The Bulldogs may have experienced their worst season under Pat Hill in 2006 as they finished a disappointing 4-8. As we all know by now the Bulldogs did not operate their offense in the way we have become accustomed to seeing as they had problems scoring points for the first time in over a decade. However, in a sense this turned out to be positive for Pat Hill and the Bulldogs. No, it isn't positive in a sense that the Bulldogs lost twice as many games as they won or that they underperformed throughout the entire 2006 season. Instead the positive side is showing itself after the season has ended. The recruiting for Fresno State this offseason has gone relatively well up to this point. The reason I believe recruits now want to take their chances in Fresno as opposed to another school has to do with the Freshman status and how they are being handled at Fresno State.
It wasn't long ago that Pat Hill would insist that nearly 80% of all Freshman should redshirt to give themselves time to adapt to the college football game. Oh how times have changed. A 4-8 season allowed Pat Hill to see that maybe some Freshman really are good enough to play their first season. In 2006 Jefferson, Harding, Miller, and Owens all saw playing time for Fresno State as true Freshman. Not only will this help the team in 2007 but it has shown the recruits that they can play a role in their Freshman seasons. I believe the biggest mistake a coach can make in the college level is to have the type of mindset that Freshman cannot contribute to the program right away. If Bob Stoops had this attitude Adrian Peterson would not have been the explosive running back he turned out to be in his Freshman season. To say a Freshman is not ready to play college level football is all relative and should be studied on a case by case basis. Paul Pinegar's best season may have been his Freshman year in which he was thrown into the fire due to injuries to Jeff Grady. Pinegar stepped in and did an outstanding job leading the Bulldogs to a 9-5 season with a victory over Georgia Tech in the Silicon Bowl.
Today Freshman walk into Fresno State to meet Pat Hill and realize that they have a chance to make a difference in their first season. Devon Wylie may be our kick returner next season and that had to play a role in him deciding to come to the Bulldogs. Freshman do not want to sit and watch an entire season pass them by. At the same time I do not feel like a player receives too much of an advantage on the sidelines only because there is no simulation for game experience. Sure you can practice with the team and get a feel for how your team plays but that will pale in comparison to coming into a game and playing against the likes of Oregon, USC, LSU, or a Boise State. Freshman choose to come to Fresno State because we tend to play the biggest and the best of the BCS conferences. Kids do not want to go play at a school that has no national recognition and that is not the case at Fresno State.
If Pat Hill continues to change the way he handles incoming Freshman he will see a spike in the type of players that begin to find interest in the Bulldogs. We may not get the five star recruits that the USC's of the world get but instead we will get the three stars that will play with their all every time they step onto the field. We will continue to get players like Joe Fernandez (pictured above) who may be little known outside of the central valley but will make a big impact when he is given a chance as a Freshman. 2006 was hard to handle but in the end it may have been a roadmap to success with respect to the future. Freshman can make a difference and Pat Hill is allowing them to do so for the first time in his ten year coaching career for Fresno State.