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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #32 Fresno State

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 11, 2014

#32 Fresno State Bulldogs

 

2013 Recap:

It was a nice 11-2 season but with two losses in the last three games, the season lost a bit of it's luster. Now the Bulldogs have to find their way without NCAA touchdown passing leader and four year starter Derek Carr.

 

Coaching:

Tim DeRuyter will now have some real coaching to do. After going 21-6 with a stud quarterback and some established starters, it will be a difficult time for DeRuyter, even though Fresno State has a lot of pieces returning from their 11-win team.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

The quarterback battle is still ongoing and coach DeRuyter has been tight-lipped about who the starter will be. Brian Burrell was the backup a season ago and was 7-12 throwing the ball last season. The junior has a challenge from Boston College graduate Brandon Connette who is eligible to play right away since he has graduated. Connette split time at Duke last season and was 90-145 with 13 TD and 6 INT with another 337 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Connette is thought to have the slight edge and coach DeRuyter has said he wants to avoid a platoon situation.

It may not matter who the quarterback is because it is starting to look like the ground game may become the focal point of the offense with Josh Quezada back at tailback and junior Marteze Waller and freshman Dontel James all in the mix. Quezada had 833 yards to Waller’s 661 with Quezada also winning the receiving war between the two, 290-173. Expect 30-40 carries a game and the backs to be involved in a shorter and quicker passing game to help along the new signal caller.

Best Draft ProspectJosh Quezada UFA 2015

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

The Fresno State Bulldogs lived and died by the passing game a season ago so you can be sure there are still some good receivers on the roster. Josh Harper currently grades out as a 4th rounder for 2015 and though he did suffer a knee injury late in the season he should be fine for 2014. While Harper is returning, Fresno State loses a pair of 1,000 yard receivers from last year and tight end Marcel Jensen, who is just as big a loss. Jerin McClendon is now the starter and the senior had exactly one catch last season. Aaron Peck had 15 catches last season and it looks like he could be the one to jump in and make a big impact, perhaps grading out as a draft prospect for 2016. This is a unit that is deep but the experience is not there. Expect some growing pains as many of the top weapons from a season ago are gone and it will take some time for Fresno State.

Best Draft Prospect: Josh Harper WR 4th Round 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

The right side of the offensive line along with center Bo Bonnheim are returning starters from last season. Cody Wichmann looks to be the best pro prospect at this time carrying a 7th round grade for this year's draft at the guard position, and he has some tackle experience as well. The big question deals with whether this line is built for the running game or if it is primarily the pass since they have blocked for Derek Carr for the last four years in this system. It doesn’t matter who is under center, the running game will be a larger chunk of the focus and production for this season, so the personnel needs to fit the scheme. Alex Fifita takes over at left tackle but there will be lingering questions heading into the season regarding run blocking versus pass protection.

Best Draft Prospect: Cody Wichmann OG 7th Round 2015.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Tyeler Davison is a definite prospect for the draft and he can play multiple positions. Davison plays defensive end in the Fresno State 3-4 defensive formation and he netted 41 tackles with 7.5 coming for loss a season ago. He is so quick off the ball that having him play as a penetrating defensive tackle at the next level may be the best bet. Davison is the only returning defensive lineman that started last season.  Maurice Poyadue holds the key for the defensive line as the junior will be the new starter at defensive tackle. Davison saw more action at defensive tackle last season so look for his position on the field to be interchangeable. Todd Hunt and freshman Nate Madsen will see time at defensive end. With the bevy of talent at linebacker the team doesn't have to be overpowering up front, as long as they create gaps for the linebackers, the defense will be OK.

Best Draft Prospect: Tyeler Davison DT 3rd Round

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers will be the best unit on the defensive side of the ball for Fresno State. Ejiro Ederaine may not be the best linebacker the team has, but the ability he showed last season rushing the passer will likely make him the best pro prospect when he is eligible in 2016. Pair Ederaine, with last season's leading tackler Karl Mickelsen who plays in the middle, and you have a lethal combination, or a team that is up there for best overall linebacking unit in the conference. Mickelsen is a bit limited athletically and does not have the range that some of the elite prospects do but he is a tackler machine that gets the job done in support or when he has to make a solo stop. Donovan Lewis is back from injury and Kyrie Wilson gives the Bulldogs all of the starters they had at the linebacking spots during 2013.

Best Draft Prospect: D.J. Lynch LB 6th Round 2015.

 

Secondary:

Again while the linebackers may have the best overall units of all areas on defense, Derron Smith is the bread and butter of the defense. Smith was our choice for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and is a 1st round selection who could be the first safety off the board overall for 2015. The all-around stats for Smith last year: 87 tackles with 8 for loss and 4 sacks from the safety spot. 7 interceptions with 6 passes broken up and another 13 defensed. Smith was second on the team in tackles and solo tackles to Karl Mickelsen, and the intensity to which he hits is bone-jarring. Smith is elite against the run and the pass, and will call most of the defensive alignments for his squad. Sophomore Charles Washington joins him at strong safety and he is a terrific compliment as he came a long way in his freshman campaign. Curtis Riley and newcomer Jamal Ellis are physical cornerbacks that teams will have to challenge and they will play with a bit more swagger knowing they have a pair of great safeties behind them.

Best Draft Prospect: Derron Smith S 1st Round 2015.

 

 

Special Teams:

Garrett Swanson is a rising star at punter and he could find his way on an NFL roster after 2016. Swanson leads a strong kicking game as placekicker Colin McGuire was solid as a freshman going 11-16 with 3 of his field goals coming from 42 yards and beyond. The return men seem to be unsettled but the area that requires attention is the kickoff coverage. Opponents averaged the 34-yard line when they started drives last season, a stat that has Fresno State near the bottom of the conference in 2013.

Best Draft Prospect: Garrett Swanson P UFA 2016.

 

 

Schedule:

Fresno State is known for having brutal non-conference schedules and they don't make a habit of scheduling cream puff after cream puff. This season holds true with an opener against USC on the road and other road games for the year include Boise State, Utah, and Nevada. Nebraska looks to be the toughest visit as they come to Lincoln during the middle of September. This is a team that probably will not be undefeated for most of the season but they have the chance to succeed and contend for the Mountain West crown.

 

Draft Outlook:

Derron Smith will ensure there is top round recognition for the Bulldogs. Tyeler Davison is getting some notoriety and the fact that he can play multiple positions along the line makes him very attractive. Fresno State has always been good for at least 2 or 3 picks a year and there is no reason to see why that trend will not continue.

 

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