The Fresno State roster has become considerably lighter as the Bulldogs have made their way through what for them has been a frustrating football season with disappointing results.
The departure of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jacob Hicks is one of eight this season, the moves made for any number of reasons. Players have been dismissed for violations of athletic department policy, some have decided to give up football and one has decided to transfer and left during the season, but it is a troubling trend for a program that has had difficulty retaining players while restoring the depth and balance between classes at just about every position group on the football field.
Inside linebackers Xavier Ulutu and Michael Lazarus, running back Chris Moliga. Hicks as well as Bobby Johnson and Ben Simonds on the offensive line. Wide outs L.J. Reed and Keyan Williams, who is headed to Nebraska where his father, Keith Williams, Fresno State’s former receivers coach, is now on staff.
All of them were in their first two years in the program – freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores – and clearly there have been some missed evaluations during the recruiting process.
“There’s always going to be some attrition, but I think there has been too much,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “If there was a common thing, I think you can change it. But we’ve talked about this as a staff – it’s not just film (of players) that we’re looking for.
“Some things you can’t predict, whether it’s a health issue like some of our players or whether it’s an issue like someone from out of state that wants to move back home and be with his family. But we’re constantly trying to tinker and evaluate and talk to multiple people around this young man to make sure that he’s the right kind of guy to bring into our program, that he’ll stick it out through hard times and help us win championships.”
Fresno State has had an odd year with all of the attrition, as well as losing a number of starters to injury for games or the season, including two quarterbacks in freshman Chason Virgil (broken clavicle) and junior Ford Childress (internal injury). The Bulldogs have had 39 players start at least one game, including 14 who were playing at the FBS level for the first time – and that counts nine freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
A pressing question coming into the season was whether the staff, which has been trying to plug roster holes it inherited for the past four years, had recruited well enough on both sides of the football to get past those depth-chart issues. That answer came very early in the season – the Bulldogs started 1-5, the victory over Abilene Christian, and they are 3-8 going into the final game of the season Saturday against Colorado State.
The three wins are the fewest for the program since a 3-8 season in 1978 under coach Bob Padilla. The Bulldogs have had four four-win seasons since then.
“It is (odd), and then you have some guys that don’t want to toe the line as far as athletic department policy and team policy,” DeRuyter said. “Then when you get injuries, at those positions in particular, then you’re really stuck behind the 8-ball, but the guys that we do have here didn’t shy away. They stood up and fought through it, and I think it will pay dividends down the road. You didn’t always see it this year, but next year when we’re going through our offseason and fall camp, we’ll have a ton more reps than we probably would have had otherwise.”
Et cetera – Senior Marteze Waller is just four yards away from becoming the fifth player in Fresno State history with 3,000 or more yards. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know I was that close,” he said. “I’m happy, but I also want to get a win on Saturday.” Colorado State is allowing 207.4 rushing yards per game and has allowed 100 or more yards to one back in three of its past four games, but that has not always mattered with opposing defenses crowding the line of scrimmage unconcerned about their passing game. Fresno State has rushed for more yards than its opponent is allowing only twice in Mountain West Conference play, against UNLV with 217 yards and Air Force with 134 yards.
▪ Cornerback Anthoula (Tank) Kelly, who is under an indefinite suspension for violating team rules, still is on the team and meeting with defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson a few times every week. “He’s working on being a better Tank,” DeRuyter said.
▪ Colorado State at 6-5 already is bowl eligible for a third year in a row and has a chance to win seven games for three consecutive seasons, something it has not done since 2001, ’02 and ’03.
▪ Fresno State has allowed 58 touchdowns, most in the Mountain West. It isn’t – or shouldn’t be – in danger of allowing the most in the nation. Kansas and SMU are tied for 127th, both allowing 66 touchdowns with one game to go.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. COLORADO STATE
- Saturday: 6 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 3-8, 2-5 Mountain West; Rams 6-5, 4-3
- TV: CBS Sports Network