2008 Fresno State Preview - Offense
Fresno State TE Bear Pascoe
Fresno State TE Bear Pascoe
Posted Apr 23, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Fresno State Bulldog Offense

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2008 - Offense

2008 CFN Fresno State Preview | 2008 Fresno State Offense
2008 Fresno State Defense | 2008 Fresno State Depth Chart
2007 CFN Fresno State Preview | 2006 CFN Fresno State Preview 

What you need to know: Jim McElwain turned around a stagnant offense in a hurry, and then he left to become the offensive coordinator at Alabama. In steps Doug Nussmeier, and he's not going to mess with what worked. If healthy, something the offense couldn't do last year, this should be one of the most complete attacks in the country with a big, athletic line that can hold its own against anyone, a great running game led by the tandem of Ryan Mathews and Lonyae Miller, an All-America caliber tight end in Bear Pascoe, and a receiving corps that looks out of central casting for an NFL team. There's too much speed at receiver for most WAC secondaries, too much power on the line, and too many weapons to not be even better. QB Tom Branstater has all the tools, and he got far better as last season went on, and now he has to grow into the star he was supposed to become a few years ago.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tom Brandstater
211-337, 2,654 yds, 15 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Ryan Mathews
145 carries, 866 yds, 14 TD
Receiving: Marlon Moore
48 catches, 694 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Ryan Mathews
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior C Adam McDowell
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Jason Crawley
Best pro prospect: Sophomore OG Andrew Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mathews, 2) TE Bear Pascoe, 3) QB Tom Brandstater
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, receiver speed, experience
Weakness of the offense:
Health, especially on the line

Projected Starter
6-5, 220-pound senior Tom Brandstater has had a decent career, but he hasn't blossomed into the next-level superstar many expected he'd be coming out of high school. That's starting to change. The scapegoat for a lousy 2006 season, he came back with a solid 2007 completing 63% of his passes for 2,654 yards with 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He didn't throw a pick over his final four games and didn't throw more than one interception in any game all year, greatly improving compared to the problems he had two seasons ago throwing 14 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes. With a little bit of mobility, he's not a statue running for 118 yards and three scores, with all three coming in the final three games. He got better as the year went on, and he showed up big against the better teams, throwing for 260 yards and three touchdowns against Texas A&M, 263 yards against Boise State, 312 yards against Kansas State and 285 yards against Georgia Tech, and now he needs to be the leader and the star who takes the team to another level.

Projected Top Reserve: Brandstater handled almost all the work last year, but 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Ryan Colburn looked strong enough throughout practices and appears to be the main man for the future. He completed four of his five passes for 58 yards in mop-up duty early in the year, but if needed, he should be a good option. Don't expect too much running; he's a bomber.

6-2, 185-pound redshirt freshman Matt Faulkner might not be that big, but he has a live arm and is tremendously accurate. He's the third man in the mix, but will push for the starting job next year.

Watch Out For ... Brandstater to blossom into an NFL prospect. The potential is there to make a huge splash, maybe not like David Carr, but good enough to get more than just a passing look from the pros. As is, Brandstater is draftable, but in a weak draft class for quarterbacks, he could stand out.
Strength: Arms. Brandstater and Colburn can throw it a mile, and Faulkner has a gun. Getting the ball deep will never be a problem. Branstater has all the throws in the bag.
Weakness: Backup experience. The Bulldogs are the WAC favorites, and a possible BCS buster, with Brandstater at the helm, but they'll have to battle to win the title if Colburn is under center. They can win with Colburn, but this is Brandstater's team.
Outlook: After a breakthrough season, Brandstater is poised to become the WAC's best passer and the type of senior quarterback who can take 32 games of experience and become a special player. Colburn is a solid backup who'll someday be a good starter.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters
The nation's 14th best rushing attack is deep and talented, but it's sophomore Ryan Mathews, who's the star after a breakthrough 866-yard, 14 touchdown true freshman season. Once he became the main man, he was unstoppable at times rushing for 171 yards and three scores on just 14 carries in the win over Nevada, 144 yards and two touchdowns against San Jose State, and 106 yards and two touchdowns against Utah State. And then he broke down. Red-hot over a five-game stretch, he was limited a bit late with an ankle injury but still ran for 99 yards and a score against New Mexico State before being knocked out for the year. A former high school quarterback who led the nation in rushing with 3,396 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior, he's a producer. Now he has to stay healthy.

