College football hype season is upon us, and your Fresno State Bulldogs have plenty of tongues wagging.
Despite returning just nine starters from last year’s 12-2 squad, Fresno State is pegged to remain atop the Mountain West heap. Seventeen of 21 media pundits predicted the Bulldogs to win their division and earn a chance to defend their conference championship.
The media is quite often wrong in these matters – as they were in 2017 when no one saw Fresno State’s nine-win improvement coming – but the vote shows the Bulldogs have attained a certain level of respect.
Despite losing their starting quarterback, star receiver and tone-setting middle linebacker, the general feeling is Fresno State won’t suffer much slippage because the program’s foundations are firmly in place. This season might represent a new chapter under third-year coach Jeff Tedford, but the plot points remain unchanged.
“The players’ job is to grind, refine and compete,” Tedford said during MW media days in Henderson, Nev. “The coaches’ job is to teach, critique and demand. That’s what we’re all about, to keep high standards.”
The annals of college football are filled with programs that make a splash, only to see that success quickly evaporate. (Fresno State under Tim DeRuyter was one such example.) Only a handful maintain a level of excellence, or at least very good-ness, over a decade or longer.
A prime example is that MW rival that plays its home games on a blue field. Boise State has played in 17 straight bowl games, the fifth-longest active streak in FBS, while logging 21 consecutive winning seasons under four different head coaches.
By comparison, Fresno State’s longest bowl streak was seven straight from 1999-2005 under Pat Hill. The Bulldogs logged nine consecutive winning seasons under Jim Sweeney from 1985-93.
In many ways, 2019 will be Tedford’s most pivotal year yet. Even though Fresno State has gone 22-6 during his tenure, fan interest has been tepid. Home attendance averaged 31,503 last season, a 2.8 percent increase from 2017 but well off the 36,917 that turned out the last time the Bulldogs won the MW title in 2013.
Unless more fans pass through the turnstiles, there will be little impetus to give aging Bulldog Stadium the modern renovation it needs. While new turf and electrical systems are a start, they don’t bring in the revenues of club seating or new suites. Which is what the athletic department must have to afford the ever-escalating costs of college athletics.
Winning and attendance are inextricably linked, though there’s often a lag time. We should see another bump at the ticket window, especially if the Bulldogs manage to knock off USC in the Aug. 31 season opener at LA Memorial Coliseum.
Despite the personnel losses, I expect Fresno State to win at least nine regular-season games and play for the MW title. Which should set up the program for a long run of success that hopefully results in much-needed facility improvements. Just like the program Bulldogs fans love to hate.