2011 Fresno State Preview

Fresno State DT Logan Harrell

If you're Cal, Nebraska or Ole Miss, Fresno State is the dangerous team to worry about on the non-conference slate. The Bulldogs are fast, athletic, and talented, but will it be enough to win a title in their final season in the WAC? Can they finally get over the hump with Boise State in the Mountain West? Check out the CFN 2011 Fresno State Preview.


Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2011
 

- 2011 Fresno State Preview | 2011 Fresno State Offense
- 2011 Fresno State Defense | 2011 Fresno State Depth Chart
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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Pat Hill
14th year: 108-71
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Fresno State Players
1. DT Logan Harrell, Jr.
2. FS Phillip Thomas, Jr.
3. RB Robbie Rouse, Jr.
4. QB Derek Carr, Soph.
5. PK Kevin Goessling, Sr.
6. LB Travis Brown, Jr.
7. WR/KR Jalen Saunders Soph.
8. RB Milton Knox, Jr.
9. WR Rashad Evans, Jr.
10. CB L.J. Jones, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sept. 3 California
Sept. 10 at Nebraska
Sept. 17 North Dakota
Sept. 24 at Idaho
Oct. 1 Ole Miss
Oct. 7 Boise State
Oct. 15 Utah State
Oct. 22 at Nevada
Oct. 29 OPEN DATE
Nov. 5 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 12 at NMSU
Nov. 19 at Hawaii
Nov. 26 San Jose St
Dec. 3 at San Diego St

Boise State, you don't have Fresno State to kick around anymore. At least for one more year.

This needs to be it for head coach Pat Hill and a Fresno State program that appeared a decade ago to be ready to turn into what Boise State ultimately became, but hasn't been able to be a regular WAC champion. With the Broncos headed off to the Mountain West, it's now Fresno State, Nevada, and Hawaii left over for one more season before all three follow to the bigger league, and now there aren't any excuses to not win a title. Nevada is rebuilding, and while the Hawaii game is on the road, the Bulldogs should have the better team.

But that's the problem.

Hill has always been able to get the athletes and he has enough speed at all the key spots to outrun anyone, but the production on a weekly basis continues to be missing. The talent is in place to contend with the BCS teams on the slate, beating Cincinnati and Illinois last season, but there's a consistent brain-cramp when the lights aren't necessarily turned on, like in the embarrassment of a bowl loss to Northern Illinois. There's so much flash, so much speed, and so much talent that the expectations are going to be high, even though Boise State is still on the schedule. However, this team is built for 2011.

There's no question that Fresno State has to win the WAC for the season to be a success, but there's a ton of turnover on both sides of the ball and the team has to hope for the changes in key spots like quarterback and middle linebacker are an upgrade. And for Hill, who's going into his 14th season, he has to avoid the total clunker or else someone else might get a shot to coach what will be a dangerous veteran team next season.

On the projected two-deep depth chart going into the fall, there are just nine seniors and most of the top talents are going to be back – unless players like DT Logan Harrell and RB Robbie Rouse jump early to the NFL. This year, the offense has the potential to explode with speed to burn in the backfield, several fast receivers who can get deep, and a quarterback in Derek Carr with a world of upside and skill. If the line can stay healthy, the Bulldogs, despite only returning four starters, should be more potent.

The defense can fly, especially in the back seven, but gone are two of the WAC's best players in end Chris Carter and MLB Ben Jacobs. However, Jacobs' replacement, Jeremiah Toma, brings far more speed and athleticism to the position and there are several good athletes ready to combine forces on the end to try to replace Carter. Only one starter returns to the secondary, safety Phillip Thomas, but the corners are among the fastest in the WAC, if not the country, and there's decent depth to hope for an improvement.

More than anything else, Hill and Fresno State have see the WAC title as the ultimate goal. The program, if history is any guide, will get up for the opener against Cal in San Francisco and will be sky high for the trip to Nebraska and the home date with Ole Miss, but it's the home game against Louisiana Tech that really matters. It's the road trip to Hawaii, the away game at Nevada, and even the date with Boise State, even though it's an interconference matchup this season, that will really make the Fresno State season.

