The front of the Fresno State football media guide optimistically reads “It’s a new day,” a catchphrase that conjures up images of the sun coming up, starting over, a fresh new start. It’s surely an apropo statement coming off, with apologies to the 1929 (1-7) and 1944 (0-6) teams, the worst season in Bulldog history, a 1-11 debacle, their only victory was the home opener over Sacramento State, a football championship subdivision team.
Before the 2016 season ended, head coach Tim DeRuyter was given the heave-ho and Fresno State hired a familiar name to turn around the program, Jeff Tedford, a former Bulldog quarterback and assistant coach, who turned around the Cal program. From 2002-2012, he amassed 82 wins and is the school’s all-time winningest coach.
For the Bulldog football program to be successful moving forward is reconnecting with Bulldog Nation and the heart of the Central Valley, a proud group that bleeds Bulldog red. Remember the glory days at Bulldog Stadium, those lights illuminating Barstow and Cedar Avenues and frenzied crowds? Ah yes, those were great weren’t they? By all indications, Tedford is succeeding in this capacity by recruiting Valley kids (a lost art among the last coaching staff) and establishing a foundation built from the ground up that will make Bulldog fans proud again.
Before the Bulldogs kick off against Incarnate Word at home on Sept. 2, let’s take a look at some key players, stats and what the Bulldogs need to do to make the season 2017 season a success.
IMPROVING THE OFFENSE
Tedford is known for developing quarterbacks and has a great offensive mind, however, he will inherit a team that ranked 120th in the nation in total offense, scoring just 17.7 points per game. He will give up play calling duties to Kalen DeBoer, who comes by way of Eastern Michigan, where his offense averaged 455 yards per game in 2016.
We all know that football teams go as their quarterback goes, and Fresno State suddenly has more than a few options to consider. The money bet would be on incumbent starter, sophomore Chason Virgil, who started 10 games with 2,021 passing yards and a 13:10 touchdown to interception ratio.
But, hot on his heels will be strong-armed junior college transfer Jorge Reyna to challenge for the starting spot and the Bulldogs received a gift when former Oregon State, and Dinuba High graduate, Marcus McMaryion transferred in August and became instantly eligible with two total years to be a part of the program. McMaryion started the last six games for the Beavers last year, including wins against Arizona and Oregon to close the season, finishing with 1,286 yards, 10 touchdown passes and five interceptions.
The wide receiver position will be a strength coming into this season led by a couple of juniors in KeeSean Johnson (773 yards, six touchdowns) and Jamire Jordan (713 yards, two touchdowns). Da’Mari Scott will be looked upon to contribute and Clovis North alumni Kyle Riddering is slated to start at tight end.
The running back position was a major issue for the ‘Dogs last year – they were the worst in the country last year – but there is hope with a couple of true freshman in Jordan Mims and Ronnie Rivers. And yes, Rivers is the son of former Bulldog star running back Ron Rivers who from 1991-1993 totaled 3,473 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. Both have impressed the coaching staff with not only their skills set but picking up the schemes needed to succeed in college football. Clovis High’s Josh Hokit, a sophomore walk-on who had 130 yards on 27 carries last year, is listed No. 1 on the depth chart and could very well be the starter throughout the season.
A NEW LOOK DEFENSE
With a clean slate of coaches across the board, Tedford plucked Orlondo Steinauer from the Canadian Football League to become his defensive coordinator. The defense wasn’t as ineffective as the offense last season but stopping the run is as important as ever in the Mountain West Conference.
Last season the Bulldogs only tallied 14 total sacks and five interceptions, but Steinauer brings a havoc-inducting style evidence by his Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL ranking second in interceptions and third in takeaways in 2016. Steinauer will install a 4-3 base defense, shoring up the run defense.
The defense will return most of its front seven and has a couple of good linebackers in juniors James Bailey and George Helmuth (Clovis North). Another Clovis North alum, Jasad Haynes is expected to start on the line. Juju Hughes from Hanford is a top corner.
OK, the optimistic side says that it can’t be any worse than last season, and that promises to be the case in 2017. There are winnable games on the schedule starting with the home opener against Incarnate Word but then run into juggernauts of the college football world in Alabama and Washington in Weeks 2 and 3. Baby steps this season is certainly a goal – it’s tough to leap from one win to .500 in one season – but four wins this season will be progress, and anything more will be a bonus.
Fun fact: The roster has a Clovis Unified flavor to it with eight players:
Kyle Riddering, jr., Clovis North, tight end
George Helmuth, jr., Clovis North, linebacker
Jasad Haynes, so., Clovis North, defensive line
Christian Rossi, sr., Clovis North, quarterback
Brent Bailey, fr., Clovis North, quarterback
Josh Hokit, so., Clovis, running back
Tanner Rice, fr., Clovis, linebacker
Ka’Lonn Milton, jr., Buchanan, defensive back
Fun fact: Derek Carr will have his No. 4 jersey retired at the home opener on September 2, joining:
David Carr, No. 8
Trent Dilfer, No. 12
Henry Ellard, No. 83
Kevin Sweeney, No. 9
Dale Messer, No. 21
Vince Petrucci, No. 14
Sept. 2 vs. Incarnate Word, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Alabama, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sept. 16 at Washington, 6:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Sept. 30 vs. Nevada, 7 p.m. (AT&T SportsNet)
Oct. 7 at San Jose State, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Oct. 14 vs. New Mexico, 7 p.m. (AT&T SportsNet)
Oct. 21 at San Diego State, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 28 vs. UNLV, 7 p.m. (AT&T SportsNet)
Nov. 4 vs. BYU, TBA (ESPN networks)
Nov. 11 at Hawaii. 8 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Wyoming, 11 a.m. (AT&T SportsNet)
Nov. 25 vs. Boise State, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)