Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What to Expect in 2008

This past week the Fresno State football players began eight weeks of individual practices in which coaches will not be present. During individual workouts QB’s and Receivers work on their timing and route running in order to prepare for the 2008 football season. These eight weeks have become far more important to the Bulldogs than they have to most other teams as Fresno State generally opens with a murderous schedule. In 2008 the Bulldogs season begins as follows:

Sept. 1st - @ Rutgers
Sept. 13th – Wisconsin
Sept. 20th - @ Toledo
Sept. 27th - @ UCLA

Once again Fresno State will have their work cut out for them in September as the Dogs opening month is one of the more challenging in the nation. If Fresno State can find a way to run off victories in each of the above mentioned games they will more than likely be ranked somewhere in the middle of the top twenty-five. In order to accomplish such a feat Fresno State will have to get the most out of their practices up until their first game of the season at Rutgers. The past few seasons Fresno State fans have had high expectations for the football program run by Pat Hill. But in 2008 should Bulldog fans once again expect the Dogs to make some noise nationally before WAC plays begins? The simple answer is absolutely.

Fresno State returns a majority of their offensive starter’s aside Clifton Smith and Ryan Wendell who both have moved on to the NFL. However, Bear Pascoe returns. Tom Brandstater returns. Ryan Mathews returns as does Marlon Moore, Chastin West, Seyi Ajirotutu, Devin Wylie, Jamal Hamler, Lonyae Miller, Anthony Harding the entire offensive line (if healthy), and newcomers such as Rashad Evans, A.J. Ellis, and Ebahn Feathers. This quite possibly has the making to be one of the most explosive units in Fresno State history. If the Bulldog’s offense can continue to gel together as we have seen during spring ball look for the offense to average well over thirty points a game. Last season J-Mac’s offense averaged 33 points a game. If this returning unit can punch one more TD in per game you will be looking at a team that averages forty points a game. If that is the case this will be a very hard Bulldogs team to beat. While the offense looks to be in great shape what can expect from our defense early on in 2008?

Defensively our first team defensive line will create havoc for most opposing teams. Players such as Jon Monga, Chris Carter, Wilson Ramos, and Cornell Banks will all demand attention on the defensive line. The Bulldogs secondary will be experienced with Moses Harris and Marvin Haynes at safety. One corner spot will be occupied by the speedy A.J. Jefferson who may be ready to depart for the NFL at season’s end. The other corner spot is up for grabs but players such as Sharrod Davis and Damion Owens should fill the voice left by Damon Jenkins who also made the jump to the NFL. The one position defensively Bulldog fans should worry about is Linebacker. Although Ben Jacobs, Nico Herron, and Quaadir Brown look to be a solid unit there is very little depth with respect to the unit. Fresno State will have two additions to help bolster the LB core in Damion Whittington and Ricky Pemasa, but both of these players will be coming in as freshman. If the starters do not do their job on defense then the Dogs will give up large amounts of yards and will be involved in games where scoring is happening far more than we as Bulldog fans would like it to be.

Fresno State’s special teams units look to be solid although the Dogs will be starting two kickers with relatively little experience. Robert Malone will take over punting duties. If he continues to punt the way he has in Spring ball Fresno State will have very little to worry about. At the same time Kevin Goessling will take over for Clint Stitser as the placekicker. Goessling has an accurate leg and should be expected to get the job done from forty yards and in. However, if the Dogs have to venture past forty yards this freshman will have his work cut out for him. Kick returning is in great hands with A.J. Jefferson. Fresno State has very little to worry about when it comes to the special teams units. John Baxter generally has these players prepared for every situation possible.

What does this all mean? It means that Fresno State football in 2008 will have a shot at an amazing season. The men’s baseball team just qualified for the College World Series. The women’s softball team missed a super regional by one questionable call. The women’s basketball team qualified for their first NCAA tournament ever. Fresno State won the WAC commissioner’s cup. Overall it has been an amazing year of sports here at Fresno State. Now it’s the football team’s turn to step up and show the nation how truly good they are in 2008. Here is exactly what you can expect from Fresno State in 2008: A team that will fight until the end week to week with a desire to win at all costs and a drive to show the nation just how good this Bulldogs team is as a whole.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Role of the Underdog

Every sport aside FBS college football has a true champion crowned at the end of the season. Sometimes the champion crowned is exactly who everyone figures it will be. During the 1990’s the Chicago Bulls were as sure a bet as anyone could make during their six championship runs. On the other hand sometimes the favorite is upset in monumental fashion. During the 2007-2008 Super Bowl we as a nation were able to watch one of the bigger upsets in history as the New York Giants knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots. Sure there are fans out there that picked the Giants to win the Super Bowl, but the Patriots were overwhelming favorites prior to the start
of the game. I realize none of this directly has to do with the college world series unless you take a look deeper into what I am trying to say. This weekend Fresno State will compete in their first college world series in seventeen years as heavy underdogs. As an underdog Fresno State has done the job over the past two weekends with huge upsets in Long Beach and Tempe. Is it possible that they just may pull the biggest upset of them all?