The team, the league, and the hopes for the program are all in a holding pattern until next year. That doesn't mean the Bulldogs can't come up with the season and the final conference result they've been shooting for.

What to watch for on offense: Lots and lots of flash. The running backs, especially starter Robbie Rouse, have home run hitting capability from anywhere on the field, and the receivers, even without 2010 leading target Jamel Hamler, have the speed to come up with more big plays. Most importantly, new starting quarterback Derek Carr has the arm to push the ball further and better than former starter, Ryan Colburn, was able to. The attack should be able to crank out yards and points in chunks, but it can't rely just on the home run, even though it'll be tempting.

What to watch for on defense: What's the right combination going to be on the defensive front? The goal going into last year was to generate more of a pass rush from the front four, and Chris Carter answered the bell with 11 sacks, and tackle Logan Harrell was one of the nation's premier interior pass rushers with 10.5 sacks. Carter is gone, and now the coaching staff is experimenting with moving Harrell around to find the best fit depending on the situation. If the ends are strong, Harrell will stay inside. If the tackles are solid, he'll work more on the outside.

The team will be far better if … the takeaways start to come. Turnover margin has been a disaster for the Bulldogs over the last few years, and while they improved the pass rush in one year, going from second-to-last in the nation to ninth, the disruptive plays didn't come with just five recovered fumbles and eight picks. The 24 turnovers weren't all that bad, but when the defense isn't coming up with the big play, with only Kansas and New Mexico State coming up with fewer takeaways and no one recovering fewer fumbles, the D has to use its speed and athleticism to start screwing teams up.

The schedule: As always, there are battles against the BCS teams opening up against Cal in San Francisco and a trip to Nebraska, and with a home date against Ole Miss in early October. Making the non-conference slate even more interesting, and nastier, are dates with future Mountain West foes Boise State in the middle of a three game stretch and the season finale at San Diego State. There's a terrific stretch of five home games in seven, but three of the last four games are on the road. The two biggest WAC games – Hawaii and Nevada – are on the road.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Robbie Rouse … for now. Sophomore QB Derek Carr has the arm, the size, and the mobility to be the next big thing on the NFL scouting circuit, but he has to show off his skills over the next three years to show that he's not just the little brother of former No. 1 overall pick, David Carr. If Rouse can stay healthy, and if he can get into space on a regular basis, he'll be a legitimate threat to run for well over 1,500 yards. He has the speed and a little bit of power, but he's not that big and he wore down late last year.

Best defensive player: Junior DT Logan Harrell. A bit of a tweener at 6-2 and 280 pounds, the next-level types would prefer it if he was 6-4, to have the ideal look of a 3-4 end, but he's an ideal 4-3 tackle with the quickness to fly through the gap, and the toughness to hold up against the run. The ultimate disruptive force for the interior, the spotlight will be on after making 10.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. However, he only game up with 1.5 sacks over the final six games.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Derek Carr. He's 6-3, 205 pounds, and has a next-level arm. While Bulldog fans are hoping for another David Carr-like career out of Derek, it might not happen right away. Derek is athletic, is a bit of a runner, and can also bomb away without much of a problem. He'll be expected to be a star right away, but that might be a problem against Cal and Nebraska. If he has great games and Fresno State starts the season 2-0, watch for the big press to follow.

The season will be a success if … Fresno State wins the WAC. It's the last chance, and with Boise State out of the picture, the program has to prove it's better than Hawaii and Nevada; there won't be too many worries about everyone else. A good overall record would be nice, but for Hill, walking away from the league with a trophy would be extremely sweet.

Key game: Oct. 22 at Nevada. Going to Hawaii will also be nasty, but first, getting a win over Nevada is a must to keep the WAC championship dream alive. The Wolf Pack beat the Bulldogs in a 35-34 thriller, and after losing three straight in the series and giving up 128 points, this is the new hump to get over to replace the Boise State rivalry for this year.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Fresno State 25 (lost 15) – Opponents 23 (lost 5)
- Time of Possession: Fresno State 32:16 – Opponents 27:44
- Kickoff Return Average: Opponents 24.3 – Fresno State 22.5

- 2011 Fresno State Preview | 2011 Fresno State Offense
- 2011 Fresno State Defense | 2011 Fresno State Depth Chart
- Fresno State Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

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