The post-Derek Carr era did not get off to a good start for Fresno State last season. The Bulldogs went 6-8 in 2014, as Tim DeRuyter's team struggled to both score points and keep the opposition out of the end zone. Fresno State is still unsettled at quarterback, but a relatively weak Mountain West West Division should help the Bulldogs' chances of getting back to the postseason.
Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
Previewing Fresno State’s Offense for 2015
Finding Derek Carr’s successor at quarterback was supposed to be last year’s storyline. Twelve months later, the Bulldogs are still searching. It won’t be Brian Burrell. Fresno State’s primary starter in 2014 opted not to return, leaving the passing game in the hands of a sophomore (Zack Greenlee), a redshirt freshman (Kilton Anderson) and a true freshman who enrolled early (Chason Virgil). That trio shared snaps in the spring with all three getting a chance to direct the first-team offense. Greenlee, who in his lone career start got benched at halftime, looked the sharpest during scrimmages. The battle will resume in August.
Shaky quarterback play was just one reason the Bulldogs ranked ninth in the Mountain West Conference in passing efficiency and last in yards per attempt — and that was with top receiver Josh Harper. With Harper gone and Delvon Hardaway expected to miss the first part of the season after partially tearing his ACL, senior Aaron Peck needs to finally fulfill his potential. A talented group of redshirt freshmen led by KeeSean Johnson and Keyan Williams catching on quickly would also help.
The new quarterback will have the luxury of handing off to senior tailback Marteze Waller, who broke out in a big way a year ago with 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the 5'11", 210-pounder had better stay healthy, because the only experienced legs behind Waller’s belong to the oft-injured Malique Micenheimer. The coaches didn’t feel like taking chances in spring and held Waller out of all contact.
Tackles Alex Fifita and Justin Northern and center Bo Bonnheim enter their senior seasons as third-year starters. Fifita is the best of the group, a brawler with nimble feet who projects as an NFL guard.
Previewing Fresno State’s Defense for 2015
When a defense that got torched for 32.4 points and 456 yards per game graduates its two best players (Tyeler Davison and Derron Smith), it’s time to reevaluate things. So that’s what coordinator Nick Toth did. He took 10 of the 11 starting spots and threw them open to competition.
Senior inside linebacker Kyrie Wilson was the one guy spared an audition, but he’ll switch to the “Mike” position on the strong side. Look for the athletic 6'2", 238-pounder to make bushels of tackles. Two other presumed starters, outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine and cornerback Charles Washington, are expected back this fall following offseason surgeries. The health of both is critical.
The coaches are high on Nate Madsen, Davison’s successor at nose guard, but other than 292-pound end Claudell Louis there isn’t much size up front. Secondary play has been spotty, especially at cornerback, but there’s more depth and experience than in recent seasons. The Bulldogs did more tackling this spring, Toth’s attempt to fix what has been a glaring weakness.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Fresno State’s Specialists for 2015
With a walk-on freshman placekicker, Fresno State didn’t have a ton of confidence in its kicking game a year ago. So even though Kody Kroening has improved, junior college signee Jimmy Camacho is expected to win the job in fall camp. Senior Garrett Swanson returns at punter and should cede kickoff duties to Camacho. The return game also gets revamped behind redshirt freshmen Jamire Jordan and Williams.
Unlike last season, no one’s talking about defending (or even winning) a Mountain West championship. Instead, the total focus has been on fundamentals and competition. Normally, that wouldn’t bode well for a team’s success, but the West Division isn’t exactly a juggernaut. If the Bulldogs
can avoid an 0–2 start in conference play, they’ll remain in contention for the division crown until late November.