Today, we’re 94 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 94 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Fresno State Bulldogs.
Coming off a 4-9 finish in 2011, the Bulldogs turn to former Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter as their new head coach, and look to turn the corner back toward .500 football this fall.
The Bulldogs’ offense this year will be high-paced no matter what. This is the style DeRuyter and his staff plan to bring to the table, and, in large part, they have the athletes to potentially pull it off.
Quarterback Derek Carr— the younger brother of former NFL No. 1 overall draft pick David Carr– will be tasked to run the new breakneck, no-huddle offense installed this fall. For Carr to succeed, a few unknowns on the two-deep will need to step up and produce.
At wide receiver, there are a few guys that could become impact players including Rashad Evans, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper. All three saw minimal time in 2011, but were highly-recruited high school stars.
Carr put up solid numbers in 2011, including a completion percentage of 63 percent and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 23-to-9, which will, at a minimum, need to be replicated this fall for the Bulldogs to find success on the offensive side of the football.
The Fresno offensive line returns five starters from 2011 and will be a huge factor in determining whether a running game led by Robbie Rouse will be enough of a decoy and quick-hit threat to keep opposing defenses on their heels in the fast-paced scheme. Rouse was hit-and-miss in 2011, carrying the ball 329 times for 1,543 yards and 13 touchdowns, but also had the tendency to disappear, and have poor games when the Bulldogs needed him most.
If all these uncertainties come together in 2012, the Bulldogs could be on their way back toward bowl eligibility and the promise the program once showed early in the 2000s.
With Tim DeRuyter’s background, there’s little doubt there will be an increased emphasis on defense going forward in Fresno. The Bulldogs are likely to employ a 3-4 base set to best take advantage of returning players and incoming recruits.
Defensive lineman Tyeler Davidson anchors a D-line that looks to mirror the success of a stout front-five in 2011. Donovan Lewis, Travis Brown and Jeremiah Toma will key a linebacking corps which will be tasked with setting the tone for DeRuyter’s attacking 3-4 defensive unit.
Phillip Jones and L.J. Jones anchor a defensive secondary which should be strong enough to limit opponents’ passing games, but will depend upon pressure up front to not be forced to consistently make drive-ending plays.
Overall, defense shouldn’t be an issue for the Bulldogs, but there’s little doubt they will be tested to prove this to be the case.
As has been the case with many of the other schools we have previewed so far, the Bulldogs’ early-season schedule presents some challenges and some games which should be easily winnable.
Fresno State opens with Weber State at home– a team currently in turmoil due to the departure of head coach John L. Smith to take the head coaching job at Arkansas in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal. This should be the easiest win of the young season for the Bulldogs who face two Pac-12 opponents in the following two weeks.
Week Two sees Fresno visit the highly-touted Oregon Ducks in Eugene– likely the first loss of the 2012 season. Week Three could be the tipping point as the Bulldogs take on a Colorado Buffaloes team that promises to be improved before wrapping up the non-conference slate against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.
There are plenty of unknowns for Tim DeRuyter and the Bulldogs as the dog days of summer near and the 2012 season creeps closer. It’s likely these unknowns won’t all be answered, and a .500 season for Fresno will be a reach goal– at least for one more year.