In order to understand the role of an underdog in the college world series let’s take a look back at the past five years to see how the favorites have faired:

Winner – Oregon State (unranked)
Highest Ranked Participant – Rice (2 seed)

Winner – Oregon State (unranked)
Highest Ranked Participant – Clemson (1 seed)

Winner – Florida (7 seed)
Highest Ranked Participant – Tulane (1 seed)

Winner – Cal State Fullerton (7 seed)
Highest Ranked Participant – Texas (1 seed)

Winner – Rice (5 seed)
Highest Ranked Participant – LSU (2 seed)

If you look at the past five seasons you will notice that not one time has the favorite won the college world series. In fact since rankings have been given only Miami has won the College World Series as the one seed. In other words being unranked heading into the College World Series is not necessarily a terrible spot to be in. What most people do not realize about the World Series is that it rewards those teams who have caught the hot hand at the right time in the season. While it is true that teams such as Miami and North Carolina are ranked as the top two teams in the nation, it also remains true that they quite possibly could be knocked out of the tournament by a lower ranked team who has caught fire at the right time.

Many of you may be asking what exactly does this mean for Fresno State. It means that the Bulldogs will be decided underdogs in this tournament. But remember the Bulldogs were underdogs in their previous two regionals and found a way to come out on top in both of those. I am not saying the Bulldogs are going to win the college world series. I realize to come out on top in a tournament such as this you have to be clicking on all cylinders and the ball must bounce your way from time to time. The difference for Fresno State now is they have reached their ultimate goal and know they have the talent to win it all. The Dogs just upset the #3 team in the nation on a field where the Sun Devils had lost a total of three games the entire season. At the same time Fresno State is a team that is most comfortable playing the role of the underdog. They realize they are not supposed to win the college world series. But here they are as one of the remaining eight teams in the nation playing for the biggest prize that college baseball has to offer them. Their determination, effort, fight, and desire has put them into an eight team tournament to become the best team in all of college baseball. Sports are cyclical as some teams remain on top for long periods of time until another rises up to knock them off of the perch they sit upon. In the end I am left with one phrase that is exactly how I feel about the Bulldogs chances in the college world series:

“Why Not Us?”

It’s simple, to the point, and exactly how I feel about the Bulldogs chances in 2008. Why not us? Go Dogs and thank you for this amazing season you have given us as fans.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Team for the Ages

The year began just as it had the past few seasons in Fresno. The Bulldogs would be ranked in the top twenty five only to falter out of the gates. Diamond Dog fans in Fresno were once again left to question whether this team had the talent to win their third consecutive WAC title. As the season moved along Fresno State sat near the .500 mark for much longer than many of us were comfortable with.
The Dogs were not playing good baseball and everyone including the players themselves knew it. Towards the tail end of the WAC season Fresno State held on to first place by the skin of their teeth and entered the WAC tournament as the one seed. What happened next is something that every Bulldog fan will remember for the rest of their lives.

Fresno State went on to win their third straight WAC tournament in 2008. To this date the Bulldogs have not lost once during the course of the WAC tournament in their history. But Fresno State had been in this position before. Much like the Lady Dogs softball team the Bulldogs commonly qualify for a regional yearly. The only difference between the 2008 Bulldog baseball squad when compared to year’s past was the fact that had the Dogs lost the WAC tournament this year they would not have qualified for a regional. However, Fresno State won the WAC and was placed in one of the toughest regionals in the nation where the seeding would look as follows:

1) Long Beach State
2) San Diego
3) California
4) Fresno State

Each team was ranked nationally in the regional aside Fresno State. In other words the Bulldogs had their work cut out for them. It was the Bulldogs against the rest of the world and unlike many times in the past this 2008 Bulldog team was up for the challenge.

After an opening win against Long Beach State the Dogs took on and shut out San Diego in the second round of the regional 6-0. Fresno State sat in the winners’ bracket awaiting the winner of the Long Beach State-San Diego matchup. Once San Diego had defeated the Dirtbags the Bulldogs knew they had to win one game to advance to their first super regional in over a decade. Fresno State went out and were promptly torn apart by the Toreros in game one 15-1. Many Bulldog fans worried that the Dogs would follow suit to many teams in the past and lose again to San Diego in the deciding game of the regional. Instead the 2008 Bulldogs would make history with a 5-1 defeat of the Toreros. With their regional win Fresno State would then be sent off to Tempe, AZ to face the third ranked Sun Devils of Arizona State. Arizona State sported a 48-11 record with only three losses during the entire season at home. Fresno State had their work cut out for them as it would require a monumental upset to knock off the Sun Devils in their own house.

