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:
For 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.
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.