Fresno State’s 2018 football season was not all that surprising. After all, the Bulldogs had a veteran football team led by quarterback Marcus McMaryion and wideout KeeSean Johnson on offense, by linebackers Jeff Allison and George Helmuth on defense.
They were a popular pick to win the Mountain West Conference and they did, going 12-2 with a victory over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
But how they got there, that was a bit surprising. Over the summer, there was some bickering, some fighting. The Bulldogs, as a unit, weren’t quite clicking.
But, safety Juju Hughes said Tuesday at Mountain West Conference media days, hunger trumps whatever was going on with the Bulldogs before all of those pieces came together in a historic season.
Hunger will be what fuels Fresno State again this year, Hughes said.
“There are a lot of positions that are up for grabs so you see guys competing and executing and preparing at such a high level, better than I’ve seen in my three years here. You see so many people that are hungry to play and excited to show what you can do.”
That, he said, could be just as beneficial to a run at back-to-back championships as the experience the Bulldogs had last season with a senior-dominated football team.
Fresno State, highlighting the expectations on this program if nothing else, was picked to win the West Division title and a spot in the Mountain West championship game in a poll of media that covers the conference. The Bulldogs received 17 of 21 first-place votes with three going to San Diego State and one to Hawaii.
“We have a lot of young, good players ... I like that competition,” Hughes said. “It’s making everyone better really at this point.”
The secondary led by Hughes and cornerback Jaron Bryant is a focal point of that competition, where Wylan Free is expected to move into the safety spot held down last season by Mike Bell and Chris Gaston is expected to start at cornerback in place of Tank Kelly.
Both had strong spring practices, and, Hughes said, have continued to work, to improve.
“We have a lot of guys back, a lot of guys that have been playing in this system,” Hughes said. “They understand the standards that we have set. Even the new guys coming in that have been waiting on this moment to play, they understand our style of football, our standards and how we play defense. Everyone is ready to come in and execute.”