Preview 2014 - Fresno State Bulldogs
Fresno State LB Ejiro Ederaine
Fresno State LB Ejiro Ederaine
Posted May 19, 2014

Preview 2014 - Fresno State Bulldogs: There's rebuilding to do, but the defending MW champs are loaded again. (Getty Images)

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak
- 2014 Fresno State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: Fresno State Preview coming up on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Tim DeRuyter
3rd year: 20-6
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 14, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Fresno St Players
1. S Derron Smith, Sr.
2. WR Josh Harper, Sr.
3. DE Tyeler Davison, Sr.
4. LB Ejiro Ederaine, Jr.
5. OG Cody Wichmann, Sr.
6. LB Karl Mickelsen, Sr.
7. QB Brian Burrell, Jr.
8. P Garrett Swanson, Jr.
9. QB Brandon Connette, Sr.
10. RB Josh Quezada, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 at USC
Sep. 6 at Utah
Sep. 13 Nebraska
Sep. 20 Southern Utah
Sep. 26 at New Mexico
Oct. 3 San Diego State
Oct. 11 at UNLV
Oct. 17 at Boise State
Nov. 1 Wyoming
Nov. 8 San Jose State
Nov. 12 Kent State
Nov. 22 at Nevada
Nov. 29 Hawaii

Winning the inaugural Mountain West title game and going 11-2 for the school's best season since 2001 is a success. Of course it's a success. However, when a football program gets to a certain level, its seasons are defined by what could've been instead of what happened.

It's the old adage that you can say 99 nice things, but the one criticism will be what's remembered.

Fresno State isn't Alabama or Ohio State in a win-championship-or-bust mode, but after losing two of the final three games – including a walloping from USC in the Las Vegas Bowl – the season became a bit more about the two defeats than the 11 wins. That might not seem fair, and it might not be right, but you only get so many chances at the big-time, and after years and years and years of fighting to get there under Pat Hill, it didn't happen.

Yeah, Tim DeRuyter's attack cranking up 564 points with a record-setting passing game was a whole bunch of fun, and yes, winning the Mountain West title really did make the season a success no matter what, but with a BCS game right there for the taking – and a debate about whether or not a shot at Florida State was worthy – the Bulldog defense failed to come through in a 62-52 loss at San Jose State. The USC debacle made it easy for any naysayers to breathe a sigh of relief that Oklahoma got into the Sugar Bowl and Clemson got the nod in the Orange instead of the Mountain West champion.

But the thought now, even with the disappointment at the end, is about how to possibly ramp things back up and keep the momentum going.

How do you replace a quarterback who threw for close to 5,100 yards with 50 touchdowns? How do you replace a Davante Adams, who caught 131 passes for 1,718 yards and 24 scores, and an Isaiah Burse, who made 99 grabs for 1,026 yards and six touchdowns?

How do you fight past several defensive issues to win shootouts like the wild ones against Rutgers, Hawaii and San Diego State, and how do you learn from the problems late in the season when the high-powered attack scored few points in the final two games against Utah State and USC (44) than it did in five games during the year?

DeRuyter is one of the brighter, rising head coaches in college football and he has a great staff around him. Everyone knows that Derek Carr isn't easily replaceable, and it's not hard to figure out that the offense – even if everything works – probably isn't going to pump out another 7,100-yard campaign. But there's a chance to create a more balanced attack, it's time to rely on an experienced defense to start doing more, and it's okay to suggest that even in a bit of a rebuilding year, this still might be the best team in the league. Even if it's not as wild and it's not as much fun, the overall results could still be the same.

This time around, though, 11-2, no matter how it happens, really would be fantastic.

2013 was pretty good, too.

What to watch for on offense: The running game will make an appearance. Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm isn't going to fold up the passing game shop after losing Derek Carr and Davante Adams, but with the quarterback situation still a question mark going into the summer, and with the offense needing to revamp a bit, the offense should be a bit more balanced after averaging 394 passing yards and 153 on the ground per game. However, as great as the passing game was, the six toughest games of the year all came on the six worst rushing games of the year. Rutgers (81 yards), Boise State (62), San Diego State (43) and Utah State (56) were all dogfights, and San Jose State (127) and USC (37) were losses, partly because the offense completely and totally relied on Carr and the air show. Expect Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller to do even more after combining for 1,453 yards and 13 touchdowns averaging 5.21 yards per try.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush has to translate into more production. The 3-4 worked when it came to getting into the backfield, but the stats didn't match the actual production against the better offenses. The sacks came in bulk, ripping apart sad Hawaii and Idaho teams, and feasting off Utah State in the Mountain West championship with eight sacks. There was only one sack in the two losses – the line couldn't get to San Jose State's David Fales – and one in the close call against Rutgers. The coaching staff is playing around with the combination up front, using Tyeler Davison as an end and needing Maurice Poyadue to hold up in the middle. The veteran linebacking corps – potentially one of the team's biggest strengths – should be able to do more to get behind the line.

