Fresno State might have only nine returning starters on offense and defense, the fewest for a Mountain West Conference champion since the start of divisional play in 2013, but it again was picked to win its division on Tuesday in a preseason media poll.
That could be a nod to the successes the past two seasons for coach Jeff Tedford and the Bulldogs, the only team in FBS history to go from double-digits losses in one season to double-digit victories in the next two. Or, perhaps, it’s just a subtle shot at a West Division that has been well back of the Bulldogs as they advanced to back-to-back conference championship games.
Fresno State is 9-1 against the West the past two years, the loss a 26-16 clunker to UNLV in 2017. It also has a point differential of plus-18.1 in those games, that loss included.
Only one of those wins was decided by fewer than 10 points – the Bulldogs beat San Diego State last season by nine, 23-14.
The Bulldogs, despite returning only 36.5 percent of their offensive production, received 17 of 20 first-place votes from the media panel.
“You have to take it as a compliment.” said safety Juju Hughes, who along with running back Ronnie Rivers is representing the Bulldogs ar Mountain West media days. “It’s a big compliment. It’s respect. You see people respecting the program, seeing the things that we’re doing, seeing the standards that we have set and the way we’re accomplishing things.
“You have to take it as a compliment, but also brush it off to the side. You can’t stand there and soak it up too much. We appreciate it, but you can’t let it change how you do things, can’t let it affect you too much. We still have to work how we work and prepare how we prepare.”
San Diego State was picked to finish second in the West, followed by Nevada, Hawaii, UNLV and San Jose State. The Aztecs received five first-place votes and Hawaii one.
Boise State was picked to win the Mountain Division for a sixth year in a row, receiving 15 first-place votes. The Broncos were followed by Utah State, Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico. Utah State received six first-place votes.
Fresno State this season will have a new quarterback in senior Jorge Reyna after losing Marcus McMaryion and a new corps of receivers after the departure of KeeSean Johnson, Jamire Jordan and Michiah Quick – first, second and fourth in receptions in a highly productive position group.
The Bulldogs also will be without four starters on an offensive line that led the Mountain West in fewest tackles for loss allowed and on defense middle linebacker Jeff Allison and safety Mike Bell, who left school early for a shot at the NFL.
But Fresno State does return three players who were selected to the Mountain West preseason all-conference team in tight end Jared Rice, safety Juju Hughes and linebacker Mykal Walker. Each is on watch lists for two major college football awards this season.
Also in the Bulldogs’ favor: They do not face a tough schedule in or out of conference play.
The Bulldogs play five bowl teams from 2018, but the combined record of their FBS opponents was only 62-76 and only two of their opponents this season were more than two games over .500 on the year. Utah State is coming off an 11-2 season and Nevada was 8-5, and Fresno State gets both at home. Also, FCS Sacramento State was only 2-8.
QB Jordan Love (Utah State), junior
WR John Hightower (Boise State), senior
WR Cedric Byrd II (Hawaii), senior
RB Juwan Washington (San Diego State), senior
RB Toa Taua (Nevada), sophomore
OL Ezra Cleveland (Boise State), junior
OL John Molchon (Boise State), senior
OL Jake Nelson (Nevada), senior
OL Keith Ismael (San Diego State), junior
OL Justin Polu (UNLV), senior
TE Jared Rice (Fresno State), senior
DL Jordan Jackson (Air Force), junior
DL David Moa (Boise State), senior
DL Curtis Weaver (Boise State), junior
DL Tipa Galeai (Utah State), senior
LB Mykal Walker (Fresno State), senior
LB Kyahva Tezino (San Diego State), senior
LB David Woodward (Utah State), junior
DB Jeremy Fejedelem (Air Force), senior
DB Juju Hughes (Fresno State), senior
DB Tariq Thompson (San Diego State), junior
DB D.J. Williams (Utah State), sophomore
P Ryan Stonehouse (Colorado State), junior
K Cooper Rothe (Wyoming), senior
KR Savon Scarver (Utah State), junior
Players of the year
Offense: Jordan Love (Utah State)
Defense: Curtis Weaver (Boise State)
Special teams: Coooper Rothe (Wyoming)