Jeff Tedford shares thoughts on Bulldogs’ season opener against USC
The Mountain West Conference football champion will make its final trip to the Las Vegas Bowl this year. The date: Saturday, Dec. 21.
Should Fresno State fans start putting some money away for a return trip to Sam Boyd Stadium, where the Bulldogs last season capped a 12-2 season with a 31-20 victory over Arizona State?
If these fearless predictions fall flat, it’s still a Vegas vacation whether or not the Bulldogs are there at the time.
The Trojans are 33-1-1 against Mountain West teams, that one loss to the Bulldogs in the 1992 Freedom Bowl. It’s a significant insignificant stat, but Fresno State on Saturday night really has larger issues than just history.
If the Trojans have reached any level of competency with their Air Raid offense they could put up some points. Fresno State has not allowed an opponent to hit 30 since Washington beat the Bulldogs 48-16 in Seattle in 2017, a span of 25 games.
That would put the Bulldogs in chase mode and there are questions still with the offense starting with a line that due to injury did not have much work together in fall camp.
Prediction: USC 27-24
The Golden Gophers have 97.1% of their offense (measured in yards gained) returning, the highest percentage of any team in the nation.
They did lose quarterback Zack Annexstad to a foot injury just three days into fall camp, but that could be a bad break for the Bulldogs.
Fresno State won’t be getting an untested rookie quarterback as it did a couple of times last season when wrecking so many opponents and allowing just 14.1 points per game, ranking third in the nation.
Redshirt sophomore Tanner Morgan is now the Golden Gophers’ starter and last season he put together better numbers than an injury-plagued Annexstad. Morgan had a higher completion percentage, more yards per attempt, fewer interceptions and just as many touchdown passes and was 4-2 in his starts.
Minnesota opened its season Thursday night with a come-from-behind, 28-21 win over FCS South Dakota State, extending the nation’s longest nonconference winning streak to 16 games.
Fresno State is at home, though, and 11-1 there under Tedford.
Prediction: Bulldogs 24-23
The Bulldogs have not lost to an FCS team since 1984 and even in some down years they managed to drill lower-division teams.
In 2016 they beat the Hornets 31-3 for their one win in a 1-11 season, allowing only 185 yards and seven first downs.
Fresno State has some key players to replace on both sides of the ball, but this is not a down year.
Prediction: Bulldogs 48-7
New Mexico State
This obviously is a game Fresno State should win, even on the road. The Aggies are coming off a 3-9 season and have finished better than .500 just once since 2002.
There are eight returning starters on offense including quarterback Josh Adkins, but there’s just not much there. Adkins had an efficiency rating last season of 117.61, ranking 96th in the nation.
The Aggies also will be playing a fifth week in a row after opening the season at Washington State, at Alabama, against San Diego State and with an in-state rivalry game against New Mexico.
Prediction: Bulldogs 38-10
Fresno State will have a few things going for it in its conference opener.
One, it will be coming off a bye week.
Two, teams coming off a bye or with a little extra prep time before matching up against Air Force and its offense were 3-0 last season.
Three, this game will come down to assignment football and there has been no defense in the Mountain West the past two seasons that has been as well-schooled as the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Bulldogs 28-16
The game prediction might be off, but this one will hit the mark: Charles Williams, the former Bullard High star who didn’t get much recruiting interest from his hometown team, will do some damage against the Bulldogs.
Williams last season rushed for 121 yards on 16 plays against Fresno State and in 2016 racked up 153 yards and one touchdown on 18 plays. In two career games against the Bulldogs he is averaging 8.1 yards per rush.
The Rebels didn’t win either of those games, but they did sneak into Bulldog Stadium in 2017 and pull off a 26-16 upset after Fresno State had started 4-0 in conference play.
Prediction: Bulldogs 34-21
After a 10-win season in 2014, the Rams barely kept their heads above water in three straight 7-6 seasons before going under last season.
Colorado State was 3-9 and returns only 11 starters, eighth in the Mountain West. The posted win total for the Rams in Las Vegas before the season was 3.5.
