightily. Four starters return on the line, but the bad news is that Bitonio isn’t one of them.

The good news is that the Wolf Pack still return eight starters on offense. The most important returnee in Nevada’s quarterback-dependent offense is dual-threat senior Cody Fajardo. Fajardo played with nagging leg injuries for much of last year, and his rushing yards were cut nearly in half to 621 yards, even as his passing numbers remained consistent. The all-conference-caliber quarterback must stay healthy this season to open up the running game.

A strong frontline receiving corps led by senior Richy Turner (61 catches, 755 yards) and 6'5", 230-pound sophomore Hasaan Henderson (29 catches, 326 yards), should help take the pressure off Fajardo. Incoming freshmen Andrew Celis and Wyatt Demps could also contribute.

Senior running back Kendall Brock (812 yards) and junior Don Jackson (332) are capable of carrying Nevada’s running game. But incoming freshman James Butler is an intriguing prospect who could battle for carries.

Previewing Nevada’s Defense for 2014

On paper, the Pack have one of the better defensive lines in the Mountain West, led by all-league end Brock Hekking. The duo of Ian Seau (nephew of Junior Seau) and Lenny Jones at the other end spot and the inside tandem of Jordan Hanson and Rykeem Yates should make for a solid unit. Yet this group was abysmal against the run in 2013, to the tune of 258.5 yards per game, and improvement is paramount.

The linebacking corps has four mainstays for three spots, as incoming defensive co-coordinator Scott Boone, one of the top DCs at the FCS level last year at William & Mary, will retain the Pack’s 4-3 front. Jonathan McNeal and Jordan Dobrich are dependable, while Matthew Lyons played very well at times in 2013. But the key may be athletic junior Bryan Lane Jr., who has split time at linebacker and safety in recent years.

Per usual at Nevada, the secondary appears shaky. Senior Charles Garrett is one of the top corners in the league, but he needs help. Safety Kaodi Dike and undersized corner Elijah Mitchell played last year as true freshmen, and senior corner Evan Favors needs to be a factor. Junior college transfer safety Duran Workman could be a starter right off the bat.

Previewing Nevada’s Specialists for 2014

Nevada loses a weapon in punter Chase Tenpenny, who averaged 44.5 yards per kick last season. Placekicker Brent Zuzo appears dependable after a solid freshman season in which he hit 14-of-17 field goals and 33-of-36 extra points. The Pack need a spark in the return game, and speedster D’Andre Fuller might just provide it.

Final Analysis 

With 16 returning starters, including Fajardo, Nevada should improve over last season. The Wolf Pack’s 2014 slate lightens up from a brutal 2013. Mountain West heavyweights Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State all come to Reno. If the Wolf Pack improve substantially on defense and solve their second-half woes, they should make a bowl game and contend for the West Division title.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#83 San Diego State Aztecs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#83

MW West Division PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 25-14 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Toledo | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 83 San Diego State.

Previewing San Diego State’s Offense for 2014: 

Quarterback Quinn Kaehler underwent offseason elbow surgery on his throwing arm but is expected to be fully recovered well before fall camp. That’s a huge plus since he is San Diego State’s only proven commodity at quarterback and all but saved the squad’s 2013 season after replacing ineffective Adam Dingwell early in the campaign. Kaehler passed for 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns, and his efficient nature led to only nine interceptions in 389 attempts.

Kaehler has a big-time target to throw to in Ezell Ruffin, who emerged as a go-to receiver last season with 68 receptions for 1,136 yards. Eric Judge, who caught 13 passes in 2013, has the potential to develop into a solid receiving complement to Ruffin.

Two-time 1,000-yard running back Adam Muema surprisingly bypassed his senior campaign in favor of chasing an NFL roster spot, leaving scatback Donnel Pumphrey (10 total touchdowns as a freshman) as the most accomplished runner. But the 5'9", 170-pounder isn’t suited for heavy pounding, so the Aztecs will be hoping someone such as Chase Price or Dwayne Garrett can emerge as a between-the-tackles rusher.

Left tackle Terry Poole is the top offensive lineman.

