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MWC Round-table: Is Fresno State a one-year wonder?

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Our team tries to assess the Bulldogs going into the season.

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Fresno State vs Houston Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

This week we examine what lies ahead for the most surprising and most improved team of the 2017 season, Fresno State. They went from 1 win in 2016 to 10 wins and a spot in the MWC championship game last season. But now what? It is clear there is a new culture and the team has bought into coach Jeff Tedford. On the other hand, they lose a lot of talent in the trenches, which was the strength of their team. So are the Bulldogs a one-year wonder or one year into an annual contender?

Jeremy: I went to Safeway this weekend and took a peak at a few of the early college football preview magazines. They basically confirmed my thoughts on Fresno State for 2018. Are they a one year wonder? Absolutely not. Might they regress? The magazines say slightly (to 8-4) and I’m somewhere in that range on the Bulldogs as well. Athlon magazine shows Fresno does not have a returning starter anywhere in the 2-deep on the defensive line. That’s a bad position group to be lacking experience. Do I think the Bulldogs were a fluke? Nooooooo. Do I think that defense (which also lost defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer back to the CFL) will be as a shockingly dominant as it was in 2017? Also no. They’ll be pretty darn good, but not 2017 good, and thus take a small step backwards. Either way, it remains insane that projecting 8-4 is considered a step back for a program that was the conference bottom-feeder as recently as 2016. Jeff Tedford is a football savant.

Matt: 90% chance that they stay at or near the top of the division, 10% chance they regress again. I think the non-conference schedule this year will set the tone for the season. Last year, we all knew that Alabama and Washington were no-win games. No chance at all, even if we had Derek and Devante at the helm. Then they started to rip through the conference, (besides UNLV and their voodoo), and showed a team that had bought in. Now, I can see slight regression next year on the defensive line, only because jumping up from 80th to 13th is kind of unsustainable for a G5 team, but Athlon is wrong on the 2-deep. Kevin Atkins started 4 games for the Bulldogs, Jasad Haynes was the backup for Malik Forrester, and logged 15.5 tackles in the back half of the season, Emeka Ndoh had 4 sacks, and Kwami Jones had 2 more. The D-Line ran a lot of rotations last year, so all of the players got experience, and they brought in some very good talent for this year. I’d look for Isiah Johnson to start or be high in the rotation as a true freshman, and Damian DeGruy break his way into the 2-deep as a sophomore.

On the offensive line side, we do lose a center and a tackle, but can actually put Micah St. Andrew back at his original position. He started his career at center before switching with Aaron Mitchell last season. They return Netane Muti, who will be a conference star, and Christian Cronk as well. I see the two open spots going to Syrus Tuitele and Marc-David Bien-Aime, and a suitable reshuffling of positions to get everyone in their best spots.

The one spot where there’s a big weakness going into 2018 is Special Teams. Both kickers are gone, and our main returner is out for the year with a foot injury. The only kickers on the team are walk-ons with no D1 experience, so that could be a dicey situation for the Dogs this year. The return game should be fine, since it will give someone like Michiah Quick or Saevion Johnson a chance to shine.

Outside of those couple of spots, Fresno State will be as solid, if not better than last year. The offense should be better to offset any defensive regression, and the coaching staff is pretty much all the same. Jeff Tedford is creating his system, and it will feed for a long time. He has no inclinations about leaving, just have to keep the assistants from leaving. The one good thing that he’s doing is making sure the assistant coaches are well versed in all aspects, so they can be promoted if need be. This is shown by Bert Watts moving up to DC with Steinauer’s departure, so the system and nomenclature stayed the same for the players.

I should have just written my own article on this, because this got really long. Oops

Mike: With Tedford at the helm, I don’t see much of a drop off, if at all. Teams will know what to expect and they definitely won’t be catching anyone by surprise anymore, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good. They return a lot of offense, and their group of wide receivers may be the be in the conference. If they have just enough of a run game to keep people thinking about it, the offense should put up nice numbers.

If there is a drop off, it may be on the defensive side of the ball. They lost a lot on the D-line, which was a very productive unit. They also lost their DC from last season. Still, they should contend with most of the offenses in the West division. Expect them and San Diego State to battle for the division and if they don’t return to the championship game, they won’t miss it by much.

Magpie: Fresno State had a very impressive year under Jeff Tedford. Tedford a former Pac-12 coach of the Cal Bears took the Bulldogs from a team that won one game, to a team that won the West Division in the MW and won the Hawaii Bowl. That is quite a turnaround. Can they do it again this year. Yes, years like last year are very rare but I expect the Bulldogs to be very good this year too.

FSU is in the weaker of the two divisions and will probably only be challenged at the top by the SDSU Aztecs. FSU could win 10 games again this year. And I would expect the Bulldogs to be a contender on a yearly basis because to me they have always been a very strong football school and community of Fresno really supports the Bulldogs. Tedford is going to get some real good recruits and the guy can coach. He won at Cal and Berkeley is a hard place to win. I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs challenging the Boise State Broncos for the MW title on a yearly basis.