It is only February, but it is never too early to make predictions. Spring ball has not even started, and no one knows who the starting quarterback will be or if Dwayne Wright and Clifton Smith will return from injury with little or no effect. The new offensive assistants should be able to mesh well with the players, but will the offense be effective?
Defensively, every Bulldog fan is concerned about the linebacking corps. How will Marcus Riley's season ending injury effect him? Who will play in his absence, if needed? Is Goodwin ready to fend off the challengers at strong side LB? Will true freshman Robert Schenck adapt to the college game quick enough and battle Dwayne Andrews for playing time at MLB?
So many questions to list, but that is what Spring practice is for. Yet, I will list my best and worst cast scenarios, as well as, my knee-jerk prediction for the 2006 season. After spring ball and preseason practice the predictions will have a little more depth, but for now lets take a stab at the schedule. 12-0 is really the best case scenario, but with so many question marks at this point of the season, it's not. As we head closer to the season, 12-0 could become a reality. Remember all the question marks right now (QB, RB, LB, CB, FS, DE), these scenarios are based on what is known right now.
The Wolfpack will be preseason favorites to win the WAC by many preseason publications. Jeff Rowe is the conference's best quarterback, and UN returns a slew of starters. The nationally televised matchup will set the stage for the Bulldog's biggest conference opener in Fresno State history. If the WAC championship is a serious goal for 2006, the Bulldogs better be ready for a very good Nevada team.
Best Case Scenario- Fresno State comes out fired up, as always, for the season opener. The offense executes with precise timing, and defense's increased team speed improves their defense against the run. Brandstater and Norton share equal time at QB, and show tremendous poise and leadership.
Worst Case Scenario- Nevada's pistol offense comes out firing against the rebuilt Bulldog secondary, jumping out to a big lead. Fresno State must abandoned their offensive gameplan, and start chucking the ball which leads to numerous mistakes and turnovers. The defense plays better, but still is over-matched early on against the pistol offense, and is unable to overcome all of the offenses's mistakes.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 31, Nevada 20
Its been 10 years since the last time the Ducks visited Fresno. That game, and every one since has been a classic. ESPN has yet to announce a kickoff time for their broadcast, but more than likely it would be an late afternoon or evening kickoff. It shouldn't matter what time the kickoff is, it will be hot. Oregon is coming off a 10-2 season and top 10 ranking. The Ducks will be a consensus top 25 team heading into 2006. As long as they beat Stanford in their opener, they should be ranked when they visit Bulldog Stadium.
Best Case Scenario- The Bulldogs ride the momentum of their season opening win, and jump out to an early lead, and never trail. Combining a precise passing attack and balanced running game, FS keeps the Oregon offense off the field. The defense improves from week one, and learns from its mistakes from last year against UO's hurry-up offense.
Worst Case Scenario- Lets face the truth, the Ducks have a talented offense and QB Dennis Dixon should have a better passing game to compliment his already dangerous running ability. The improving Bulldog secondary doesn't step up to the challenge and gets beat repeatedly by the spread offense. DT Haloti Ngata has moved on to the NFL, but FS is still unable to run the ball. The Bulldog offense is still breaking in new offensive assistants and a new QB, and playing a top 25 Oregon team is no easy task, even at home.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 34, Oregon 32
9/16 at Washington
Fresno State waltzed into Seattle two years ago and handed the Huskies an embarrassing defeat. This time around UW will be ready for the 'Dogs. Ty Willingham is turning around the program and 2006 will be the year the Huskies return to respectability. I doubt ABC will add this game to their regional package, but FSN will probably pick this game up for a 3:30pm PT kickoff.
Best Case Scenario- Willingham is turning around the program, but Fresno State still has the better team. With two games under his belt, either Norton or Brandstater will have pulled ahead to claim the starting position and play well enough to win their first road game as a starter.
Worst Cast Scenario- Hill names his starting quarterback for the game, and the rookie buckles under the pressure of his first road game. UW rebounds nicely from their road game at Oklahoma the week prior, and outplays the hapless Bulldogs. Sputtering on offense, FS brings in its backup QB. He sparks the offense, but its a little too late, and a QB controversy is born.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Washington 24, Fresno State 22
9/30 Colorado State
CSU returns to Fresno after backing out of its game in 2004. The Rams are fresh off a 6-6 bowl season, but must replace their starting quarterback, and are hardly the MWC powerhouse they once were. There is no national TV for this game at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised to see FS move the game to a weekday for ESPN, considering its has a bye the previous week. ESPN could pick up the game for Saturday since the MWC no longer has a contract with ESPN, and the network will be looking for some late night Saturday games.
