As we’re getting within 50 days of the beginning of college football season, now seems like a perfect time to look at the schedule, and predict the 2021 record. After a whirlwind 2020 that saw the Bulldogs have only a couple of weeks to install a new coaching staff and system, things look much more stable for 2021. The high-powered offense returns along with new pieces, the defense looks to be much improved with a full off-season under William Inge and company. Along with the news that Bulldog Stadium will be at 100% capacity in the Fall (tentative), let’s see how things might shake out.
Game 1- UCONN (August 28, Bulldog Stadium)
The season begins with the first ever matchup between the Bulldogs and Huskies, and the first morning kick-off at Bulldog Stadium. The Huskies did not play in 2020, opting out of their first season of independence. Now we will see what Randy Edsall’s team looks like after a 2-10 2019 season that saw them only defeat FCS school Wagner and fellow independent UMASS. Fresno State is currently listed as a 27 point favorite over the Huskies, and that seems like a pretty easy bet. Especially given the average heat in Fresno in late August, I expect UCONN to fade even more down the stretch as the Bulldogs coast to an easy victory.
Game 2- Oregon (Sept. 4, Autzen Stadium)
After a tune-up game against UCONN, Fresno State goes on the road to Eugene to face an Oregon squad with Playoff aspirations. While they will be breaking in a new QB, projected 1st round players Penei Sewell and Kayvon Thibodeaux will be a big challenge on both sides of the ball. If the Dogs need added motivation, it’s that both former head coach Tim DeRuyter and DC Nick Toth are on Oregon’s staff. While Fresno State has a tradition of keeping things pretty close with Oregon, the bettors put the Bulldogs as a 22 point underdog. I think beating the spread is definitely doable, especially with how dynamic the offense looks to be, but a win may be a bit of a stretch.
Game 3- Cal Poly (Sept. 11, Bulldog Stadium)
A return to the friendly confines. of Bulldog Stadium should also mean a win for the Dogs as well. Cal Poly took part in the FCS Spring season, but it did not go well for Beau Baldwin and his team. They went 0-3 in their shortened season, with the closest game being a 10 point loss to Southern Utah. I have to think that this will be pretty smooth sailing for Fresno State and Jake Heaner.
Game 4- UCLA (Sept. 18, Rose Bowl)
Fresno State finishes up its non-conference schedule with a second road game to the PAC-12, this time heading south to face UCLA. These teams last squared off in 2018, with Fresno State easily handling the Bruins for a 38-14 win. Now, they’re saying that UCLA is much improved going into 2021, but it’s been almost 20 years since Fresno State lost to the Bruins. Now if only UCLA would manage to schedule a game at Bulldog Stadium, that’d be great. Always going to the Rose Bowl gets annoying for a G5 program.
Game 5- UNLV (Sept. 24, Bulldog Stadium)
Conference play begins with UNLV coming to town in Marcus Arroyo’s 2nd season. The first one did not go well for the Rebels, so I’m sure they’ll be looking for improvement in 2021. Fresno State ran straight through UNLV last year in Vegas, and I wouldn’t expect anything different this year. Now, if they can keep the Rebels’ QB from breaking off career-long runs, they should be able to keep UNLV at more than arm’s length.
Game 6- Hawaii (Oct. 2, Ching Sports Complex)
After what was a rough debut for Jake Haener and Kalen DeBoer last year, the Dogs will get a chance for some redemption against Hawaii. While Aloha Stadium is no more, the game will move to the temporary Ching Sports Complex in Honolulu until a new stadium can be built. Todd Graham’s Warriors got off to a good start in his first year, including defeating Houston in their bowl game. The question will come down to which coach takes a bigger step in Year 2. I think Fresno State will get the win, especially being on the islands, which has weirdly gone for Fresno State over the last decade and a half.