Previewing San Diego State’s Defense for 2014: 

San Diego State will be searching for reinforcements up front and in the back end but is well stocked at linebacker. Middle linebacker Jake Fely is one of the top defensive players in the Mountain West and is fully recovered from a foot injury that ended his 2013 season in late September. Josh Gavert played well in Fely’s place, but having the fiery leader back to team with outside linebacker Derek Largent gives the Aztecs a sturdy group in the center of the defense.

The toughest chore is replacing standout safeties Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins — the squad’s top two tacklers last season. Most of that will be hashed out in fall camp as Brandon Porter was the only player to secure a starting spot in the three-safety alignment during spring drills.

The defensive line will be deep, as tackle Sam Meredith and end Dontrell Onuoha are expected to be fully healthy after missing the spring, and former USC defensive tackle Christian Heyward figures to push for a role. J.J. Whittaker, who had three of the Aztecs’ eight interceptions in 2013, and Damontae Kazee are the starting cornerbacks.

Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists for 2014: 

The placekicking was a disaster last season as departed Wes Feer and Seamus McMorrow combined to go 8-of-16 on field goals and missed six extra points. Coach Rocky Long moved to fix the issue by recruiting junior college kicker Donald Hageman and freshman John Baron II. The two kickers will compete for the job during fall camp with the more experienced Hageman holding an edge after going 19-of-20 at the junior college level last fall. Joel Alesi placed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line last season, and only 13 of his 53 punts were returned. He holds an edge over McMorrow for the job.

Final Analysis 

San Diego State is in a bit of a transition after losing 12 starters, but there is enough remaining talent to finish in the top half of the conference’s West Division. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and have proven to be a gritty squad under Long’s leadership. San Diego State didn’t collapse after an 0–3 start last season and ended up playing in four overtime games while rebounding to record at least eight victories for the fourth straight year.

That type of consistency — along with defeating conference power Boise State in back-to-back seasons — provides hope that the Aztecs will again win eight or more games and contend for the division crown.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#74 Colorado State Rams

NATIONAL FORECAST

#74

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Jim McElwain, 12-14 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Baldwin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marty English, Al Simmons

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 74 Colorado State.

Previewing Colorado State’s Offense for 2014:

With running back Kapri Bibbs leaving early for the NFL after setting school records with his 1,741 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns last season, the Rams are likely to air it out a bit more this season. Quarterback Garrett Grayson, now a senior, threw for a school-record 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013 while directing the most productive offense in CSU history. The Rams averaged 470.8 yards per game.

Coach Jim McElwain likes his receiving corps. Sophomore Rashard Higgins, last year’s leader with 68 catches for 837 yards and six TDs, is back, as are four others who caught 20 or more passes. Senior Kivon Cartwright, who had 27 catches for 462 yards and six TDs as the second tight end, should become one of Grayson’s favorite targets.

Converted safety Jasen Oden and redshirt freshman Bryce Peters battled for the starting job at running back during spring drills and will get some added competition from true freshmen Deron Thompson and Johnathan Lewis. Donnell Alexander, the leading rusher two years ago, chose to transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.

Rebuilding the offensive line will be a challenge, given that star center Weston Richburg and three of the other four starters last year were seniors. But McElwain and his staff like the players who were backing them up last year and don’t believe there will be much of a drop-off.

Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2014:

Although outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, is gone, seven defensive starters return, including leading tacklers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis, both inside linebackers. Morgan was in on 134 tackles, including 71 solo stops, last year, while Davis was in on 120 with 63 solo stops.

Four players who started 10 or more games return in the secondary, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a CSU team that gave up an average of 275.7 passing yards per game and more passing touchdowns (33) than 123 other FBS teams. McElwain and his staff hope a year of seasoning and increased competition from a recruiting class that included seven defensive backs will spur improvement.

All three of last year’s starters on the defensive line were seniors, but the three players behind them all were part of the regular playing rotation, and one, junior Terry Jackson, had 29 tackles — more than all but one of the starters up front.

Specialists 

All-MW kicker Jared Roberts, who has made 30-of-34 field goals the past two seasons, returns. The Rams are also in good shape in the punting department; Hayden Hunt, who averaged 41.9 yards a kick with 14 inside the 20-yard line and only four touchbacks, is back for his sophomore season. Colorado State ranked second in the league in both kickoff and punt returns last season.