Best Case Scenario- It weird to call CSU a breather, but that is exactly what the Rams will be after FS has played three tough games to start 06. The QB and offense has its best game of the year, and defense continues to improve.
Worst Case Scenario- CSU will have a few games under their belt by late September and it has had moderate success at Bulldog Stadium, winning 2 of 5. In a game FS should win easily, the 'Dogs come out flat after the bye and there is still no clear cut favorite at quarterback.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 41, Colorado State 24
10/7 at Utah State
Unless Utah State is having a spectacular year to this point, there will be no national TV for this contest. After four big games in September, October begins with a tricky conference road game in the high altitude. The last time Fresno State traveled to Logan was back in 1991. The 'Dogs were 7-0 and ranked #25, but lost 20-19. It was Trent Dilfer's first road game as a starter, and he was pretty decent QB. Brandstater/Norton has to be ready for an improved Aggie team.
Best Case Scenario- The defense plays its best game of season, and the offense just puts the game into cruise control. The Bulldogs adjust well to the Rocky Mountain air, and are able to play a lot of the younger players in a rout.
Worst Case Scenario- Utah State plays hard and the 'Dogs do not. It is remarkably cold for early October in Utah, and FS can not adapt to the environment. The passing game is laid to rest, and the FS must beat the Aggies with the run.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 34, Utah State 13
I can not a recall a better homecoming game than this year's. A mid-October 2pm kickoff against bitter rival Hawai'i will be the setting. If FS keeps the kickoff time, it is highly unlikely it will be on national TV. Hawai'i should have its best offense ever under June Jones and that is saying a lot. The Bulldog secondary will face its toughest challenge of the season.
Best Case Scenario- Fresno State comes out ready to chuck the ball. There is no way this game will not be a shootout. The defense does a good job keeping the Warrior offense from going ape$h!t. The young Bulldog QB comes of age hanging toe to toe with one of the conference's best in Colt Brennan.
Worst Case Scenario- Hawai'i's passing game is too much for the over-matched Bulldog secondary. Fresno State's offense can not establish the run, and the passing game is not clicking early on. Special teams play a big role, but not for the Bulldogs.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 52, Hawai'i 34
10/21 at LSU
If Bulldog fans thought the USC game was the biggest game in Bulldog history, just imagined the hype in Baton Rouge if the 'Dogs and Tigers are both unbeaten come late October. LSU is a legitimate top 5 team, but the Tigers must travel to Auburn and Florida before they host FS. The 'Dogs have a better shot at having an unblemished record, despite not being as good as LSU. ESPN has tentatively scheduled this game for its coveted 7:45pm ET kickoff, and there is a good chance gameday will be in Baton Rouge if FS is unbeaten and knocking on the door of the top 10.
Best Case Scenario- LSU enters the contest beat up physically and emotionally after losing at Auburn and Florida. The Tigers shot at a national title is gone, and beating FS bears no significance in winning the SEC conference. FS, on the other hand, has everything to play for and comes out on fire.
Worst Case Scenario- FS is beat up emotionally and physically. A very promising season has hit bottom with 3 losses and trip to LSU staring the 'Dogs right in the face. Lets be realistic, Death Valley is not the easiest place to play and a Fresno State team not 100% or playing its best came will get beat easily.
Knee Jerk Prediction- LSU 24, Fresno State 13
11/1 at Boise State
Both schools will have 10 days to prepare for this year's battle of the WAC. Boise State should be unbeaten or at worse have no more than 2 losses when the Bulldogs come to town. ESPN2 will televise the Wednesday night affair, and depending how the 'Dogs did the week before at LSU this years BSU-FS game could be for a chance at the BCS. BSU was a bit overrated last year, and will be underrated this year, like FS. Jared Zabransky is still a dangerous QB, and the Broncos return a host of running backs.
Best Case Scenario- Zabransky continues his dismal performances in big games, and commits inopportune turnovers. FS plays a flawless game on offense, and for once establishes a pounding ground game against the Broncos in Boise.
