The Bulldogs rank No. 56 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2019
All Jeff Tedford has done in his first two seasons at Fresno State is lead the Bulldogs to a 22-4 record with two Mountain West West Division titles and a pair of bowl victories. Maintaining that success won't be easy as Tedford has some turnover on his staff and has to replace a total of 13 starters.
Previewing Fresno State's Offense for 2019
In his two seasons at quarterback, Marcus McMaryion led the Bulldogs to 22 wins, two bowl victories and a Mountain West championship. The price of all that success is a lack of experience among his replacements. While Jorge Reyna performed well in mop-up duty, no one else on the depth chart has taken a college snap. Reyna and Ben Wooldridge got the most snaps in spring practice. Tedford named Reyna the starter in late April.
The changes don’t stop there. Fresno State also has a new offensive coordinator in Ryan Grubb, promoted from line coach when Kalen DeBoer departed for Indiana. He will have to reconstruct a receiving corps that replaces all three starters, including KeeSean Johnson, the Bulldogs' all-time leader in catches and yards. The top returning target is tight end Jared Rice, who blossomed late last season, and there's enough positional depth to run packages with double tight ends.
Tedford likes to rotate his tailbacks, which means Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims will be splitting carries for a third straight year. Mims has the more physical style, while Rivers is more elusive, best exemplified by his 212-yard, two-touchdown outing in the Las Vegas Bowl. Both are excellent pass catchers.
With only one returning starter, the offensive line also needs an overhaul, though the expected return of Netane Muti from an ruptured Achilles that sidelined him all of last season will be a significant boost.
Previewing Fresno State's Defense for 2019
Stalwarts Jeffrey Allison and Mike Bell declared early for the NFL Draft, while corner Tank Kelly and two other starting linebackers used up their eligibility. Which leaves coordinator Bert Watts plugging holes in a unit that has been a massive part of the Bulldogs' recent success.
One of those holes is being filled by Mykal Walker, an All-MW performer at defensive end who will fill Allison’s shoes at middle linebacker. Walker sought the position switch, believing it a better fit for his 6'3", 227-pound frame. Even though Walker was one of the team’s top edge rushers last season (4.5 sacks, 14 TFLs), Tedford and Watts are confident Isaiah Johnson and others can fill that role. Bolstering the front seven is a deep and experienced interior line featuring Jasad Haynes and Kevin Atkins.
Juju Hughes and Jaron Bryant, with a combined 56 career starts and nine interceptions, return from a stellar secondary. The replacement for Bell at free safety is Wylan Free, who has impressed coaches with his coverage skills and tackling. There was enough depth for Arron Mosby to convert to Sam linebacker He’s also one to watch.
Previewing Fresno State's Specialists for 2019
The special teams will have a familiar look with punter Blake Cusick and placekicker Asa Fuller both returning. Fuller made two field goals in the snow during the MW Championship Game in Boise, something Bulldogs fans won’t soon forget.
Tedford has been nothing short of a magician at his alma mater after taking over a program that went 1–11 the season before he arrived. Considering all the turnover, it's hard to foresee a repeat of last season’s 12 wins. Still, there's enough talent immersed in the program's new winning culture for Fresno State to capture its third straight MW West title. Much of that depends on finding a quarterback.
National Ranking: 56
(Top photo courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)