2011 Record: (4-9, 3-4 in WAC)
Head Coach: Tim DeRuyter (first time head coach, 2010-2011 Texas A&M DC )
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Humanitarian Bowl: lost to NIU 40-17
Big Name Opponents: 9/8 at Oregon, 9/15 vs Colorado, 10/13 at Boise State
Must Win: 9/1 vs Weber State, 10/27 at New Mexico
Stat to Cheer: the only FBS team to return a 3000 yard passer and 1500 yard rusher
Stat to Fear: gained just 9 turnovers in 2011 (last in WAC and last in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Travis Brown (85 tackles, 3 sacks), LB Tristan Okplalugo (31 tackles, 4 sacks), S Phillip Thomas (2010 stats- 64 tackles, 3 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Derek Carr (26 TD, 9 INT), RB Robbie Rouse (1544 yds, 13 TD), WR Josh Harper (32 rec, 4 TD), WR Rashad Evans (44 rec, 3 TD), OT Austin Wentworth
Inside Scoop with Todd Kaufmann:
CFBZ: Tim DeRuyter takes over for Pat Hill. What have you been hearing about DeRuyter so far?
Todd Kaufmann: When Coach DeRuyter first took the podium after being introduced as the new head coach at Fresno State, I think a lot of people wondered what kind of guy he was going to be. Was he going to say the right things? Was he going to continue what Pat Hill had started many years ago by trying to keep the central valley involved in this team? What kind of recruiter was he going to be?
I think the answer to those questions won't be answered until this team steps on the field to kick off the 2012 season. Are there a lot of expectations for him? Absolutely.
But, Jon-Bryant Anteola said it right in this piece for the Fresno Bee at the end of April, this program is going to go through growing pains but you have to remember he's not the only first year head coach going through the same thing.
The difference at this point is the fact Coach DeRuyter, with the program leaving the WAC and becoming a member of the Mountain West, was willing to change. It seemed Pat Hill was not and that became the straw that broke the camel's back.
As far as what I've heard about him, it's been nothing but good things. I talked someone from Texas A&M just a few weeks after DeRuyter had been hired and they had nothing but great things to say about him. People in Fresno are elated to have him and they can finally see a glimmer of hope in this program becoming something it hasn't been in a long time.
CFBZ: Phil Steele is predicting the Bulldogs to finish third in the MWC this season. What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic about Fresno State this season?
Todd Kaufmann: When you talk about optimism and Fresno State in the same sentence I think it begins and ends with the guy under center. A young man who is the younger brother of a former Fresno State star, David Carr, and who has big shoes to fill.
I think Derek Carr showed a lot of poise last season in his first year as a starter. I don't think you can expect him to go out and be his brother in year one but I think with his grasp of the offense and his talents and abilities, he's going to be a huge part of this team's success in 2012.
The other reason is a guy who plays just behind Carr, running back Robbie Rouse who's known in Fresno as "Mighty Mouse." Rouse rushed for just over 1,500 yards last season and averaged almost 120 yards per game. He puts up those kind of numbers again this season and you might find that defenses will have a hard time shutting both Carr and Rouse down.
CFBZ: Fresno State really struggled defensively last year as they gave up 435 yards per game and 35 points per game. Who needs to step up on the defensive side of the football for the Bulldogs?
Todd Kaufmann: I don't know that I can put my finger on one specific person that needs to play at a certain level to fix what happened last season. Coach DeRuyter is putting in a new system and that could very well be a huge difference maker in this program.
If you want a few guys to watch you have to start with linebacker Travis Brown. This guy is the defensive leader on this team and a guy who is always somewhere near the ball. If anyone has to step up and be an example for the rest of the guys on defense, I think Brown is the guy.
Where Fresno State needs to improve in a big way is on their defensive line. They've been giving up far too many yards on the ground. If they want to become a powerhouse team again in their conference they need to be able to strengthen themselves up front. That's going to be a huge key for this program in 2012.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Todd Kaufmann: That's a tough call. I think the toughest part of their schedule will come on the road with teams like Oregon, Boise State, and Nevada. Hawaii and New Mexico State are going through coaching changes as well so you can probably expect some growing pains there especially with Hawaii, and new head coach Norm Chow, going away from a system they've had in place since 1999.
I would love to see this team finish at 8-4 this season. That might be a tad optimistic for this team but with a new head coach, a new system, a lot of talent on offense, I think they can do that.
According to Phil Steele, the Bulldogs are the most experienced team in the Mountain West (42nd in FBS) just head of Wyoming. In this preview, we've already mentioned Robbie Rouse and Derek Carr and they are definitely two of the reasons to be optimistic about Fresno State in 2012. Despite losing their top two receivers (one of them is transferring to Oklahoma), they also return a lot of experience at the WR position. Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm (former OC at Utah) will be running a spread offense, which will be a change, so it will be interesting to see how that affects the offense and if it will be an immediate benefit or if it will take time to get going.
Fresno will also be transitioning to the 3-4 defense. Generally speaking, it's year two that you see the big leap from the switch to the 3-4 so I will be intrigued to keep an eye on how quickly the Bulldogs can make that leap. Regardless, the defense should be better than the 2011 version. It would be hard not to as they gave up more yards than anybody in the WAC (with the exception of Idaho and New Mexico State).
The big question is, can Fresno State score enough points to win football games? Last year they averaged 28.5 points per game but that wasn't enough. With more experience and veteran leadership on offense if they can take the next step with that offense, it will allow the defense room to grow, learn and adjust to their new system. It's hard to find a mid-major team that has the weapons that Fresno State has on offense. They won't win all of them, but they will be a factor in the Mountain West. After Boise State, there is a group of about five teams that will try to take second place. Fresno State is in that group and should contend.
2012 Prediction: 7-5
Previous 2012 Previews: