In the 95 seasons of Fresno State football, the Bulldogs have captured 27 conference titles.
Here’s the straight truth: 2017 will not be added to the list.
Since 1937, when the Bulldogs edged Arkansas State 27-26 in the Little All-American Bowl at the LA Coliseum, Fresno State has played in 26 bowls.
Considering 6-6 teams go to bowl games nowadays (and sometimes 5-7), let’s not rule out these Bulldogs before they’ve suited up. But it’s fairly unlikely.
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That’s the problem when you’re coming off a 1-11 season, one that ushered in a new era on Bulldog Lane. Now it’s Jeff Tedford’s responsibility to restore the pride and tradition illustrated by those 27 titles and 26 bowls.
If one accepts the premise that Tedford will succeed in that task (and if you don’t, well, there goes five years and $7.9 million), the next step is affixing a timeline.
Starting with: How long is this overhaul going to take?
Before moving on to: What can be reasonably expected in Year 1?
I have total faith and belief in the man, but fans have to be patient and understand the cupboard’s dry.
Ex-Bulldogs great Lorenzo Neal, on Jeff Tedford
Remember, I’ve already told you Fresno State isn’t going to win the Mountain West and is unlikely to rack up enough wins to be bowl eligible. Which tosses the usual benchmarks of success straight out the window.
Then it becomes a matter of locating their replacements. If conference titles and bowl appearances can’t be used to gauge a successful first season under Tedford, what can be?
Glad you (OK, me) asked.
Win at least four games
Yes, this is a pretty low bar. But have you taken a good look at the schedule? Start with three guaranteed nonconference losses to Alabama, Washington and BYU. Can the Bulldogs win road games at San Diego State and Wyoming (in mid-November)? Nope and nope. Boise State at home is another toughie, as is an improving New Mexico team that since 2014 has climbed from 4-8 to 7-6 to 9-4.
By my math, that leaves five games where the Bulldogs have a more-or-less equal chance: Incarnate Word (a gimmee), Nevada and UNLV at home and San Jose State and Hawaii on the road. Winning four of them would represent tangible, discernible progress.
Find your future quarterback
The carousel has to stop. Since You Know Who used up his eligibility, the Bulldogs have gone through quarterbacks like Q-Tips. At this point it doesn’t matter if Chason Virgil finally becomes The Guy, or whether Marcus McMaryion, Jorge Reyna or one of the freshman walk-ons take that step. As long as someone does.
If Fresno State goes through another season without a clear picture of who will be under center in 2018 – or if it becomes evident that guy isn’t on this year’s roster – it’ll put a crimp into any rebuild.
Reseed the program’s physical roots
Those Derek Carr-fueled MW titles in 2012 and ’13 notwithstanding, the Bulldogs did not take well to being a spread team. Over the last three seasons, the program became soft.
Tedford has pledged to restore Fresno State’s physical, let’s-pound-somebody personality by installing a pro-style offense that relies more on power running and edge blocking. The hope is that by practicing against it every day, the defense toughens up as well.
“Bring back the old attitude that used to be here, that nonstop energy,” said nose tackle Malik Forrester, a second-year player who can’t personally attest.
Hit on a few newcomers and overlooked gems
On the first day of fall camp, Fresno State’s roster listed 65 players who were brought in by the old coaching staff and 37 by the new one. (Not all 102 are eligible this season and the 37 new players includes walk-ons.)
It’ll be interesting to see how many Tedford recruits make an impact this season. Cornerback Johnny Johnson seems like a good bet. The Central High product was penciled in as a starter at UCLA before electing to join the Bulldogs as a graduate transfer. Another is Derrion Grim, an all-everything receiver from Stockton who began his college career at Nebraska.
A few returning players, because they either didn’t fit the old schemes or fell out of favor with the previous coaches, will also get new leases on life. Names that belong in this group include defensive ends Stephen Van Hook and Justin Green, plus cornerback Tank Kelly.
Make Bulldog Stadium hostile again
Remember when Bulldog Stadium used to be real home-field advantage? Sure hasn’t been that way the last two years as evidenced by Fresno State’s 3-9 combined home record and dwindling attendance.
Even Tedford, who watched the final two home games of 2016 from the stands following his Nov. 10 hiring, was taken aback by the rows upon rows of empty seats.
“It wasn’t how I remembered Bulldog Stadium,” he said.
We have to get the fans back.
A big crowd is guaranteed for the Sept. 2 season opener – Carr’s jersey retirement ceremony assures that. The key will be how both the team and fans turn out for the Sept. 30 MW opener against Nevada following a bye and the back-to-back death marches to Alabama and Washington.
How do we judge success in the first year of this reclamation project? I posed that question to Lorenzo Neal, the former Fresno State great and current Bay Area radio talk-show host.
“Here’s what Tedford is going to do in Year 1: Bring back that attitude and intensity,” Neal said.
“I have total faith and belief in the man, but fans have to be patient and understand the cupboard’s dry. This year, bear with them. They’re going to be competitive. But next year they’re going to win six or seven games and become bowl eligible.
“That’s how quick this thing turns around.”