By Paul Meadors, Sports Reporter
Movie trailer voice guy: “In a world where the Red Wave rises as one, where the soil is fertile and the harvest flows like the lush San Joaquin River, there is a land that prays for a hero. One that will lead its people to the Promised Land, the majestic landscape that is a Mountain West Conference championship. The future now held together by visions of young men who laugh in the face of fear, the masses coming from far and wide to cheer on their mighty Bulldogs.”
Silly dramatic movie trailer voice guy aside the Bulldogs are now two years post A.D.C. (After Derek Carr) and are caught in that awkward state of wanting to win now versus developing a young core team. The euphoria of the 2012-13 season which saw the Bulldogs go 20-6 and win back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles had some air taken out by last season’s 6-8 overall record and their end of the season Hawai’i Bowl thumping, a 30-6 loss to Rice. To sum it up, the Bulldogs were plagued by inconsistent quarterback play and a defense that had a lot of holes, and believe me, the coaching staff and Central Valley knows full well of said issues. Enter the 2014-15 Fresno State football team – one that might have just as many questions as answers.
Fortunately there’s no USC, Nebraska, or Utah to start the season but there are trips to Ole’ Miss (September 12) and BYU (November 21) and a tasty home date with Utah (September 19) on the schedule. And lucky for the ‘Dogs the Mountain West Conference’s West division, on paper at least, looks to be down this year. But as always, the season is played out on the field, not by tiny men inside of our phones.
A mini-breakdown of the 2014-15 Fresno State football team:
Coaching: There’s a lot of talk centering on Coach Tim DeRuyter and whether or not this is a make or break season for him and the Bulldogs coming off a 6-8 season. This is total kooky-talk. Consider the facts: he’s led Fresno State to three straight Mountain West Conference title games (winning two of them), rejuvenated the Bulldog brand (leading MWC in attendance and merchandise sales during his tenure), and breathed life into a program that needed a fresh start with some exciting football. He promised from the get-go the Bulldogs No. 1 goal every season would be to win conference titles and play “fast, physical and fanatical” and he’s delivered on all accounts. He’s still the man for the job and he believes in his team.
“I feel strongly that we are going to have a team that will compete for a Mountain West Conference championship,” Fresno State head Coach Tim DeRuyter.
Quarterback: I don’t want to say that the season hinges on the quarterback play but…the season very well could hinge on the quarterback play. With another year starting an inexperienced quarterback, the ‘Dogs hope to settle with one who A) doesn’t turn the ball over and B) can run the offense efficiently if not spectacularly. There’s the junior transfer (Ford Childress), the sophomore with 41 career passing attempts (Zack Greenlee), the redshirt freshman (Kilton Anderson) and the talented true freshman (Chason Virgil) all competing for the starting gig. Each quarterback brings a little something different to the table and the ‘Dogs are hoping for something between Sizzler and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
The dust may not settle until early in the season but one idea is for certain: a leader must rise from this foursome and take a firm grip on the job for the ‘Dogs to have a remote chance of success. Another point to ponder – whoever it is could very well be the starting quarterback for the next 2-3 years.
Fun fact: Director of Athletics Jim Bartko unveiled some snazzy upgrades to Bulldogs Stadium which includes a new HD video board in the south end zone, a two-story press box (yea!) and improved access to restrooms and concessions. Good news to those lower red seat fans who have to walk up a mini-Mt. Everest every time they get the urge.
Running backs: Senior Marteze Waller is a beast of a runner, and the beast will be unleashed this season. After rushing for 1,368 yards, 11 touchdowns and a 6.1 yards-per-carry average last year this season could be a lot of Waller running left and Waller running right all game long. And that might be a good thing. The powerful yet elusive 5-foot-11, 215 lbs. senior has been named a 2015 Doak Walker Award pre-season candidate, an award that goes to the top running back in the nation. The Bulldogs will be relying heavily on Waller this season.
Backing up Waller is senior Malique Micenheimer who can be used as a blocking back and will get more than his share of carries during the season. Micenheimer is a load to bring down too – he’s 6-foot-1 and 245 lbs – and is coming off an injury that saw him limited to only three games last season.
Fun fact II: Waller is 13th on the Georgia state high school career rushing record, 123 yards ahead of a guy you may have hear of – Hershel Walker.
Receivers: Talent and speed. Speed and talent. They go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly, Han and Chewbacca and the Bulldog Grill and tri-tip sandwiches. But the Fresno State receiving corps took a massive blow in the loss of Aaron Peck, the senior leader who was primed for a great season, to a foot injury and is lost for the season. Now the young Bulldog pups must step up including four freshman: Jamire Jordan, KeeSean Johnson, Keyan Williams and J.J. Reed. Sophomore Delvon Hardaway is coming off a knee surgery and will be ready in mid-September and junior Da’Mari Scott will mix it up as well. Tight end sophomore Chad Olsen was a true freshman all-league selection last season and looks like a future All-American.
Defense: The ‘Dogs D can only get better this year and they have the balance and depth to execute. Let’s hope so with fingers crossed. Linebackers Ejiro Ederaine, Kyrie Wilson and Jeff Camile will be flying around the field this season and Charles Washington returns exclusively to the cornerback spot on the field, a place where he recorded 78 tackles and two interceptions last year.
“We are going to start off the season with a bunch of young guys and no one’s going to know their names. But hopefully by the end of the season everyone will know who they are,” head coach Tim DeRuyter
Season outlook: In the eyes of Red Wavers what is a successful season? In the mind of the Fresno State brass what are realistic expectations for this season? Is a 6-8 record, no conference title and a bowl win acceptable? How about 8-6, a conference title appearance and a bowl victory? The combinations are as endless as the You Pick Two combos at Panera Bread but know this: the young 2015 Bulldog team (70 of 105 roster spots are freshman and sophomores) must learn to gel quickly and play with a sense of urgency if they are again to compete for a MWC title or play above a .500 record. The quarterback play has to be consistent, the defense must limit giving up big plays and Waller needs to stay healthy and carry the workload.
For the ‘Dogs and the Red Wave, let’s hope a hero does rise indeed.
Paul Meadors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @paulmeadors