Fresno State has turned to one of its own, as Jeff Tedford has been given the task of turning his alma mater around. The former California head coach is inheriting quite the rebuilding project, as the Bulldogs were abysmal on both sides of the ball in going 1-11 in Tim DeRuyter’s final season. Tedford has some experienced players to work with, but for all practical purposes this is a team starting over from scratch.
Previewing Fresno State Football’s Offense for 2017
With apologies to anyone who witnessed 1929 (1–7) or 1944 (0–6), 2016 will go down as the worst season in Fresno State football history. Which is why Tim DeRuyter got the boot midseason and Fresno State wasted little time welcoming back alumnus Jeff Tedford as head coach.
“It needs to start with a foundation,” says Tedford, who also inherited a one-win team at Cal in 2002. “Fundamentals. Techniques. Competitiveness. Standards on which we do things. Besides the evaluation of players and implementing our systems, there are a lot of other things that we want to make sure we’re teaching.”
Despite his history as a quarterback developer, Tedford looked beyond his normal circle for an offensive coordinator. Kalen DeBoer comes to the San Joaquin Valley after turning Eastern Michigan’s outfit from hapless to respectable, and Tedford has given him responsibility for designing schemes and calling plays.
Chason Virgil took his lumps last fall and made some mistakes, but the sophomore didn’t get much help from the running game. Although Virgil is the only quarterback who has taken an FBS snap, Tedford and DeBoer still want to get a long look at junior college transfer Jorge Reyna and redshirt freshman James Quentin Davis. Tellingly, the most impressive lineman in the spring was redshirt freshman Netane Muti — not one of the four returning starters.
With KeeSean Johnson, who added strength during the offseason, big-play threat Jamire Jordan and physical slot man Da’Mari Scott (ineligible in 2016), receiver is the strongest and most proven position group. But when the offense is always in third-and-long and you have an inexperienced QB, as has been the case lately, those weapons tend to be less effective.
Previewing Fresno State Football’s Defense for 2017
Tedford went further afield for a defensive coordinator, importing Orlondo Steinauer from north of the border. Steinauer spent the last four seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where his units consistently ranked among the CFL’s best in takeaways and sacks. The challenge for Steinhauer won’t be learning to deal with 11 players and four downs. It’ll be stamping an aggressive, disruptive mindset on players who have gotten used to being passive.
The 3-4 that Fresno State ran under DeRuyter has been replaced by a 4-3, which Steinauer promises will be “multiple.” Seniors Malik Forrester and Nate Madsen are the stalwarts in the interior line, while junior linebackers Nela Otukolo and James Bailey both possess all-conference ability. One glaring question: Who’s going to rush the passer?
The secondary is more of a grab bag. Only one starter returns (junior DeShawn Potts), but there’s no guarantee he’ll be in that spot come September.
Another change: a low-shoulder tackling style. The idea is not only to reduce the likelihood of head injuries but also to increase the number of forced fumbles.
Previewing Fresno State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Kody Kroening made 15 straight field goals in 2016, the nation’s longest streak. Number 16, though, was blocked by Hawaii as time expired and cost the Bulldogs a second win. Kroening, punter Blake Cusick and return specialist Scott are the key pieces for special teams coach Jamie Christian.
Tedford got a five-year contract with huge performance bonuses and rollovers that could make it an eight-year deal. In other words, plenty of time to clean up this mess. He’ll need it after inheriting a roster with few returning standouts, low scholarship numbers and a losing culture. Tedford has resurrected lifeless programs before, but Fresno State’s rugged non-conference schedule (Alabama, Washington, BYU) likely means .500 is at least a year away.
National Ranking: 117
MW West Prediction: 5
(Chason Virgil photo courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)