There’s no sugarcoating the fact that Fresno State football did not have a good 2016. Even accounting for several close calls (the Bulldogs were 0-4 in games decided by seven points or less), 1-11 can’t be glossed over so easily.
While the program more or less cleaned house in allowing new head coach Jeff Tedford to fully restock the coaching staff, it remains to be seen just how much impact the sweeping changes will have. A first look at the schedule for 2017, however, should give the Red Wave some initial hope that, following a brutal non-conference schedule, the optimistic turnaround may not be far-fetched after all.
What are the takeaways?
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Bulldogs come out inspired when the Tedford era begins at home against Incarnate Word. In last year’s cupcake matchup, Fresno State sleepwalked through roughly three quarters of action against FCS Sacramento State, and the Cardinals (3-8) weren’t much better in 2016. If the ‘Dogs can coast to an easy win, it may make what’s likely to follow that much more palatable.
It isn’t often that an FBS team has the opportunity to square off with two College Football Playoff teams, and back-to-back road trips to Tuscaloosa and Seattle may be the most unforgiving two-game swing in all of college football next fall. They may be especially thankful for the bye which bridges those tough matchups and the beginning of conference play.
Midseason’s California comforts
If the beginning of the schedule is the toughest part of 2017’s slate, the middle makes for an intriguing opportunity to regroup and get back to being competitive in Mountain West play: Following the bye, the Bulldogs get four home games in six weeks.
And while the home schedule isn’t a walk by any means — New Mexico figures to contend once again in the Mountain division, while BYU remains one of the Group of 5’s steadiest programs — my guess is that the crowd won’t abandon the team even if they begin 1-2 before the conference opener versus Nevada.
Beyond that, however, the road games in that stretch are also within California. San Diego State is likely to remain the odds-on favorite in the West, while San Jose State is rebooting under their new regime, as well, but avoiding extensive travel for that long stretch may protect the young team’s health in that time.
If October hints at some respite, another grueling two-game road swing in November will test the Bulldogs’ mettle and, just maybe, whether Fresno State can claw their way to bowl eligibility.
It’s not often that Mountain West teams play in Honolulu and Laramie in back-to-back weeks but, if Bulldogs fans want a point of encouragement, it’s worth noting that teams have come home happy from that journey before: Colorado State won both games on the road in 2013, and Utah State did the same in 2014.
The season then concludes with perhaps the toughest home game on the schedule, as the Bulldogs will have their chance to reclaim the Milk Can from Boise State for the first time since 2014. Historically, the Bulldogs have not fared well in the rivalry but their last three wins over the Broncos (with the caveat that this stretches back to 1996) have all come at Bulldog Stadium.
Hardest stretch: BYU, at Hawaii, at Wyoming, Boise State
Easiest stretch: Nevada, at San Jose State
Guaranteed wins: Incarnate Word
Guaranteed losses: Alabama, Washington, San Diego State, Boise State
Worse than 50/50 games: New Mexico, BYU, at Wyoming
50/50 games: UNLV, at San Jose State, at Hawaii
Better than 50/50 games: Nevada
Preliminary projected record: 3-9