In game one the Bulldogs played tough but untimely errors did them in as they trailed 8-4 heading into the eighth inning. ASU’s hitters were too much for the Dogs in game one and the Dogs would face an early hole in the series with a 12-4 defeat. Fresno State would now have to win the final two games of the series in order to return to the College World Series for the first time since 1991. Game two of the series would come down to one key at bat in the fourth inning and timely pitching at the tail end of the game. Gavin Hedstrom stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning with two outs and the bases loaded. The Dogs had put together four hits with two outs but had only one run to show for it. With two strikes Hedstrom swung at a curveball that jumped off of his bat to left center field. The ball carried over the fence giving Fresno State a 7-5 lead that they would not relinquish. Fresno State would finish off the victory with strong pitching from Brandon Burke. But the Dogs still had to win one more game and were depleted in the pitching department. Could the Dogs pull off one of the biggest upsets in college baseball during the 2008 season by knocking off the Sun Devils?

Game three would be tough for both teams as the pitching staffs were equally depleted. For the first six innings both teams battled back and forth as the score sat at 5-5. Then the top of the seventh arrived. With two outs and the bases loaded Hedstrom was hit by a pitch to give the Dogs a 6-5 lead. Eric Wetzel followed with a double that cleared the bases given the Dogs a 9-5 lead. While a four run lead in most games is suitable the Dogs were playing the Sun Devils and no lead is ever safe against them. Following Wetzel the WAC player of the year Steve Susdorf stepped to the plate and crushed the ball deep to right center field to increase the lead to 11-5. The Dogs would need every last one of those runs as an eventful ninth inning was in sight. The Dogs would head to the bottom of the ninth with a 12-5 lead only to watch Sean Bonesteele and Brandon Burke allow four runs to score. With two outs and the bases loaded the Bulldogs would finally capture their dream they had played so hard to reach. With a fly ball to left field the Bulldogs had won the Tempe regional and reached the college world series.

Fresno State will open up against Rice, the #6 national seed. Rice used to be a part of the WAC until they jumped ship to conference USA a few ago. Fresno State will have to hope their pitching and hitting can come through as it will take an amazing effort to win the college world series. But do remember that this is a team that was not supposed to win their regional as the four seed. The Dogs were not supposed to knock off the Sun Devils in the Tempe regional but they did. Now Fresno State is not supposed to win the college world series. To this writer it sounds like the Dogs are right where they want to be.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Pat Hill's Recruiting Style

Over the past eleven years we as Bulldog fans have witnessed a change in Bulldog football. It all began with the head coach. Pat Hill took over Fresno State in 1997 and immediately made an impact as the head coach of this team. At the time recruiting was not nearly viewed in the same light as it is in today's world. Recruits were not under a microscope in the same respect that they are today as everyone desires to know what a recruits strengths and weaknesses are before they commit to a school. As fans we feel like we can evaluate a player based on what we have seen from him in his high school years. I for one thought Beau Sweeney would be hands down the best QB for the Bulldogs after watching him play during his Junior season. However, I realize I was wrong only because I let my heart and desire for valley football get in the way of what is truly best for Bulldog football. While we may question Pat Hill and his recruiting style, the fact remains that Hill continually finds players that fit the Bulldog football program perfectly. Regardless of what we think of his efforts as the head coach when it comes to recruiting Pat Hill does it exactly how all head coaches should. He recruits with respect to what the team needs and will only take players that he feels fit into the program perfectly.

In 2006 The Bulldogs underachieved at a level we had not seen since the mid 1990's. The question of who should play QB came up early and often. Sean Norton was the backup to Tom
Brandstater who most felt was not ready to be the starting QB. However, Pat Hill showed tremendous faith in Brandstater by making him the starter for the majority of the season. Although a large amount of fans disagreed with Pat on the QB issue only one season later we were able to see that Pat was right in keeping Brandstater in as our QB. Headed into his senior year Brandstater is viewed as the man to lead this team to their first WAC title in nearly ten seasons. Without Pat Hill's support who knows what would have happened to Brandstater during the course of his sophomore season. He was continually put down by the public and criticized for his play on the field. Week after week Hill supported Brandstater and we as fans could not figure out why. Today we know that Pat was able to see what Brandstater could truly do on the field while we as fans were not able to see past his performances early in his career.