6-0, 215-pound junior Anthony Harding was on his way to becoming the team's main backup early last year before getting hurt, but he came back to run for 403 yards and four touchdowns, and catching four passes for 22 yards and a score, seeing time in every game. He'll line up at fullback, but while he's a good blocker, his game is about speed. A good enough receiver to be used more in the passing game, he'll play a bigger all-around role this year.

Projected Top Reserves: Miller might be the main man, but junior Lonyae Miller is hardly a backup. The teams' third leading rusher cranked out 609 yards and seven touchdowns, along with two catches for 23 yards, as one of the main backs in the rotation over the first half of the season. The team's most physical runner, the 6-0, 215-pounder has to stay in one piece after missing three games with a bruised thigh.

Junior Reynard Camp is a real fullback. At 5-11 and 260 pounds, he'll be an occasional big blocker and will get a short yardage carry here and there. He's a huge hitter who should be an unsung star for the ground game. His key is staying in shape. If he's moving well, he can be used as a second tight end.

On the way is true freshman A.J. Ellis, a tip recruit who has the jets to be a gamebreaker. While he might not be a workhorse, the 5-10, 175-pounder is tough for his size and can be used a bit as a specialist to give Mathews and the rest a break. He needs to develop into a receiver to make a big impact right away.

Watch Out For ... the Bulldogs to crank out a 1,000-yard rusher. Mathews was a lock to keep a six-year streak of 1,000-yard backs alive, and he should hit the mark this year if he doesn't give away too many carries.
Strength: Options. There are three good backs in Mathews, Miller and Harding to rotate around, and Ellis could turn out to be the most dangerous of the bunch. The production will be there no matter who's in the backfield.
Weakness: Receiving. It's not that the returning backs can't catch, in fact, Harding has terrific hands, it's that they haven't done it yet. Clifton Smith was the receiver out of the backfield, while Mathews didn't even register a grab. They might get more involved in the passing game this year.
Outlook: The ground game lost a major producer in Dwayne Wright and got better. The emergence of Mathews made the ground game explosive and productive, while Miller proved he could be a top back if he stays healthy and is given a chance. There are more good backs, like Ellis, waiting in the wings, and others, like 5-9, 185-pound sophomore Kyle Duffy, who'd be a star somewhere else but will be lost in the shuffle.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters
The Bulldogs have a potential all-star in 6-1, 220-pound junior Chastin West, but he has to stay healthy. A surprise two years ago, finishing as the team's leading receiver with 33 grabs for 365 yards and three scores, he hurt his knee in fall practices last year and missed the entire season. He spent his time getting bigger and stronger, and now he should be more physical and should be able to be used more inside and out.

The team's leading target last year was 6-1, 185-pound junior Marlon Moore, who caught 48 passes for 694 yards with five touchdowns. Arguably the team's fastest player with 4.3 wheels, he's a gamebreaker waiting to happen. However, his longest catch was only 38 yards, and now he has better technique that should help him get free for bigger plays. His biggest issue has been drops, which proved costly at times.

6-5, 260-pound former quarterback Bear Pascoe is a special tight end who'll be playing on Sundays. The team's second leading receiver, with 45 catches for 553 yards and four touchdowns, he's a great athlete who can be used in a variety of ways. His biggest problem last year was staying healthy, but he still gutted it out for the entire year and was a good blocker as well as a receiver. He won't blow anyone off the charts with his speed, but he has great hands.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the stars coming out of spring ball was Seyi Ajirotutu, a 6-3, 205-pound junior who is a fantastic blocker and showed more receiving skills this off-season after finishing fourth with 29 catches for 491 yards. While he's not a deep threat and he isn't going to blow past the better corners, he averaged an impressive 16.9 yards per catch last year and can make the big play.

Needing to become a factor is 6-2, 185-pound junior Jason Crawley, a tremendous athlete with big-time upside. He caught 22 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown last season and can do a little of everything. He has the size to be a big inside target, and the speed to blow DBs away on the outside. Cocky, he has the attitude and fire of a No. 1.

6-1, 190-pound sophomore Jamel Hamler has some of the best hands on the team and is fearless at making plays on the inside. While he only caught five passes for 80 yards as a freshman, he's reliable enough to be used far more often in three-wide sets.

