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2006 CFN Fresno
What you need to know: New offensive coordinator Jim
McElwain will pump some life into a stagnant passing game with a
wide-open attack featuring some funky, multi-receiver formations
while not running quite as much. Call it playing to the
strengths, as the receiving corps is lightning fast, but
untested, while Tom Brandstater, who struggled mightily last
year, is still a talent who appears ready to make a big jump and
become a major player. The running game will suffer without
Dwayne Wright, but Lonyae Wright and Clifton Smith should be
decent. The line is the strength of the team with four starters
returning to a group that allowed just 12 sacks.
Passing: Tom Brandstater
146-268, 1,490 yds, 13 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Lonyae Miller
54 carries, 287 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Chastin West
33 catches, 365 yds, 1 TD
Star of the offense: Junior QB Tom Brandstater
Player that has to step up and become a star: Brandstater
& Sophomore RB Lonyae Miller
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Marlon Moore
Best pro prospect: Junior TE Bear Pascoe
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pascoe, 2) OG Cole
Popovich, 3) Brandstater
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, receiver speed
Weakness of the offense:
Running back, proven quarterback
Projected Starter: 6-5, 220-pound junior Tom Brandstater
was supposed to be the next great Fresno State quarterback with
tremendous mobility, a great arm, and all the measurables and
talent to become a star. It hasn't happened yet. He struggled
mightily, and was often the scapegoat for the lousy season with
14 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes. The hope is for last
year to be a step back to take a major leap forward. Now he has
to be more consistent, more accurate, and far, far better
against the defenses with a pulse. He has the tools to do it,
and if he keeps his mistakes to a minimum, he has the potential
for a major turnaround year.
Projected Top Reserve: 6-3, 220-pound redshirt
freshman Ryan Colburn looked strong enough this spring to
take over the number two job, and possible push Brandstarter if
there's a repeat of last year. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, he's a
big, pure passer who almost got to see time last year, but was
able to redshirt. Don't expect much running. His job will be to
Watch Out For ... Colburn to be everyone's favorite
quarterback. Everyone likes the backup, and if Brandstater
struggles in early games against Texas A&M and Oregon, there
will be a quarterback controversy.
Strength: Arms. Brandstater and Colburn can throw
it a mile. Considering all the speed at receiver, pushing the
ball deep won't be a problem.
Weakness: Backups if both Brandstater and Colburn
aren't solid. Sean Norton wasn't bad reserve, but the writing
was on the wall that Colburn was going to be the future, so he
transferred to Northern Arizona. There has to be more production
than last year.
Outlook: Even after all the problems and all the
issues from last year, Brandstater was more relaxed and far
better throughout spring ball. He has taken his lumps, and now
should be better for it. Still only a junior, he has plenty of
time to make amends. Colburn is a great looking prospect who
might see time even if Brandstater shines. Expect a much better
year from the position.
Projected Starters: 5-11, 215-pound sophomore Lonyae Miller
was second on the team with 287 rushing yards and two
touchdowns averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Now the he'll get the
first shot at the starting job after playing well in spring ball
showing a good mix of speed, power, and production. Can he be a
workhorse? The most work he got last year was a mere 16 carries
in the blowout loss to Hawaii.
6-0, 250-pound sophomore Reynard Camp has gotten into
better shape and now has to fill in at fullback when the offense
uses on. Normally, a second tight end, third receiver or an
H-Back gets the work, but Camp should see plenty of action as a
Projected Top Reserves: Is Clifton Smith
ready? One of the team's most exciting players a few years ago,
he tore up his knee in 2005 and hasn't been the same since. He
only got one carry for four yards last year as he tried to get
back into the swing of things, and now he'll have to find his
flash to replace the power of Dwayne Wright. He'll be part of a
rotation, but he'll have to be the main man to make the offense
Senior Nate Adams appeared to be all set to start before
getting hurt in spring ball. At 5-11 and 240 pounds, he's
smaller than Camp but is a strong blocker. It'll be a shock if
he gets more than a few carries or catches.
Watch Out For ... Miller and Smith to grow into their
roles and form an excellent tandem. Dwayne Wright might have
been the offense throughout the season, and tore off more than
his share of big runs, but Smith should add more in the way of
Strength: Smith's speed. Before getting hurt, he
appeared on the verge of being one of the WAC's most exciting
backs. Once he proves he can carry the ball on a regular basis,
he'll be a game-changing weapon.
Weakness: Backups. Anthony Harding appeared
to be one his way to being the number two back before getting
hurt this spring. If Smith and/or Miller struggle, it might be
up to true freshman Ryan Matthews.
Outlook: Even though there isn't a 1,462-yard
rusher like Wright to count on, and the ground game won't finish
16th in the nation, it could still be productive with an
improved passing game that should do more to stretch the field
and a great line to pave the way. Miller and Smith will start
out as the main men, while Harding and Matthews will get their
chances to shine this fall.