The team will be far better if … the defensive backs start to give up fewer big plays. The pass rush wasn't bad from the front seven – generating 40 sacks – but the secondary didn't do its part even though Derron Smith came up with a whale of a season making 87 stops and seven picks. Lit up way too easily, the secondary was destroyed by any quarterback able to push the ball down the field a little bit. To be fair, some teams tried to keep throwing to keep up, and for the most part, the defense bent but didn't give up big scores. However, Fresno State allowed 26 touchdown passes on the year with 15 coming in the losses to San Jose State and USC along with the close-call shootout against Rutgers. Even though the Bulldogs allowed just 11 touchdowns over the other nine games, they were carved up yardage-wise time and again.

The schedule: The chance at redemption comes up right away as the Bulldogs try to make amends for the stinker of a bowl performance against USC with a trip to Los Angeles to kick things off. Going to Utah the week after isn't a breeze, and hosting Nebraska makes for a nasty way to start the season. However, if Fresno State can somehow sweep all three games, the argument for a College Football Playoff appearance will be real. Getting an interdivisional game against Boise State on the road is a horrible break, and playing at UNLV and Nevada isn't a plus, but San Diego State has to come to Fresno and Wyoming, San Jose State and Hawaii as part of the home slate isn't all that bad.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Josh Harper. Flying under the radar with Davante Adams blowing up for 131 catches and Isaiah Burse coming up with 100, Harper still had a year good enough to earn all-star honors. For most teams and most passing games, coming up with 79 grabs and 13 scores would make him a superstar, but that only made him the team's No. 3 target. Not this year. The inside Z receiver might not put up 100 catches with the offense likely to be more balanced, but he'll still be the go-to guy.

Best defensive player: Senior S Derron Smith. Defensive lineman Tyeler Davison might turn out to be the most important part of the defense, and top tacklers Karl Mickelsen and Ejiro Ederaine are back in the linebacking corps, but Smith is the ball-hawker and big stopper in a secondary that gets back just enough talent and experience to be better. He returned from an injured first year to come up with a terrific sophomore campaign, and last year he put up huge numbers as one of the nation's top pickoff artists. His 14 career picks are the most by anyone in college football returning this year.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Brian Burrell. Or Duke transfer Brandon Connette. The passing game will turn out to be just fine no matter who's at quarterback, but the real key to the season could be Maurice Poyadue on the nose. If he can handle the work, then Tyeler Davison can stay on the end and not move back to the zero. Offensively, Burrell or Connette won't be Derek Carr, and the starting quarterback won't have to be with the running game likely to be more of a factor. Myles Carr – no relation – and Zack Greenlee are each getting a shot at the gig, and the competition will be open up until USC, but it'll take something push out Burrell or Connette.

The season will be a success if … the Bulldogs win a second straight Mountain West title. Getting USC, Utah and Nebraska in non-conference play, and with road games against Boise State and Nevada, might be too much to come up with another double-digit win season, but the defense should be stronger, the offense will still work, and the creativity will be there from the coaching staff to make up for some huge personnel losses. Another title would solidify DeRuyter as a superstar head man, and Fresno State as the true class of the conference.

Key game: Nov. 22 at Nevada. The October 17th day at Boise State should be the Mountain West regular season game of the year, but that might be a preview of the title game if all goes according to plan. The Bulldogs have to get past Nevada in Reno to get – possibly – a second shot, and with Cody Fajardo and the Wolf Pack improved, that won't be easy. Fresno State will likely be in the Mountain West championship game with one conference loss, but it probably can't get there with two.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 89 for 812 yards – Fresno State 68 for 673 yards
- Sacks: Fresno State 40 for 267 yards – Opponents 11 for 71 yards
- Punt Return Average: Fresno State 11.6 yards – Opponents 3.0 yards  

- 2014 Fresno State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players