Game 7- Wyoming (Oct. 16, War Memorial Stadium)
The bye week comes at just about the halfway point of the season, right before the toughest stretch of the season. Wyoming is normally built on a stout defense, and 2021 looks to be no different. What may be different for them is that the offense may finally be moving out of the stone age and into the 20th century. What this means for Craig Bohl’s team remains to be seen, but traveling to Laramie is always a tough ask. I think this may be the one game that Fresno State could drop, or not.
Game 8- Nevada (Oct. 23, Bulldog Stadium)
If there’s one game that will decide the West Division in 2021, it’s probably this one. The math shows this one as almost a 50/50 game, and both teams are going to feature high-flying offenses and potentially suspect defenses. What might tip this one in Fresno State’s favor is that it is in Bulldog Stadium, and the raucous home crowd could carry them over the top. Carson Strong is being talked about as a top NFL prospect, and Romeo Doubs is immensely talented. On the other side, Jake Haener is a dynamic athlete, and Jalen Cropper looks ready for a great season, so which team will win the track meet? I think the home stadium will be the difference in a close game.
Game 9- San Diego State (Oct. 30, Carson, CA)
Right after playing West Division favorite Nevada, the Dogs have to go on the. road for the Old Oil Can against SDSU. No longer at Qualcomm Stadium, the Aztecs now move to a sports park in Carson, CA. Brady Hoke’s first SDSU team didn’t stray much from the mold of run the ball and play defense. Unfortunately for them, the running game didn’t quite materialize like it normally does. It’s hard to see that continuing for another year, but will their plodding offense be able to keep up with more high-paced passing attacks? And if their secondary can slow down the passing game, will they be able to contain Ronnie Rivers and company as well?
Game 10- Boise State (Nov. 6, Bulldog Stadium)
Even though they’re breaking in a new coach this year, Boise is still the team to beat in the Mountain West. The last time Fresno State and Boise met in 2018 was an instant classic title game, wrapping up 4 games in 2 years for the teams. A two year gap now brings them back together (make it an annual rivalry Thompson), and both sides are definitely looking forward to it. Having Boise, SDSU, and Nevada back to back to back is an insanely tough stretch for the Dogs, hopefully they get through with at least two wins of the 3. If I had to pick a game that will be a loss, it will probably be Boise. Hopefully a loss to Boise will not remove Fresno State from conference title contention, as long as they can defeat their West Division rivals.
Game 11- New Mexico (Nov. 13, Bulldog Stadium)
Hey, two home games in a row. What a nice change of pace. The loss to New Mexico last season was a disappointing end to a promising first season under DeBoer, and kept the Bulldogs from a bowl game. Now, they will work to right that this year, and that means figuring out a Rocky Long defense again. Now, a big part of that loss was because of players being out for COVID protocols and Ronnie Rivers’ injury, but excuses can only go so far. Danny Gonalzes looks to be improving the Lobos, we’ll see how much improvement happens in Year 2. I’m sure that Fresno State will be looking for revenge in this one, as well as looking for potentially a double digit win season.
Game 12- San Jose State (Nov. 25, CEFCU Stadium)
It all comes down to this. The season finale in the cavernous pit that is SJSU’s empty stadium, and on Thanksgiving this year. After losing a heartbreaker in 2019, and not playing last year due to COVID, Fresno State will have this one circled on the calendar to get the Valley Trophy back. The Spartans were the surprise of the conference last year, going undefeated before losing their bowl game. Can they maintain will be the biggest question? San Jose has had good seasons before falling back into the depths, so the job for Brent Brennan now is to keep up the success. Nick Starkel is back for one more season, as is most of the surprisingly stringent Spartans defense, so will Fresno State be able to end their regular season on a high note? The last two wins for SJSU have been by a combined 3 points, so I’d expect another really close game between these classic rivals.
Season Prediction- 9-3 regular season, West Division champs
Maybe I’ll be right, maybe I’ll be wrong. I’m just happy we’re getting a hopefully full football season back this year after last year’s fits and starts. Keep it glued here for all of your Mountain West needs.