They don’t figure to get one at Bulldog Stadium – Colorado State won one game away from home last season, beating a San Jose State team that finished 1-11.
Prediction: Bulldogs 31-10
This is the most dangerous and fascinating game for the Bulldogs in conference play.
It’s a tough trip, for starters.
Then there’s the improvement Hawaii is showing. It opened the season last weekend by beating Arizona of the Pac-12 45-38, rolling up 595 yards. It has 18 returning starters including quarterback Cole McDonald. It has a chance to make a move in the Mountain West coming off an 8-6 season.
The Rainbow Warriors just have not figured out how to make much of a dent in the Bulldogs the past two years, losing 50-20 and 31-21.
Fresno State led at halftime last season 37-13 and was up 47-13 after three; in 2017 it was 21-7 at halftime and 31-7 after three.
If coach Nick Rolovich and his staff figure it out, this will be a rough game.
Prediction: Rainbow Warriors 31-28
Love hit 64.0% of his passes last season for 3,567 yards with 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Utah State would be considered more of a threat in the league if not for one thing – Love is one of only two returning starters on offense and nine overall.
The Aggies were 11-2 last season, but with as many starters as they are replacing what are the odds that they have recruited well enough to maintain that level?
The three seasons before making a run at a Mountain Division title they were 6-7, 3-9 and 6-7 and could be due for some regression in the first season under new/returning coach Gary Andersen.
Prediction: Bulldogs 27-21
San Diego State
The Aztecs are making the switch to a spread offense this season, but that could only exacerbate the issues they have had at the quarterback position the past few years.
The goal for the Bulldogs’ defense won’t change any – stop the run and make San Diego State try to win throwing the football.
The Aztecs haven’t finished in the top half of the Mountain West in passing offense in forever, finishing eighth last season, 10th in 2017, ‘16, ‘15 and ‘14, seventh in 2013.
Quarterback Ray Agnew is a graduate of a pass-happy high school in Texas so the potential is there working in a spread offense.
But playing in 12 games last season he completed only 51.6% of his passes for 1,651 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Prediction: Bulldogs 27-17
If coach Jay Norvell is in Reno long enough, the Wolf Pack will develop into the Bulldogs’ main competition in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference.
Norvell was 3-9 in his first season, 8-5 with an Arizona Bowl win last season.
Nevada is starting with a freshman at quarterback in Carson Strong, lost a lot of production and faces a fairly rough schedule, so a bowl bid would keep Norvell and the Pack on track.
It does have a bye before playing at Fresno State on Nov. 23, but it also will be playing on the road for a fourth time in five games, which isn’t easy. The last time the Wolf Pack had a stretch in the schedule like that, in 2013, it went 0-5 to ruin a 3-2 start to the season.
Prediction: Bulldogs 33-24
San Jose State
This will be tough to stomach for Bulldogs’ fans, but the Spartans are miles ahead of Fresno State off the football field.
San Jose State has raised about $30 million toward a privately financed football operations building. The east side of Spartan Stadium will come down after this season and construction on the new facility will start next year.
On the football field, the Bulldogs still are ahead by a wide margin, though after 2013 any season that has a game at San Jose State in November should grab the Bulldogs’ attention. Fresno State, with Derek Carr, Davante Adams and one of its best teams in years, was 10-0 in 2013 before losing to the Spartans 62-52 in a wild shootout.
Prediction: Bulldogs 41-10
Fresno State schedule
Aug. 31: at USC, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Sept. 7: Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Sept. 14: Bye
Sept. 21: Sacramento State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: at New Mexico State, 5 p.m.
Oct. 5: Bye
Oct. 12: at Air Force, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Oct. 18: UNLV, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Oct. 26: Colorado State, TBA, ESPN Networks
Nov. 2: at Hawaii, 9 p.m.
Nov. 9: Utah State, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Nov. 15: at San Diego State, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2
Nov. 23: Nevada, TBA, ESPN Networks
Nov. 30: at San Jose State, TBA, ESPN Networks