The Fresno State Bulldogs are at something of a crossroads. Their back-to-back Mountain West championships seem far enough in the rear view, following last year's uneven 6-8 campaign, that a rebound to at least eight wins might be the minimum solace that ensures the Central Valley faithful the team is still competitive.
How much of a reality is that, though? It isn't likely the 'Dogs will start 2015 with three straight blowout losses again, but the non-conference schedule isn't all that much softer than it was a year ago, and Mountain West play is so front-loaded with division action that the team's ultimate fate might be decided by the end of October. Here's the full slate:
The Halloween bye week, perhaps ironically, will either be a cruel trick or a nice treat in 2015. Hosting Abilene Christian figures to be a lock, though it took some time for Fresno to get going against FCS Southern Utah a year ago. Mississippi and Utah figure to spend some time in next fall's top-25 polls, and the recent beating that the Utes put on the Bulldogs is fresh in many fans' minds.
If that weren't enough, Fresno will likely need to win at least two of their first three against West rivals to maintain realistic hopes of defending their division title heading into November, not to mention maintaining community interest. Thankfully, back-to-back road tilts within California ought to feel like a blessing after a trek to SEC country, and both games in the following homestand against the reloading Aggies and reinvigorated Rebels are winnable.
There's also an argument to be made that the Bulldogs need at least a split of the first two games against Mountain division opponents, which could make the trip to Colorado Springs very important. Pass defense has been Fresno's Achilles heel in the recent past, but of course passing isn't something the Falcons do all that much (even if they significantly improved at such in 2014). Combined with Utah State's currently nebulous quarterback situation and the post-Grayson era underway at Colorado State, the Mountain matchups may be friendlier than they would have appeared a year ago.
The latter part of the schedule figures to be the softest stretch, though recent history suggests the trip to the islands will be highly unpredictable and the subsequent road game in Provo against a presumably healthy Taysom Hill will be no fun at all.
Hardest stretch: @Ole Miss, vs. Utah, @SJSU, @SDSU
Easiest stretch: vs. Nevada, @Hawaii
Guaranteed wins: I'm tempted to say none, given the debacle in Vegas last fall, but let's say... vs. Abilene Christian, vs. UNLV, vs. Nevada. The home slate is unusually friendly.
Guaranteed losses: @Ole Miss, vs. Utah, @SDSU, @BYU
50/50 games: @SJSU, vs. USU, @AFA, @Hawaii, vs. CSU
Projected record: 6-6