The difference between Pat Hill and your average fan is that Pat understands what it takes to be a college football player at Fresno State. He realizes what players will help the team and what players won't. When Hill goes on recruiting trips he understands the needs of the team and does not have the desire to tell a recruit that the Dogs are going to offer him if he does not believe it is in the best interest of Fresno State to do so. While schools such as Florida, Cal, and UCLA can offer scholarships to hundreds of players only to pull them back when they reach their allotted amount, Fresno State on the other hand only offers scholarships to players they want in their program. The Bulldogs do not offer every single five star recruit because it is not realistic to do so. While it makes sense to show a top flight recruit attention, if that attention falls on deaf ears then what exactly is the point of the attention in the first place? Pat Hill did not actively recruit Derek Carr but Derek decided to attend Fresno State. Travis Brown may be the first five star high school recruit in Bulldog history. However, to find other recruits Pat is forced to earn his money as head coach.

I realize that many times we as fans think we know what is best for our hometown team. I think at times my knowledge of offense is exactly what allows me to understand what type of players the Bulldogs need. The truth is only the coaching staff and Pat Hill know exactly what is best for this program. Regardless if I have been a fan of Bulldog football for the past five, ten, or fifteen years I am not a coach in the Bulldog football program. In other words when all is said and done trust Pat Hill and his recruiting style. He may not be flashy with the way that he recruits, nor will he promise anyone more than they will actually be able to accomplish at State. Pat will be honest and that is something to be remembered in today's world where lying seems to get you ahead and a players word means absolutely nothing. Pat has done a great job recruiting here in Fresno and if we are lucky as Bulldog fans we will be able to enjoy his recruiting classes for many years into the future.

Monday, June 02, 2008

What the 2008 Bulldog Football Season Hinges on

This past weekend I attended the Under Armour camp with Mdg and Zagfan559 (I have a horrendous sunburn on my forehead to prove it). While watching all of the junior and seniors compete one on one in drills I began to think about the many different avenues the 2008 Bulldog football season might take. I have had a hard time coming up with what I think will happen during the football season if only because of how the 2007 season went. As one of my good friends said "the 2007 season was one of the best coaching jobs Pat Hill has done in his time at Fresno State." I tend to agree with this sentiment due to the amount of injuries the Bulldogs endured this past season and it is injuries that I believe will impact the 2008 season more so than any other factor.

Anyone who follows the Bulldogs knows the Dogs may be more talented on the field in 2008 than ever before. Tom Brandstater returns as the Senior QB with both experience and talent. The RB situation has only become that much better with the addition of players such as A.J. Ellis and Rashad Evans. Not to mention Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, and Anthony Harding are not exactly guys you would want on the bench in the first place. The receiving core on offense is one of the deepest the Bulldogs have seen in years and is backed by a tight end that is NFL material (Bear Pascoe). With the offensive line in tact come fall practice there is no reason to think this team will not average close to forty points per game. The problem is when thinking about all of the weapons the Bulldogs have on the field we as fans are not considering who we may lose during the course of the season to injury. Here is a better question to consider if you are a Bulldog fan. Who can we afford to lose and still enjoy a successful 2008 season? At the same time what do you as fans consider a solid 2008 football season to be? I refrain from making predictions on any game until the week before due to the fact that injuries will impact the way a football team plays. But you as readers of the blog are welcome to leave comments as to what you feel is possible for this team in 2008.

While I have mentioned the offensive weapons we have fans should also remember that we are returning a bulk of our defense as well. Our entire secondary returns aside Damon Jenkins who will be replaced by either Sharrod Davis or Damion Owens. Our Linebacking core lost Marcus Riley and it will be a tall task to replace such an outstanding linebacker. However, Fresno State brought in both Ricky Pemasa and Damion Whittington to fill the Riley void. The defensive line will be in great shape with Ramos, Banks, Monga, Carter, Lewis, and Ike. However, this will be one area where injuries could wreak havoc on the Bulldogs. Fresno State's first team defensive line will cause problems for most teams they line up against as they have both the size and speed to play with anyone. Unfortunately after the first team there is a huge drop in the talent that will be on the field. To hope for relative health out of the defensive line would be an understatement in the least. How Fresno State is able to deal with it's injuries in 2008 will be the tell tale of how the season will transpire.

In the end most players that step on the field are replaceable if only because there is talent there to step in and take over. The one position Fresno State can ill afford an injury to in 2008 will be the QB position. Make no mistakes about it, this 2008 team has the talent and ability to run the table. As long as the defense keeps the Dogs in the game the offense is going to get the job done with Brandstater at QB. If for some reason Brandstater is not able to go the reigns are then turned over to little used Ryan Colburn. Many have confidence in Colburn and feel he can lead this team just as well as Brandstater can. However, Colburn has very little game experience and that is exactly how you become a more seasoned QB. After all what happened the last time we started a season with a QB that had very little game experience?

One word that can completely change the face of an entire football team. Here is hoping that for the first time since 2001 the Bulldogs will not have to deal with a major injury that single handedly changes the course of the 2008 football season.

Note: I will be doing my best to blog more often in the off season. I apologize to those who read the blog daily and will do my best to make sure there is content for everyone to read throughout the entire 2008 football season.