Boise State 2009 opponent preview: Fresno State

Projected Record: 7-5 overall, 5-3 conference
At-a-glance: The consistently inconsistent Bulldogs will struggle finding a new signal caller and the defense will continue to be a liability. Ryan Matthews will try to put together an injury free season, but in the end, the Bulldogs will predictably implode and limp into a boring bowl game. Pat Hill will be given an ultimatum.

Considering Fresno State's malaise doesn't generally start until at least October...it could be a very good thing for them to get Boise State early in their schedule. In any other year, perhaps. Boise State will bring a host of starters back on both sides of the ball and be primed from day one by their tangle with Oregon on the blue—Fresno will need to fill numerous holes and will probably be banged up coming off their tilt against the Badgers six days earlier. I suppose it's possible that Fresno may actually overachieve this season since they won't be hampered by their usual high expectations, but ultimately, Fresno State will need some breaks to finish in the top 3.

 

Wins in 2008: 7
Pythagorean Wins in 2008: 5.8
Translation: Another year, another letdown
Returning starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 8
Strength of Schedule: 92
Recruiting ranking 2005-2009: 92, 96, 68, 60, 70 (nat'l ranking from Scout.com)
WAC recruiting ranking 2005-2009: 5, 5, 2, 1, 3

When Fresno State has the ball

Fresno State is a hairs-breadth from starting a true freshman at quarterback, and regardless of whether his last name is "Carr" or not...this can't be a good sign. With "Touchdown" Tom Brandstater (everytime I have to type that I giggle like a schoolgirl) having moved on to the NFL (really, Denver?)...the quarterback position is up for grabs. The leading contenders for the job are Junior Ryan Colburn (with 5 career attempts to his credit), RS Freshman Ebahn Feathers (a speedster with questionable passing credentials), and true Freshman Derek Carr (younger brother of Fresno "legend" David who is already quite adept at running the offense and his mouth). Pat Hill seems to have no qualms about starting the true frosh and Carr certainly looks like he is cut from the same cloth as his big bro...but obvious growing pains are to be expected when such a young player is "thrown to the wolves" as it were and I think that Colburn will likely be the starter by the time Boise State rolls into the Valley on September 18th. Colburn better have more moxie than Brandstater if he is going to get the Bulldogs out of their rut.

Ryan Matthews is an excellent running back. Problem is, Matthews has a certain knack for getting injured. In the last two seasons, Matthews has exactly 15 rushing attempts against the Broncos and only 49 yards to show for it. Last season alone, Matthews missed 5 whole games to injury. If Matthews can stay healthy, it will be a huge boon to the Bulldog offense that struggles without a running game. Lonyae Miller played pretty well last season, putting up 812 yards and 7 TDs, but a one-two punch of Matthews and Miller has much more teeth. Last season's leading rusher for the Bulldogs, Anthony Harding, will be a senior and is currently sitting right behind Boise State's Richie Brockel on Mel Kiper's 2010 fullback draftboard. Harding isn't a flashy runner...but he was remarkably consistent last year and will need to be again this year for Pat Hill's pound-the-ball game plan to take off.

Fresno State's receivers are an athletic bunch who can make big things happen when they get the touches—I emphasize the word 'when' because Tom Brandstater had been throwing to them for the last couple of years. Depending on who gets the starting QB nod, there could be reason for a lot of optimism at the WR position this year. Leading receiver Seyi Ajirotutu will return for his senior year after piling up 795 yards and 5 TDs in 2008.  Ajirotutu averaged nearly 17 YPC last season and should be one of the preferred targets this year. Filling out the elderly receiving corps will be seniors Marlon Moore and Chastin West. Moore is a dangerous wide out who will be looking for redemption after missing five games to injury last year...West missed all of 2007 to injury and is equally dangerous returning kicks and receiving

When their opponents have the ball

The Bulldogs simply have to do better on defense this year if they want to go anywhere. The unit ranked a paltry 97th overall in 2008 and that is only because the passing defense was halfway decent. The Bulldog run D could only stand around and watch as teams averaged more than 210 yards against them on the ground en route to a 108 national ranking (1 spot behind Idaho). The Bulldogs have a capable secondary, but they need to focus on takeaways in a BIG way after only intercepting 5 passes all of last season (Boise State had 22). CB A.J. Jefferson will be looking to go out on a high note after sitting for 6 games in 2008 (noticing a pattern?).

Fresno's linebacking unit should be solid behind the play of juniors Ben Jacobs and Nico Herron, and don't be surprised to see true frosh Travis Brown get in on the action. Brown is the son of late Fresno State coach and Boise State player Dan Brown and was one of the top LBs in the nation at Clovis West in Fresno. The D-line has a large hole to fill since the departure of Ikenna Ike and his 121 career tackles, but a youth movement looks to be in effect with the likes of Logan Harrell and Chase Mcentee only freshman with plenty of upside. The linebacking corps should be solid this year and help Fresno's run D to perform more admirably than last. Lackluster D-line play will have to be cleaned up as well Fresno's defense hopes to climb the national rankings.

Special Teams

Chastin West, A.J. Jefferson, and Marlon Moore have all returned at least one kick or punt for a TD in their careers giving the return units a bit of starpower for the Bulldogs. Kevin Goessling was both hero and zero for the 'dogs in 2008 as placekicker...failing to hit key FGs in losses to Hawaii and Wisconsin and nailing a last second 58-yarder against Utah State to seal a win. Goessling has plenty of leg, but could stand a heaping helping of accuracy entering his sophomore campaign. The Bulldog punting unit was mediocre last season ranking 89th nationally. Punting is one of the littlest details that often pays huge dividends if done correctly. Overall, the special teams ranks somewhere right in the middle...enough return power to save their bacon from time to time, and enough punting and placekicking issues to be a liability.

Coaching/Intangibles

I don't know whether to fear Pat Hill or pity him half the time. He bears a striking resemblance to a walrus and tells it like it is. He also has been universally admired for his take-on-all-comers approach to scheduling—fact is, Pat Hill's bark has lately been much worse than his bite. Hill is an admirable character, and is quite open in his respect for the Broncos and their program, but his 92-61-0 record at the helm is starting to look less and less impressive and the sad fact is that their biggest win in the last 5 years was a loss to USC in 2005. Hill will still take out the odd BCS squad, but the giant-killers tag hasn't applied much of late. Bronco fans would love to have Hill's record against BCS opponents and Hill would just like a WAC title—something the dogs haven't had since the salad days when Boise State was in the Big West. Revenge will be a factor against the likes of Hawaii and the Broncos this year...but Hill's stubborn embrace of the slow, plodding run first/run second game plans may prove his downfall in key matchups. The Bulldogs will win some impressively, only to drop a gimme the next week.

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