Final Analysis

The Rams lost some significant star power with Bibbs’ decision to forego his final two seasons to turn pro and the graduations of Richburg, Barrett and All-MW tight end Crockett Gillmore. But they’ve still got a lot to work with in Grayson and a talented corps of receivers, including three who redshirted last fall. They’ll have to develop enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest but should be able to move the ball effectively through the air. The secondary has to improve for the Rams to be a factor in the pass-happy MW.

A favorable schedule that does not include MW West Division powers Fresno State and San Diego State gives the Rams a legitimate chance to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2002-03, when Sonny Lubick was the coach.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#62 Fresno State Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#62

Mountain West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Tim DeRuyter , 20-6 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Schramm | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Toth

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 62 Fresno State.

Previewing Fresno State's Offense:

Josh HarperFor the first time since 2010, Derek Carr won’t have the keys to the offense. The two-time Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year is gone, and so are favorite targets Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse. Fresno State will stick with the no-huddle spread, though no one’s expecting a repeat of 43.4 points per game.

The battle to succeed Carr took an interesting twist in late April with the arrival of graduate transfer Brandon Connette. Connette was a major part of Duke’s offense last fall, both as a passer and goal-line specialist. Brian Burrell had the best spring of three returning quarterbacks, but doesn’t have anywhere near Connette’s resume. Coach Tim DeRuyter doesn’t plan to name a starter until two weeks before the opener.

The Bulldogs had three 1,000-yard receivers a year ago. One returns, Josh Harper, but he sat out all spring as the coaches took a cautious approach with a late-season knee injury. Exacerbating things, three promising young wideouts (Da’Mari Scott, Darrell Fuery, Delvon Hardaway) missed large chunks of spring as well. Aaron Peck was healthy, and he looked like an emerging star.

Tailbacks Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller split carries last fall with each averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. That sounds good, but most of the damage came against defenses geared to stop the pass. This year, the ground game could become the primary option. DeRuyter wants to get a good look at promising redshirt freshman Dontel James, who like Quezada sat out the spring. Three starters return on a line anchored by right guard Cody Wichmann and right tackle Justin Northern. Pass protection has been the unit’s forte. Clearing holes in short yardage? Not so much.

Previewing Fresno State's Defense:

This will be of little solace to Bulldogs fans still smarting over the 62–52 loss at San Jose State, but the defense will be much improved. Eight starters return, including All-MWC free safety Derron Smith and second-teamers Tyeler Davison and Ejiro Ederaine. There’s even depth at cornerback, a glaring weakness last year.

Smith enters his senior year with 14 career interceptions, more than any active FBS player. He’s a pure ball-hawk, so quarterbacks beware. Strong safety Charles Washington is such a good athlete that the coaches moved him to corner for a few games. But with a healthy Jamal Ellis, expected improvement from Curtis Riley and more depth coming in, Washington is back stuffing the run.

Davison is the linchpin up front, but the MWC’s best nose tackle may play much of his senior season at end. Defensive coordinator Nick Toth experimented with that alignment as a way to get his three best linemen on the field. Maurice Poyadue is one of them, and he’s a pure nose. Even at 304 pounds, Davison showed the versatility to play both positions.

All four starters return at linebacker. Ederaine surprised everyone by finishing third in the MWC in both sacks (10) and tackles for a loss (1.27 per game). Not bad for a first-year starter. Donavon Lewis, who plays on the opposite side, is just as big a handful.

Previewing Fresno State's Specialists:

Kicker Colin McGuire, punter Garrett Swanson and return man Dillon Root are solid. The kickoff coverage was poor in 2013, ranking dead last in the conference. Things got so bad that DeRuyter stopped kicking the ball deep.

Final Analysis

DeRuyter has enjoyed a pretty good run: two seasons and two MWC titles. But the job’s about to get a lot tougher, breaking in a new quarterback against a brutal early schedule.

After tangling with USC, Utah and Nebraska, it’s possible Fresno State will be 1–3 for the conference opener. Yet there’s enough talent to hang another championship banner. It may depend on whether the Bulldogs are steeled by those early games — or battered by them.




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