Worst Case Scenario- The horrors of the Smurf Turf continue for the 'Dogs. FS can not establish a run game, and are forced to pass. FS is unable to sustain any drives on offense, and as a result the defense falters in the second half.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Boise State 27, Fresno State 24
11/11 New Mexico State
The Aggies will be a welcomed home game after tough back-to-back road games. NMSU was the only team in the WAC that didn't win a game last year, so it is an understatement to say it will improve in 2006. Hal Mumme's pass happy offense should be light years ahead of last years' unit, but NMSU's defense will still be a work in progress. I highly doubt there will be any TV for this game, national or local.
Best Case Scenario- The Bulldogs put away NMSU in the first half. The starters get a well rested second half, and the young backups showcase their tremendous potential.
Worst Case Scenario- Fresno State is beat up physically and mentally after back-to-back losses at LSU and Boise State. The Bulldogs play lackluster football, and are taken to the wire by the Aggies.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 40, NMSU 21
The Vandals might have a great head coach in Dennis Erickson, but the fruits of his labor will not take effect until at least 2007. NMSU and Idaho at home give the Bulldogs a much needed breather before finishing off the season at Louisiana Tech and San Jose State. Erickson's presence and the fact that the Bulldogs are ESPN media darlings might be enough to warrant a national TV broadcast, if the Vandals have a decent record and kickoff is moved to accommodate the network.
Best Case Scenario- The Bulldogs roll through an upstart Vandal team with ease. There is no sign of a late season stumble, and the starters rest a good part of the second half.
Worst Case Scenario- Idaho is having a better season than expected, and ESPN2 moves the game to Friday night for national TV. A less than lively home crowd of about 35,000 shows up, and a less than lively Bulldog team shows up. Jim Sweeney is seen cheering the Vandals (and Erickson) after they take a second half lead.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 38, Idaho 17
11/24 at Louisiana Tech
The Bayou Bulldogs have become Fresno State's new nemesis. After back-to-back wins over Hawaii and finally beating Boise State last year, Fresno State's new goal in the WAC is to beat LA Tech. FS has not beaten them since 2003. This year's game will be part of the after Thanksgiving ESPN football hoopla on Black Friday. LA Tech is becoming a steady force, after having less than stellar years in 2002 and 2003 after winning the WAC title outright in 2001. The 2006 team has a good shot to take home the conference title and the FS game could be the biggest game in Ruston, ever.
Best Case Scenario- The weather is mild for the 8pm CT kickoff. Fresno State strikes quickly and often. The defense puts the relentless pressure on LA Tech, and forces key turnovers. FS capitalizes on its opportunities, and never let up in an impressive win.
Worst Case Scenario- It is absolutely cold, just as it was in 2002, but this time FS does not adapt well. After two average performances at home against teams from the WAC's bottom half, the Bulldogs have trouble picking up the pace against one of the league's best.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 44, Louisiana Tech 31
12/2 at San Jose State
The jury is still out on Dick Tomey and his Spartan program. Will they be decent in 2006 or just another conference pasty? Either way, there is a good shot the regular season finale at San Jose State could be televised nationally on an ESPN network.
Best Case Scenario- Fresno State continues it's dominance over SJSU. The Bulldogs needing a win over the Spartans to secure a WAC title, do not falter and get the job done.
Worst Case Scenario- A rowdy Spartan crowd greets Fresno State in a nationally televised matchup. With a bowl game already locked up and no shot at a WAC title, Fresno State plays lethargic. SJSU, however, got word that a win over Fresno State could give them an at-large berth to the San Francisco Bowl with a 7-5 record.
Knee Jerk Prediction- Fresno State 51, San Jose State 27
With this schedule, a mid-season slump should be expected. Unlike in years past, the toughest part of the schedule is in the mid-October, Hawaii, at LSU and at Boise State. Those 3 games will tell how good the Bulldogs really are. Wins over Hawaii and Boise State could secure a WAC title showdown with LA Tech later in the season and a good showing against LSU will continue to give the Bulldogs much earned national respect.
My knee jerk prediction for the 2006 is 9-3(7-1), which should be good enough to earn a share of the WAC title. Yet, this team could easily go 11-1, LSU is the only game that can be classified as difficult. However, this team is young in certain key areas, and could have a disappointing 7-5 or 6-6 year, but be very good in 2007.