Coach:Pat Hill (85-55 in 11 seasons) | Staff In 2007:9-4, 6-2 in WAC (third in league). | Highlights Returning starters: Offense—9. Defense—7. Special teams—0. | Depth Chart Key losses: Offense—C Ryan Wendell. Defense—E Tyler Clutts, CB Damon Jenkins, OLB Marcus Riley, NT Charles Tolbert. Special teams—K Clint Stitser, P Kyle Zimmerman.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 36th | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
THE SCHEME: Fresno State runs a pro-set offense with multiple formations. The Bulldogs ran the ball 62.2 percent of the time last season and have a nice group of tailbacks again this season.
STAR POWER: How good a tight end is senior Bear Pascoe? Ask Texas A&M. Pascoe scored three touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 47-45 triple-overtime loss to the Aggies last season. Pascoe finished with 45 catches for 553 yards and four touchdowns. He could emerge as one of the nation's top tight ends this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Fresno State has so much experience on offense that it will be tough for any first-year guy to get much playing time, but the Bulldogs' leading scorer still could end up being a redshirt freshman. We're referring to Kevin Goessling, the favorite to win the kicking job.
IT'S HIS TIME: Wide receiver Chastin West was one of Fresno State's most promising underclassmen after catching 33 passes for 365 yards as a freshman two years ago, but he missed 2007 with an injured left knee. If West can stay healthy for an entire season, he has star potential.
STRONGEST AREA: Fresno State was 14th in the nation in rushing offense and capped the season by running for 286 yards in the Humanitarian Bowl against a highly regarded Georgia Tech defense. And the Bulldogs delivered that big performance against the Yellow Jackets without leading rusher Ryan Mathews, who finished the season with 866 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding are back after combining for 1,878 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. They will be running behind a veteran line that features left tackle Bobby Lepori, right guard Andrew Jackson and right tackle Kenny Avon.
WEAKEST AREA: Although Fresno State's line boasts plenty of experience, the departure of Ryan Wendell leaves a big hole at center. The Bulldogs are counting on senior Adam McDowell or sophomore Joe Bernardi to fill the void. This offense doesn't have many weaknesses, but the situation at center does offer cause for concern.
OVERVIEW: Fresno State must break in a new coordinator after Jim McElwain left for Alabama, but that's nothing new with this program. McElwain received much of the credit for quarterback Tom Brandstater's resurgence, so Bulldogs fans better hope their QB continues to thrive with Doug Nussmeier as coordinator. After throwing 14 interceptions and only 13 touchdown passes in 2006, Brandstater had a 15-5 touchdown-interception ratio last season. Brandstater will be operating an offense with no obvious weaknesses. The Bulldogs have experience on the line, in the backfield and at wide receiver. Nussmeier had been quarterback coach of the St. Louis Rams for two seasons.
That's the number of blocked kicks Fresno State has since 2002. The only school to block more kicks during that stretch is Texas, with 39.
THE SCHEME: Fresno State runs a 4-3 scheme and traditionally boasts one of the top defenses in the WAC.
STAR POWER: Senior tackle Jon Monga recorded 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season to rank second on the team in both categories. Monga closed the season by compiling five tackles and one sack in the Humanitarian Bowl. If he can deliver those types of performances consistently, Monga should earn All-WAC honors.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman Kyle Knox ended spring practice as a second-team outside linebacker. Even if he doesn't win a starting job, Knox should earn ample playing time.
IT'S HIS TIME: When an injury to Ahijah Lane threw linebacker Ben Jacobs into the starting lineup last year, the redshirt freshman responded by compiling 81 tackles, which ranked second on the team to Marcus Riley's 132. Now that Riley has departed, Jacobs should emerge as a leader of the defense.
STRONGEST AREA: The secondary returns cornerback Damion Owens, strong safety Moses Harris and free safety Marvin Haynes from a team that ranked third in the WAC in pass-efficiency defense, though Haynes still must beat out senior Jake Jorde to keep his starting job. Owens, Harris and Haynes have two years of starting experience each. The only hole is at the second cornerback spot, where standout kick returner A.J. Jefferson gets first dibs at replacing departed three-year starter Damon Jenkins.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The Bulldogs have to do a better job of forcing turnovers. Fresno State finished 2007 with just 13 takeaways. Nebraska and Marshall were the only two Division I-A teams to force fewer turnovers last season.
OVERVIEW: Fresno State returns most of its starters on defense, but the Bulldogs gave up 27 points per game and ranked just 74th in the nation in total defense last season. Fresno State allowed six points or less in three of its first seven games, but each of the Bulldogs' last six foes scored at least 23 points. The Bulldogs ought to improve because they return so many starters. A veteran secondary should prevent Fresno State from giving up too many big plays. But the Bulldogs also need to create big plays of their own by forcing more turnovers.
Anyone that scores against Fresno State doesn't get much of a chance to relax. Jefferson led the nation with an average of 35.8 yards per kickoff return, and he's a threat to score just about any time he touches the ball. Jefferson returned kickoffs for touchdowns in back-to-back games against Utah State and Hawaii last season. Fresno State has plenty of uncertainty elsewhere on special teams, as the Bulldogs must break in a new kicker and punter.
Pat Hill deserves plenty of credit for helping the Bulldogs rebound from an uncharacteristically poor 4-8 season in 2006. Hill could have moved on to a more established program a long time ago, but he has remained content to stay at Fresno State while continually playing some of the toughest non-conference games in the country. His take-all-comers attitude is evident from a schedule that includes matchups with Rutgers, Wisconsin and Utah. Hill has helped Fresno State remain successful even while dealing with numerous staff changes. Nussmeier is the fourth person to hold the offensive coordinator title in the past four seasons. Fresno State has had more stability on the other side of the ball - defensive coordinator Dan Brown has been a part of Fresno State's staff since 1997.
at Utah State
at Louisiana Tech
New Mexico State
at San Jose State
at Boise State
There might not be any team in the country with a tougher September schedule than Fresno State. The Bulldogs face Rutgers, Wisconsin, Toledo and UCLA in their first four games. Only the Wisconsin game is at home. If Fresno State manages to go undefeated after facing that schedule, nobody's going to argue whether the Bulldogs merit a BCS bid. The question is whether they would deserve a shot to play for the national title. But as good as Fresno State looks on paper, you have to wonder whether the Bulldogs' confidence will be shaken if they head into conference play with a 1-3 record. Fresno State should beat up on its WAC competition, but the Bulldogs must face Boise State on the road in a game that likely will determine the conference champion.
Fresno State would love to become the third WAC team in as many seasons to earn a BCS bid, and this team might be as good as the 2007 Hawaii squad that went undefeated and reached the Sugar Bowl. Too bad this Fresno State team isn't playing the same kind of lightweight schedule that helped Hawaii finish the regular season unbeaten last season. Fresno State's non-conference schedule makes an undefeated record and potential BCS bid seem unrealistic. A more reasonable goal would be to win the school's first WAC title since 1999. We're guessing the Bulldogs end their WAC title drought and earn at least 10 wins for the first time since the 2001 team went 11-3.