Friday, May 23, 2008

How is this year different?

SF Gater again taking the gauntlet as guest on the Fresno State Bulldog Blog. As previously mentioned, those who pay attention to college football are placing the Bulldogs in their top-25s, and the team may be the presumptive favorites to win the conference for the first time since 1999. Nevertheless there are naysayers who point out that the Boise State Broncos have dominated the WAC since joining the conference in 2001, that they have not lost a WAC game at home since joining the conference, that Fresno State has a record for being, in Stewart Mandel’s words, the “Clemson of mid-majors: A big tease.” This raises the question- is this year different? How?

A corollary to the above question might be, how were all those other years different? I propose that this year’s team is a unique entity, one radically unlike those preceding it in several important respects. The first is experience. As much of the team was injured last year, many bench players had an opportunity to get valuable game experience, while many of the starters had played in previous seasons. One of the major separating factors between BCS and mid-major teams has long proven to be depth- often the starters may be comparable, but there is a radical divide in the second string down, where backups at BCS schools would likely start at their mid-major counterparts. Fresno State this year will be in a position unique for a mid-major in that there are skilled bench players such as Adam McDowell, Reynard Camp, and Cornell Banks, who can come in and make a difference after starting games last year.

The biggest difference made is in fortitude and discipline, the ability to shake off a loss. Each of the previous few seasons has an example of a though loss that affected the next game, and the one after, in a negative way. Last year, however, was different. The Texas A&M loss is a key case in point. After going into the half with a big deficit, the Bulldogs rallied and tied the game, taking it into three overtimes before a crushing loss. The next week was never a contest, with the Bulldogs losing by several touchdowns to Oregon. But the team did not let those twin losses get the best of them, and rallied for a four game winning streak against La Tech and Nevada teams that had bested us in similar situations before. The Hawai’i game is another example, when the team dropped a close game to a ranked opponent. The team just went ahead the next week and handed Kansas State a miserable loss. They didn’t lay an egg; instead they took big losses and turned them around into wins.

I think the composition of this bulldog team is different from previous years. The offense will be composed nearly entirely of returning starters, and the bench players behind them largely come into the game with experience. The key might be how to play in adverse circumstances, and the Bulldogs have proven they are able to do so.

Opening the season at Rutgers on September 1st is going to be an intense challenge; it will be important for the team to draw strength from the adversity in an East Coast venue. As the game draws closer, we will discuss the matchup in more detail, but today it can address the question of how this team is different from ones in the past, and most particularly in those qualities that might lead them to excel in the coming season.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bulldog Rankings

Hi folks, SF Gator here, and I'd like to thank NSC and MDG for giving me the opportunity to represent as a guest contributer to the FSFB. The Barkboard has come alive of late with the various preseason rankings that have been released by magazines, websites, and other media, placing the Bulldogs securely in the top-25. The preseason mags begin to heat up during the summer, and the two that 'really matter,' the AP and the Coaches polls, both are released latter than that; nevertheless, the post-spring workouts have yielded college football fans and pundits a variety of musings, which have manifested in rankings like the following:

ATHLON has released teams in its top 25 once-a-day, starting auspiciously with the Bulldogs at #25;

CBS Sportsline pundit' n' hack Dennis Dodd actually didn't suck for the first time ever, placing the Bulldogs at #24;

ESPN has their man Mark Schlabach pegging Fresno State at a solid #21, with opponent Rutgers nowhere in sight (like Dodd, but unlike Athlon who has them at #22);

So, given this mayhem, what conclusions can we draw? Well, obviously the Bulldogs are getting some preseason love, both from the nice lil' pasting of the Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech in the Boise Bowl and the accompanying 9-4 record, and return of guys who played well and returning health of guys who should play well next year. Some of our opponents this year are in interesting positions; Boise isn't ranked by anyone, and neither is Cal Los Angeles; Rutgers is only ranked by Athlon; and everyone has Wisconsin in the top 18 at least. It's likely those positions will shift during the season so that some other teams do find themselves ranked when they play the 'Dogs.

At this point, the Bulldogs have found themselves ranked at one point or another at least once since 2001, but haven't managed to go preseason to postseason ranked all the way though by any major poll. Still, it seems likey that the Bulldogs should start the season against Rutgers in the top-25, which is important since any media will represent the scores of all top-25 teams with more detail (like a write-up or Sports Center highlight) than even a really good or well-known outside of the top-25. It's also good because it's harder to move up from unranked to ranked really high if you weren't thought of well to begin with. Also, playing the likes of Idaho, Utah State, and NM State each and every year (and often one after the other) means there will be some attentionless days in October or November when a ranking at least draws attention to the fact that you mopped the floor with somebody. And lastly, the fact that pundits are paying attention in mid-May means that it's likely that they'll pay attention in Mid-August.

Keep playing well, and someday the Bulldogs could find themselves ranked perennially, and viewed as a regular favorite for a WAC and Mid Major title. The powers-that-be recently scoffed heartily while drinking champagne at the idea of a playoff, so we'll be living with our present system for a while to come- meaning, a non BCS team that finishes in the top-12 is guaranteed a BCS bid, and the impression that the Bulldogs make this year will be an important one. Starting high and losing (once and only once) against a badass may not be a kiss of death for the Bulldogs making a BCS bowl, and if the initial impression for the Bulldogs is good enough and the team does well enough, a BCS bowl is a realistic probability. But keep in mind that BYU is ranked and ranked higher than the Bulldogs in every single one of those polls. and the Cougars don't have to play Wisconsin or Rutgers.

one more rankings note: I'm absolutely amazed at the way these rankings folks have ignored UC Berkeley this year. Normally, the pundits overrate them tremendously (I'm looking at you, Mel Brooks look alike Lee Corso); but this year, after losing their last six regular season games and going 7-6, everyone has stayed clear. Okay, everyone who has ever read anything i've ever written or heard me speak in my life knows my feelings toward UC Berkeley are like Cap'n Ahab's toward that damn whale; but I honestly can't see this year's UC Berkeley football team winning fewer than 8 games. I don't buy the QB controversy thing, Tedford'll take care of it, most coaches can handle having two solid options at QB, a solid but sometimes shaky senior and a rising star underclassman, the only guy who couldn't was Dirk Koetter and he was the exception that proves the rule.

Look, not to harp on this, but they open at home against Michigan State, a few people's sleeper but i just cant see them beating the Bears at home to open the season, there is too much speed, to many experienced upperclassmen and the coaching is too good. This is practically the same team that beat the SEC West champion Volunteers to open last season. Then they go to a depleted Wash State, then go to Maryland to face Fridge's Terps, which'll be a tough one but, look, they are not losing that game, i don't think. Maryland isn't as fast on offense as UC Berkeley, they just aren't, even at home. They'll open 3-0 and everyone'll jump on their bandwagon like they did in the last 5 years, and former Fresno State QB Jeff "the Douche" Tedford will be everyone's September coach of the year. Guys like Dodd, Mendel and Schlabach will jump on that bandwagon in seconds. I'm just saying, y'all saw it here first.