Fresno State took the Mountain West during the 2022 season, rebounding from a rough start to capture the Mountain West Conference Championship. Coach Jeff Tedford returned to the program and helped them take the next step to become the best team in the conference. However, 2023 is a new season, and the question is will the Bulldogs repeat as champions, or will another team knock them off? Mike lists five reasons to support both claims in today’s post.
5 reasons they will
1. Jeff Tedford
Coach Tedford is one is either 1 or 1A when it comes to the list of best coaches in the Mountain West. And though he is often under the radar, he is of the better head coaches in the nation. In his four seasons at the helm, spread out over two tenures, Tedford has accumulated a 36-18 record with three trips to the Mountain West title game and two championships. In 2018, the Bulldogs were even ranked #21 in the country. It is clear that Tedford knows how to get the program to reach their maximum potential.
2. Adding transfer and junior college players
Fresno State knew it was losing the core of its championship team, and the coaching staff seemed determined to reload based on the recruiting strategy they employed. Bringing in offensive pieces like headliners QB Mikey Keene and DB Dean Clark should help fill the massive voids left by some of their star players last season. Along with those two, the Bulldogs added reinforcements at wide receiver, offensive line, and special teams. It would not be a surprise for many of these players to step into key roles this season
3. Their schedule
To repeat as conference champs, we can ignore their OOC slate, although they should be no worse than 2-2, and they have a chance in both of their P5 games. In Mountain West play, Nevada and New Mexico are guaranteed wins, while they should be favored against Wyoming, Utah State, UNLV, and San Diego State, but going 3-1 is a reasonable assumption. For argument’s sake, let’s assume they split games against Boise State and San Jose State. That puts their conference record at 6-2, which isn’t a sure thing, but it firmly puts them in the conversation to return to the MW championship game once again.
4. Player Development
The two recruiting classes that previous coach Kalen DeBoer brought in during his brief tenure as head coach were among the best in the Mountain West. That means that there is a lot of talent on the Bulldog roster, even though some have not seen the field at this point. As long as the talent is present, Coach Tedford and his coaching staff should be able to develop it into a contender based on their resume. Look for quite a few players to emerge as productive contributors for the Bulldogs this season.
5. A lack of dominance in the Mountain West.
Last year, the Mountain West conference wasn’t very good overall. Fresno State looked left for dead early in the season but gained momentum in their conference schedule to wind up in the MW championship, which is won. Looking ahead to the 2023 season, it’s hard to see the conference as a whole getting better on paper after factoring in all the attrition that teams suffered. Boise State and San Jose State should be great on offense, while Air Force and Wyoming should once again have tremendous defenses. Outside of those teams and those units, it’s hard to see anyone else posing a serious challenge. Can the Bulldogs compete against those teams? It seems likely.
5 reasons they won’t
1. They lost most of their offensive firepower
A big reason Fresno State was able to be so successful last year was due to their dynamic offense. Gone is Jake Haener, who was the best quarterback in the conference last year. Also gone are running back Jordan Mims and wide receivers Jalen Cropper-Moreno and Nikko Remigio, plus some tight ends and offensive linemen. In many ways, the Bulldogs will be starting over on offense (OC Kirby Moore left as well). If the offense is not a step above the rest of the competition on the field, it will likely be more of an uphill battle for the team to get back to the championship.
2. The Tedford regime struggles to reload
As mentioned above, the Bulldogs lost a lot of talent from last season. The last time that happened, following the 2018 season, Coach Tedford and his team struggled to reload, finishing with a 4-8 record, which ended with Tedford stepping down due to his reasons. It was a small sample size, to be sure, but it does illustrate that Tedford and his staff do struggle to win with their own recruits, or at least struggle to win with inexperienced players. Regardless, it’s something to keep an eye on in 2023.
3. The transfer portal took away some of their talent.
The transfer portal can give and take away, and Fresno State definitely took some hits this past offseason. On the offensive side of the ball, Josh Kelly was expected to be one of the feature wide receivers in 2023 after losing so many other weapons. Likewise, OL Bula Schmidt was expected to provide continuity on the offensive line, and instead, he is heading to UCF. Over on defense, one of their best players from last season, safety Evan Williams, was one of the more high-profile transfers in all of college football after heading to Oregon almost immediately after entering the portal. Likewise, fellow defensive back Braylon Lux is taking his talents to Texas Tech. Losing these talented transfers is another blow to the Bulldogs going into this season.
4. Coaching Turnover.
On one hand, as long as Fresno State has Jeff Tedford, they are in good hands. However, the offensive staff has had to weather attrition with their QB/OC, RB, and OL coaches this past offseason. With such little continuity with both their offensive personnel and their offensive coaching staff, it would not be a surprise if their offense struggles to establish an identity out of the gate when the 2023 season starts. Stay tuned on this one.
5. Getting rid of divisions.
This factor is out of the Bulldog’s control, but it is still a reality they have to face. Starting this year, there will no longer be a Mountain division and West division representative competing against one another in the championship game. Instead, divisions are gone, and the two teams with the best records will meet to play for the title. That means that the Bulldogs will actually be competing to emerge from ten other teams rather than five other teams. This obviously makes the road more challenging, as there are years when the two best teams in the conference have been teams from the former Mountain Division.