NCAA Football Preview - Fresno State Bulldogs

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Updated: 8/20 1:49 pm

The former Texas A&M offensive coordinator had seen first-hand just how devastating the Bulldogs could be, having spent time as an Air Force assistant and a coach on the Nevada Wolf Pack staff in recent years, but last season he managed to take FSU to new heights.

The 2012 run saw the Bulldogs finish in a tie for first place in the Mountain West standings with a record of 7-1, but even though the squad was 9-3 overall, it ended up losing in the Hawaii Bowl in ugly fashion to SMU, 43-10. As well as Fresno State played during the 2012 regular season, that loss to the Mustangs and former Hawaii head coach June Jones was still tough to swallow.

Motivated to rebound, DeRuyter and superstar quarterback Derek Carr aimed for perfection in 2013 and nearly realized those dreams before being dashed in the final game of the regular season versus San Jose State in a spectacular offensive shootout, 62-52.

Leading up to that offensive barrage, the Bulldogs ran the table through the first 10 games of the season, scoring no fewer than 35 points in any one of those outings. However, even though the offense was one of the most proficient in the nation, averaging 43.4 ppg overall to rank first in the Mountain West Conference and sixth in the country, the defense often gave a chunk of those points back to the opposition, requiring Carr to dial up the pressure over and over again.

Right out of the gate Rutgers took the Bulldogs to overtime in a 52-51 final, and Boise State played within a single point (41-40) a few weeks later. In late October it was San Diego State that almost ended the run by the Bulldogs before the canines pulled out a 35-28 victory.

Unfortunately, Fresno State saw its 15-game regular-season win streak come to an end with the loss to SJSU, and with it a chance to disrupt the coveted BCS. Still, the Bulldogs made it to the first MWC Championship game and eased by Utah State, 24-17.

However, with the setback to the Spartans at the end of November, the Bulldogs were left to participate in the Las Vegas Bowl and ended up being thrashed by USC, 45-20, in the final college game for Carr and the fifth straight bowl defeat for the program.

"This team won 11 ball games and won a second straight conference championship," DeRuyter said after the loss to the Trojans. "I know in my heart that we had a really fine football team and I'm very proud of them. We didn't play our best game today and that goes on me, I got to do a better job getting our guys ready."

Carr, who was just the fourth quarterback in FBS history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season and have 50 touchdown passes, became a second-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders after being named a two-time MWC Offensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-American.


OFFENSE: In addition to losing Carr, one of just 19 quarterbacks in FBS history to throw for over 10,000 career yards and 100 touchdowns, DeRuyter and the Bulldogs must also fill in a number of other significant voids on the roster before the season kicks off against USC at the end of August. Also gone is standout wide receiver Davante Adams who went to the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Adams set school records for receptions (233) and touchdown catches (38) and in just two seasons of action he moved himself into a tie for 16th in FBS history in touchdown grabs. He caught at least one TD pass in all but four of the 26 games he played during his career as a Bulldog.

In addition to Adams, Isaiah Burse (99 catches, 1,026 yards, six TDs) also fled the dog pound for the NFL, leaving Josh Harper as the top returning receiver for Fresno State heading into 2014.

Harper, one of three players to register at least 1,000 yards receiving a year ago, did so with 1,011 yards on 79 catches, leading to 13 touchdowns, the latter being second only to Adams. Unfortunately, after the three aforementioned receivers, there is a huge drop-off in production based on returning players.

The loss of both Adams and Burse will certainly put added pressure on the successor to Carr to produce. DeRuyter had five quarterbacks competing for the job during spring practice but may not have a starter pegged until just before the opener versus USC.

"I feel like we have some good dudes back there and we're not expecting them to come in and be Derek Carr," Harper says. "They are themselves and however they are going to make us successful, that's how we want them to be."

Brian Burrell and Zach Greenlee figure to have the inside track at quarterback early on, and while the former completed 7-of-12 passes for 51 yards last year, none of that means much moving forward.

Some more positive news has the top two ground gainers from a year ago returning in Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller. Quezada led the way with 829 yards on 155 carries and scored six times on the ground, but it was Waller who turned his 124 attempts into seven TDs and averaged a solid 5.2 yards per carry.

DEFENSE: While Carr and Adams and Co. were tearing up opposing defenses in 2013, scoring at will with minimum effort and time ticking off the clock, the defense for the Bulldogs was often put at a disadvantage because they had little time to rest between series.

The squad was charged with 30.3 ppg, placing a modest fourth in the MWC, but just 86th nationally. Opponents rolled up 430.8 ypg on the unit, a number that will bury the Bulldogs this year if those same foes come anywhere close to repeating.

On a more positive note, FSU has the luxury of bringing back free safety Derron Smith, one of the top players at his position nationally. Not only was Smith picked for the preseason All-MWC First Team, he was also chosen as the preseason MWC Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. A two-time All-MWC First Team selection, Smith was the MVP of the inaugural MWC Championship Game after posting a sack and an interception against Utah State.

While Smith is the keystone of the defense for the Bulldogs again this year, he is encouraged by the experience that he and his teammates have gained in recent years and is looking forward to applying that to 2014.

"You got to have the mindset that you can lose any game if you don't come with your 'A' game," Smith said. "We've been putting in the work this summer to get ready to have another good year. We have to roll into every game like the target is on their back and not on our back. If we do that then we'll be fine."

Smith, who stepped up with seven interceptions a year ago, will gain plenty of support from returning stars in Karl Mickelsen (97 tackles) and Ejiro Ederaine (16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Coming back as the field goal kicker for the Bulldogs is Colin McGuire, after having knocked through 11 of his 16 tries a year ago. He was a bit shaky at times and had a pair of kicks blocked, but with the rarity of his appearances you could forgive him for not being at the top of his game all of the time.

Garrett Swanson steps up again as the punter for the Bulldogs. Last season, he averaged a strong 43.1 yards per attempt and had a long of 69 yards, with almost half of his 53 punts resulting in a fair catch.

Often overlooked in the special teams department is the long-snapper, who in this case is Dylan Detwiler, back yet again to make sure his kickers get quality opportunities.

The team will have to identify a new punt returner however, after Burse and Adams handled the majority of those endeavors, the former returning a pair for touchdowns a season ago.

OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs didn't do themselves any favors in the creation of the non-conference schedule for 2014, but it doesn't sound as though DeRuyter or his players are complaining. Right off the bat the team travels to USC in an effort to show that the bowl loss was a fluke more than anything, but even a down year for the Trojans means they are better than an FSU squad that has yet to name a starting quarterback.

In the following weeks the Bulldogs will be at Utah and host Nebraska, before catching a huge break with a home gig versus Southern Utah. The Mountain West schedule starts in earnest in late September and includes a couple of difficult road dates versus Boise State and Nevada, before culminating with a meeting against Hawaii in the Golden State.

While the Bulldogs are expected to finish high in the West Division of the MWC, that has more to do with the lack of talent on the other teams in the division as opposed to how dominant FSU might be.

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