Monday, June 26, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: FRESNO STATE
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Always good, never great: new quarterback latest obstacle to elusive title
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 46-21 (29-11 WAC) - 2005: 8-5 (6-2 WAC); Lost Liberty Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 16 (8 Offense, 8 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Paul Pinegar was an underrated four-year starter at quarterback who improved each season and left with 84 career touchdowns and a 32-16 record as a starter. His backfield mates, too, leave a big hole: Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis took turns leading the team in rushing the last two years and depart after nearly identical 2,300-plus-yard, 28-touchdown careers.
That hole will be filled - capably, one would assume - by Dwayne Wright, who hasn't been in a game since Sept. 11, 2004, when he was knocked out of the team's upset rout of Kansas State, but who rushed for 1,038 yards in 2004. Tom Brandstater, renowned to have some kind of big arm, leads a three-man derby to take over for Pinegar with 14 total career snaps under his belt.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Four of five starters are back on the offensive line and six of starting front seven return on defense, which should make the Bulldogs again the toughest team in the conference on the line of scrimmage. Huge (330 pounds) center Kyle Young is an all-American who's been around forever. The defense slipped to sixth in the conference against the run, which won't be acceptable again with the experience and size (starting tackles, too, are each 330 pounds) on hand, even without an immediately noticeable standout among the vets. Somebody's going to need to get after opposing quarterbacks a bit better if the secondary expects to repeat last year's WAC-topping pass defense performance minus its two best players, Richard Marshall and Tyrone Culver.
IMPRESSIVE PASSING STATS=IMPRESSIVE DEFEATS: Pat Hill's preference for a physical running game has been often noted, but as a high-scoring West Coast team with two high first round draft pick quarterbacks in the span of a decade, Fresno still has the reputation of a pass happy, throw-it-around-the-lot offense. This perception certainly wasn't hurt any by Pinegar's 3,400-yard, 30-touchdown season last year, but if Hill's natural inclination is to run more often, he should trust his instincts: Pinegar averaged more than 373 yards against Oregon, USC, Nevada and Louisiana Tech last year - and all four wound up losses for FSU. Meanwhile, he barely averaged 200 passing in the team's eight wins, including a paltry 69-yard effort against bowl-bound Toledo in which the Bulldogs still scored 44 points; on the other hand, the team averaged 186.6 rushing yards in those eight games, as opposed to 110 in the losses (it's no coincidence, either, that the defeats were all to teams with winning records at the end of the year - nor that these successful teams were more adept at stopping the run and forcing predictable passing situations, resulting in nine interceptions of Pinegar - whereas only two of the victories came against squads that finished on the plus side of .500). In that case, forging balance by picking up with Wright where Mathis and Sumlin left off may be more important than getting a ton of production from Brandstater, who's certainly going to be much better with the help than without.
SPEAKING OF QUARTERBACK ASSISTANCE...: Le nouveau stratege' has nothing to worry about, target-wise, with all-league pick Paul Williams lining up with Joe Fernandez, who actually led the team in catches and touchdowns. The numbers say Williams (17 yards a pop on 43 catches, 7 TDs) is much more of a downfield, big play threat in this system - though Fernandez did take two punts in for touchdowns (he also averaged 12 yards on 47 catches). Backup running back Clifton Smith also scored on a punt return.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Nothing negative to report on the Spring game, because there was no Spring game - Hill pulled the plug because of weather [What is this, baseball? - ed. Dude, the practice fields and stadium were not "optimal."] Starter for quarterback? Still up for grabs - though all three showed improvement!
In the meantime, the school's media department was doing some serious ticket package blitzing, pumping out eight ticket stories so far this month, highlighted by one particularly impressive run of six ticket-related releases in a single week in between articles on the Sweeny Field paint guy and looks back at momentous 2005 victories over New Mexico State and Toledo.
REASON FOR HOPE: The lines are massive and experienced; receivers may be the best in the league and running backs probably will be by season's end.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: New quarterback means major growing pains; top rusher has two straight yearrs of injury problems. Team has followed promising starts by losing consecutive midseason league games in five straight seasons.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, LITERARY, POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Anna Paquin: Slightly off-beaten-path underdog has gotten plenty of attention and done plenty of good things since, but still waiting to bring home more hardware for the first time since a break out debut in 1993 - as 13-year-old Best Supporting Actress in The Piano and repeat co-champions of the WAC under Jim Sweeney in years One and Two after joining the conference, respectively. Consistently good as FSU's been throughout the Hill Administration - it's never finished worse than 5-3 in-league during his decade-long tenure - the Bulldogs shockingly haven't won or shared a single league championship in that span.
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Looking good, you know, relatively speaking...just not quite as good as you remember
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Nine wins, anonymous bowl game. What else? The team had four straight nine-win seasons before falling to eight wins last year, and hasn't shown any reason yet it will end its annual two/three (or, last year, four) game skid and overtake Boise State, reigning WAC king four years running.
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PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...April 11: Boise State...April 14: Tulane...June 18: Oregon...June 21: Colorado...June 24: South Florida
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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