Projected Starters: Sophomore Chastin West was one of the
biggest surprises last year, leading the team with 33 tackles
for 365 yards and three touchdowns despite missing two games
early on. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's a big target with good
deep speed. While he has terrific upside, he isn't a number one
receiver. Considering how young the rest of the corps is, he
needs to be.
On the other side will be 6-1, 185-pound sophomore Marlon
Moore, the team's fastest player and an elite deep threat.
He only caught four passes last season, but they were for 105
yards and a score with a 75-yard touchdown play. He might not
make a ton of catches, but he'll make them count and will always
stretch the field.
The team's best offensive player might be 6-5, 260-pound junior
tight end Bear Pascoe, a former tight end who caught 22
passes for 307 yards and a score. A top quarterback recruit when
he came to Fresno, he quickly made the move, beefed up, and went
from behind a strong blocker to a field-stretching receiver who
can also blast away in the running game.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Seyi
Ajirotutu struggled last year as he tried to figure out his
role, but he has the talent, the 6-3, 205-pound size, and the
deep speed to become a major factor in three-wide sets and
playing behind Moore. A good high school receiver, he was a
better defensive back. Now he should grow into a steady target
after catching four passes for 34 yards.
Sophomore Jason Crawley is another big, fast Bulldog
receiver with big-time promise. He only made three catches for
23 yards with a touchdown, and now will play behind West after
looking great in spring ball.
Back after leaving the team last year due to personal issues,
6-5, 245-pound senior Jesus Tapia is back and looked
great this spring behind Pascoe. He's a good enough receiver to
see plenty of passes his way in two tight end sets, and he's not
a bad blocker. He has the size, the athleticism and the hands,
and now he has to put it all together and come up with a big
Watch Out For ... Moore. This might be the WAC's
fastest receiving corps, and Moore is the speediest of the
speedy. Once he gets more work, and the quarterback situation is
better, he'll explode.
Strength: Speed, speed and more speed. Expect lots
and lots of deep passes. The corps might be a question mark, but
it's full of dangerous threats who'll put plenty of pressure on
Weakness: Production. There was an entire meltdown
in the passing game, and it's not all the fault of the receiving
corps, but the loss of Joe Fernandez and Paul Williams takes
away two talented veterans. West led the team in catches and
needs to become steadier.
Outlook: The receiving corps can't help but be
better after a woeful season. It'll take all the promising
sophomores to play like veterans, and Pascoe needs to be even
more productive than last year. It should all happen with a more
experienced quarterback getting five days to throw behind a
Projected Starters: The best of a good bunch is 6-2, 290-pound
junior Cole Popovich, who was a star recruit a few years ago and
has lived up to the billing. He has 23 starts over the last two seasons
growing into a fantastic all-around blocker and a rock in pass
protection. While he's not a mauler, he's great at pounding a lineman
when he has to. He has to stay healthy.
6-5, 285-pound junior Bobby Lepori started almost all of last
year at left tackle, and will get the first shot again. As one of the X
factors going into last year, he came through with a big year. He's an
athletic blocker who's great on the move and was surprisingly steady.
Senior Ryan Wendell stepped in over the last four games of last
year for Kyle Young at center, and was solid. The 6-2, 285-pounder
started every game last year, beginning at left guard, and should be the
anchor of the line with his experience and all-around talent. While not
an All-WAC star, he's steady.
6-4, 285-pound junior Adam McDowell took over at right guard when
Popovich moved to the left side, and now the job is his. A tackle by
trade, he's athletic with more than enough toughness to handle himself
well on the inside. As good as he is, he's not a top run blocker.
The one big loss is long-time starter Chris Denman at right tackle. 6-3,
285-pound junior Kenny Avon started late last year at left tackle
and will now step in on the right side. The former defensive lineman is
an unbelievable athlete who has beefed up enough to become a regular and
a great new starter.
Projected Top Reserves: At 6-5 and 310 pounds,
redshirt freshman James Meeks is one of the team's biggest
linemen, weighing 25 pounds more than Lepori on the left side. The
former defensive lineman should be a physical blocker, as will 6-3,
310-pound Charlie Wiggins on the right side behind Avon. He's
beefed up big time over the last year.
6-4, 285-pound Pierce Masse is the only non-redshirt freshman
among the top reserve. He'll start out behind Popovich on the left side,
and the former defensive lineman could be the first backup in the mix on
the other side, too.
Watch Out For ... this to be the league's second best
line behind Boise State's. This will be the team's biggest strength with
good veteran starters, big backups, and loaded of potential for a second
straight big year.
Strength: Pass protection. The Bulldogs had the
nation's 16th best rushing attack last year, but it was at its best
protecting the passer allowing a mere 12 sacks.
Weakness: Proven reserves. There's great promise
among the backups, but four of the best are redshirt freshmen.
Outlook: While the line will miss Chris Denman,
Kenny Avon has the potential to be a good one. If he's strong from the
start, the veteran line will be terrific as long as there aren't major