Advancing into four-down territory with Fresno State football.
Punting is forbidden.
First and 10
One of the more intriguing storylines entering Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener between the Bulldogs and UNLV centers around Charles Williams.
Specifically, why is the freshman tailback from Bullard High carrying the ball for the Rebels rather than for his hometown school?
The simple answer is that UNLV offered Williams a scholarship and Fresno State didn’t. The Bulldogs signed three high school running backs in their 2016 recruiting class: Justin Rice of Central Catholic-Modesto, Deonte Perry of Canoga Park and Saevion Johnson of Pearland, Texas.
By all accounts, Williams wanted to become a Bulldog. Obviously, Fresno State wanted Rice, Perry and Johnson more than they wanted the guy currently averaging 5.1 yards per carry as the Rebels’ backup.
If you want talent, it’s right here, and you missed out on it.
UNLV running back Charles Williams, on signing day in February
I won’t criticize Fresno State for that assessment, nor should anyone. Not one month into their college careers. Check back in a couple of years.
Nor is it fair to wear 20-20 hindsight goggles regarding health. Yes, the Bulldogs sure could use Williams right now. But there was no way for anyone to know that six of their top seven running backs, including all three true freshmen, would suffer moderate to season-ending injuries. (Fellow Bullard alum Dejonte O’Neal became the latest casualty.)
But that doesn’t mean Fresno State didn’t drop the ball, and here’s why: It’s one thing not to offer a local talent such as Williams a scholarship. Quite another to ignore him.
When there’s a kid right down the street, literally 3.5 miles west on Barstow Avenue, who rushes for 2,142 yards and 28 touchdowns during his senior year, it’s imperative to show him some love.
Get to know the young man and his family. Invite him for a visit, official or not. Tell him that you like his speed (10.63 in the 100 meters at state) and toughness for his size (5-foot-9, 175 pounds). Make the hometown appeal. Even if there’s no scholarship available now, encourage him to walk on, and who knows what’ll happen.
If nothing else, it’s good local PR.
Just because you like a player doesn’t mean you have a scholarship spot for him.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
Instead, the Bulldogs gave Williams the cold shoulder until it was way, way too late in the process.
“If you want talent, it’s right here, and you missed out on it,” Williams told our man B.J. Anteola on signing day in February.
Second and 6
Body-bag games, in college football parlance, are when big schools pay smaller schools a sizable chunk of money to come to their stadium and get creamed by six touchdowns.
The term didn’t used to apply to Fresno State, because no matter where the Bulldogs went, there was always some expectation (or at least more than a sliver of a chance) what ensued would bear some resemblance to actual competition.
Those days are gone, possibly forever.
Now it’s all about the money. It’s all about getting paid.
Tuesday’s reveal that Fresno State will play UCLA in the Rose Bowl in 2024 – for a $1.2 million guarantee – is another step down that path.
The Bulldogs’ last six outings against Power Five conference opponents have not gone well, to put it mildly. They’re 0-6, with an average losing margin of 35.5 points.
35.5 Bulldogs’ average losing margin in their last six games against Power Five conference teams
In 2017, and in three of the following four seasons, Fresno State has two such games each year. Next season, the Bulldogs play at Alabama and Washington (gulp). In 2018, they’re at Minnesota and UCLA. In 2020, at Colorado and Texas A&M. In 2021, at Oregon and UCLA.
So what if the football team gets whooped twice a year? At least there’s money for all the nonrevenue programs.
By offering 21 sports (starting in 2017-18) on a $33 million athletic budget, Fresno State is trying to do more with less than any other school in the Mountain West.
A double helping of body-bag games is the price of that business model.
Third and 3
Fresno State and UNLV have been playing football against each other since 1979. Never has the series (I wouldn’t exactly call it a rivalry) been more competitive.
Each of the past two meetings between these MW West Division teams was decided by three points, and neither could be described as run-of-the-mill.
Fresno State prevailed 31-28 last season, snapping a five-game skid, with assistance from a surprise storm that pelted Bulldog Stadium with heavy rain late in the fourth quarter and helped douse a late Rebels drive.
The year before, UNLV rode a never-ending string of broken plays to an improbable 30-27 overtime victory after the Bulldogs fought back from a 17-0 halftime deficit.
Last year it was heartbreak for them, and the year before it was heartbreak for us.
Bulldogs linebacker Jeff Camilli on recent games against UNLV
“Last year it was heartbreak for them,” Fresno State linebacker Jeff Camilli said, “and the year before it was heartbreak for us.”
Until 2014, the Bulldogs had won 10 straight against UNLV, a streak that began the season after the 1984 senior year of one Randall Cunningham.
Fresno State and UNLV played 15 times between 1979 and 1997, then took a 16-year hiatus. Since the Bulldogs joined the Mountain West, two of the three games have been at home. Which is why you have to go all the way back to 1996, Jim Sweeney’s final season, to unearth Fresno State’s last victory at Sam Boyd Stadium. And that includes losses in the 1999 and 2013 Las Vegas Bowls.
Fourth and inches
There’s no such thing as an easy game for the Bulldogs. Let’s make that perfectly clear.
Still, this has to be considered the easiest one for a while. If Fresno State can’t beat UNLV, it’ll be fair to question when the next win is coming. Or if.
Mountain West opener
FRESNO STATE AT UNLV
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium (35,500)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-3, Rebels 1-3
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Fresno State leads 13-5, including 31-28 last season at Bulldog Stadium