Fresno State managed to win the West division of the Mountain West last year thanks to a mid-season hot streak and relatively weak competition. But, thanks to personnel losses due to graduation and transfers, the Bulldogs are the youth of the Mountain West. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but a young core will have to grow up and grow together quickly if they want to make it back to the conference title game.
Marteze Waller is one player on this team who isn’t inexperienced. Waller is a senior, and coming off of a 1,368-yard and 11 touchdown season it’s safe to say that he will be one of the keys to the offense. Fresno State likes to go up-tempo, which means Waller should have plenty of opportunities to touch the rock, probably even more than he wants. It would be helpful if a second back could step up to lighten Waller’s load.
There are also three seniors returning to start up front, making this the most experienced offensive group on the team. Justin Northern, Alex Fifita, and Bo Bonnheim have a combined 73 career starts. This should help whichever young gun starts at quarterback avoid a complete baptism by fire.
Speaking of quarterback, the three-way competition for the starting job is still unsettled, but the favorite is Zack Greenlee. Greenlee is the only QB on the roster who has attempted a pass in college. In 41 pass attempts last year, he did manage to not turn the ball over, but he also had trouble getting the ball to his own guys completing only 44% of his passes. Redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson and true freshman Chason Virgil are the other two competitors for the quarterback gig.
Aaron Peck is the only senior receiver on this team with significant in-game experience, and he will need to come up big to help out his new quarterback. Peck caught 32 passes for over 400 yards last year. There is a pair of sophomores who should help Peck out in the receiving game, Delvon Hardaway and tight end Chad Olsen.
It’s probably a good thing that Fresno State runs a 3-4 defense, because they are pretty thin up front. Essentially, the Bulldogs will be rolling exactly two deep at both end positions and nose guard. Todd Hunt is the only defensive lineman on the team who had more than ten tackles last season, and he and Claudell Louis are the only upper classmen on the line. The other four are sophomores or freshmen.
Depth at linebacker does at least make up for the lack of depth up front though. Ejiro Ederaine and Kyrie Wilson are a solid starting pair. Both had more than 50 tackles last year, and they combined for 19 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles.
If you are putting defensive units on an experience and depth spectrum with the line at one end and the linebackers at the other, then the secondary falls pretty much in the middle. It isn’t a particularly deep group, but there are two seniors and a handful of juniors in there to add some experience. CB Charles Washington returns. I’m not sure if this is a positive or a negative, but he did have 70 tackles last year, which at the very least means he isn’t getting trucked on every other play. His two interceptions and seven pass break-ups are solid though.
This team overachieved some last year. It is both a credit to them and some luck that they managed to play their two biggest threats in the division at a time when they were playing their best ball of the season. Props to them for stepping up at the right time, but there are more factors that go into that then just willing yourself to play better. Repeating is going to be hard though with lots of attrition and a tough non-conference schedule make bowl eligibility even questionable. However, if Fresno State gets hot at the right time again it’s possible.
Credit Cover Photo to Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY Sports