Working behind Pascoe will be junior Isaac Kinter, who's more of a tweener/H-Back type than a big blocking tight end. The 6-2, 240-pounder is faster than Pascoe and can be used as a big wide receiver, catching 12 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns, and while he's not huge, he's a big hitter.

Watch Out For ... Moore. As a sophomore it seemed like Moore was just trying to figure it all out. He had some huge games late as he started to catch on to what he needed to do late in the year, and now he has the potential to grow into a pro prospect.
Strength: Speed, speed and more speed. No one in the WAC can match the wheels on this group. With Crawley about to play a bigger role and with West and Moore already established, last year's team average of 12.6 yards per catch might appear paltry.
Weakness: There's only one football. Outside of drops, there aren't many problems with a corps that has a tight end like Pascoe, speed everywhere, and promising depth waiting to break out.
Outlook: Fresno State is at its best as a running team, but that could change a bit with a receiving corps fast enough and good enough to make the passing attack the main focus. With a quarterback like Tom Brandstater able to bomb away, expect several big plays and lots and lots of production spread around to all the targets.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
The line was terrific last season and should be excellent this year with four returning starters led by senior Bobby Lepori at left tackle. The 6-5, 285-pounder as started for most of the last two seasons turning into an athletic all-around blocker and a dominator for the running game. The former walk-on who started out his career at Nevada needs to be back healthy after missing most of spring ball hurt.

Returning at left guard is 6-3, 285-pound senior Cole Popovich, a star recruit a few years ago, he has lived up to the hype as a four-year producer and top player when healthy. Hurt early last season, he missed six games but returned late just when the team needed a pickup. While he won't maul anyone, he's a technically sound run blocker.

At the moment, 6-4, 290-pound senior Adam McDowell will be the main man in the middle, but that could change if Joe Bernardi is healthy. McDowell started the first two games of last year at right guard before getting hurt for the year, but he's back and ready to become a factor somewhere on the inside. Ideally, he's a top backup who steps in wherever needed at any of the five spots.

6-3, 285-pound senior Kenny Avon doesn't get much publicity compared to Lepori and Popovich, but he's a strong, sound right tackle who was one of the only linemen to make it through the season healthy. He has grown into a possible all-star with tremendous athleticism and feet, and now the former defensive lineman should get some more attention.

6-6, 300-pound sophomore Andrew Jackson stepped in at right guard when McDowell got hurt and turned into a rock for the line the rest of the way. He's big, quick, and has next-level upside if he keeps progressing. The other four starters are good, with a few all-star candidates, but Jackson is the one who could end up playing at the next level.

Projected Top Reserves: The pieces of the line puzzle depend on the health of 6-4, 285-pound sophomore center Joe Bernardi. A starter for five games last year, he went down with a knee injury and is still questionable for the start of this year, if at all. Incredibly strong and tremendous for the ground game, he's a good one who won't be rushed back, but will likely be ready to go for the opener.

The Bulldogs like to go with quickness over size, but 6-5, 315-pound sophomore Devan Cunningham pushes that rule. He came to Fresno at over 340 pounds, and could get there again with a few big meals, but he's quick and talented. He saw time last year and could end up being more in the rotation at right tackle behind Avon.

While not the team's most talented lineman, 6-2, 300-pound junior Richard Pacheco is one of the most versatile. A valuable backup at all three inside positions, he's best suited for center but will likely be needed more often as a backup guard.

Watch Out For ... the sophomores. Fresno State always has good linemen, but the recruits over the last few years have been special. Bernadi, Cunningham, McDowell, left tackle Kenny Wiggins, will form the core of the league's best line by far next year.
Strength: Veterans. All the injury problems of last year allowed several young players to be thrown into the fire, and now there's enough starting experience returning for a good veteran at every spot, and reliable depth ready to roll.
Weakness: Health. Seemingly everyone got hurt last year and there was a constant shuffling of players. While the production was there, continuity was a problem.
Outlook: The line, if it stays healthy, will be phenomenal with at least three all-stars and maybe more. This group was phenomenal in pass protection and blasted away for the nation's 14th best running game. With good athleticism all across the board, size, and experience, this will be one of the WAC's best units at any position.
Rating: 8