By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Year after year the Bulldogs and head coach Pat Hill have made it well known that they are willing to play any opponent, anywhere and at any time, but that invitation has not always worked in Fresno State's favor.
The squad started off 2009 with a softball in UC Davis, easily securing a 51-0
romp over the Mustangs, but the rest of September proved to be a struggle as
FSU dropped three straight outings. Granted, the Bulldogs almost pulled out
the win against Wisconsin on the road, but after a couple of overtime periods
the team still has to settle for a 34-31 setback. A home date with 10th-ranked
Boise State on September 18th went a long way in showing which program was
prepared to take the lead in the Western Athletic Conference and with a 17-0
start to the meeting the Broncos were never really challenged in the 51-34
blowout. Eight days later, Fresno was struck down by 14th-ranked Cincinnati
(28-20) on the road, dropping the squad to 1-3 and prompting coach Hill to
recognize the difficulty of playing a pair of FBS opponents so far from home
in such a short stretch.
Getting a break in the action allowed the Bulldogs to rejuvenate and put
together a five-game win streak against WAC opponents before falling hard
against a Nevada squad that had hit its stride and was one of the most
threatening offenses in the nation. Part of the problem for FSU was that it
lost Ryan Mathews, the nation's leading rusher, to an injury in the second
quarter of that meeting and subsequently the Bulldogs suffered a humbling
52-14 loss in Reno.
A couple of close calls to wrap up the regular season, a 30-28 win over
Louisiana Tech and a 53-52 victory versus Illinois in Champaign got the
Bulldogs into the postseason, but once there Fresno was stunned by Wyoming in
double-overtime as the Cowboys picked up a 28-25 decision at the New Mexico
A couple of areas in which Fresno State needs to pick up the slack this coming
season is in run defense after allowing 214.1 ypg (111th in the nation) and
sacks as the defense logged just 11 total over 13 games to rank second-to-last
in the country in that department as the squad finished 8-5 overall and 6-2
versus WAC foes. As a sign of good faith coach Hill, who has previously been
courted by the NFL and posted the 100th win of his FSU career against Illinois
in the regular-season finale, agreed to an extension with the Bulldogs and is
even expected to take a pay cut in order to help out the athletic department
during tough fiscal times.
OFFENSE: "This could be a really good offensive line, its the veteran group of
our team," so says coach Hill. "Its all seniors and one junior and last year
four of them were brand new so this year they're a veteran group and we're
going to need this veteran group because we're breaking in a new group of
receivers and running backs. I think having a veteran line is always a key."
With that being said about the men in the trenches for the Bulldogs, expect
to see quarterback Ryan Colburn ready to take advantage of what should be even
better protection for the senior signal-caller. Colburn, who has been named to
the Manning Award Watch List for this season, completed 60 percent of his pass
attempts last year for better than 2,400 yards and 19 touchdowns. More
importantly, Colburn dialed up his efforts in the last nine games of the
campaign as he issued 12 TDs and only four picks.
While not a spectacular or flashy performer, Colburn can get the job done and
might even rise to a new level if he feels enough pressure coming from the
emergence of sophomore Derek Carr. Rated as one of the top QBs coming out of
high school, Derek is the younger brother of former Fresno QB David Carr who
won the 2001 Johnny Unitas Award and was also the first overall pick in the
2002 NFL Draft.
Whether its Colburn or Carr handling the snaps from under center, senior Devon
Wylie and junior Jamel Hamler are slated to be the primary targets down the
field for the Bulldogs. Vince Pascoe, the cousin of Bear who previously played
for the Bulldogs, is slated as the tight end for the group.
In terms of running the ball, the Bulldogs have a huge hole to fill after
losing Ryan Mathews to the NFL. Robbie Rouse, the second-most productive
runner for the unit a year ago with his 479 yards and four touchdowns, could
help bridge the gap but surely there will be a drop-off in production in that
DEFENSE: Always prepared to hit anything that moves, the Fresno State defense
has to be happy about the fact that five of the top tacklers from last season
are slated to return. Except for all-WAC safety Moses Harris, who finished
with 63 tackles in 13 games, the best proven hitters are ready to make their
collective presence felt.
Named First Team All-WAC a year ago, Ben Jacobs is back at linebacker and
needs just two tackles to register an even 300 for his career. Jacobs led the
unit with 106 total stops in 2009 and seemed to always have a hand in the
action as he tallied eight tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, three
forced fumbles and an astounding three blocked kicks. Few players in the
league made as much of an impact as Jacobs.
In 2008, the Bulldogs ranked eight in the WAC and 96th in the country in sacks
with just 1.38 per outing, which meant it should have improved in 2009 but it
actually went in the other direction. FSU's pressure at the line of scrimmage
resulted in a paltry 0.85 sacks per game, last in the conference and 119th in
the nation. But don't blame that on defensive end Chris Carter because he was
responsible for five sacks all on his own and expects the number to grow in
One of the more disappointing bits of news to come out of practice in early
August was that junior safety Zak Hill, the son of the head coach, was going
to miss the entire 2010 campaign following a knee injury. Hill was fighting
for one of the starting spots at safety and had been playing well in camp
before suffering the injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS: An All-WAC First Team kicker, Ryan Goessling was nothing short
of amazing for the Bulldogs as a sophomore when he made good on all but one of
his 16 field goal attempts, including a season-long 52-yarder versus Idaho.
Goessling, who was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, never faltered on
his PATs either, converting all 55 chances in 2009. Slated as his backup this
season, Andrew Shapiro is actually penciled in as the starting punter as well.
A senior, Devon Wylie is slated as the primary return man on punts for FSU
after he brought back a dozen last year for just under nine yards per attempt.
OUTLOOK: "Our goals have always remained the same," says coach Hill. "Compete
for a WAC championship, participate in the postseason and we will never change
from that. We'll continue to play the type of schedule we play."
Except for 2006 when the team turned in an awful 4-8 record, the Bulldogs have
always performed well under coach Hill and there's no reason to believe that's
going to change in 2010. Granted, the team has lost its last two bowl games to
Mountain West Conference opponents (Colorado State and Wyoming), but that
should give them more of a reason to get off on the right foot this season.
The squad gets thrown right into the fire on September 4th with a home date
against Cincinnati, an opponent that put up a 28-20 win against the Bulldogs
last year when the Bearcats were nationally ranked. Fresno catches a break
with an early bye, which might not be the best thing to get a team of eager
players into a routine, but at least the squad has a date at fellow WAC school
Utah State soon after. The team should take care of Ole Miss and Cal Poly
before the WAC schedule begins in earnest and it certainly helps that after
the date with the Mustangs, Fresno State will also be hosting Hawaii and New
Mexico State in order to build up its win total. The Bulldogs also catch
Nevada at home and, after FSU was throttled by the Wolf Pack last year, will
have incentive to fight hard in that meeting.