FRESNO STATE AT
Fresno State travels across country for a Monday afternoon affair
with Rutgers in what figures to be an exciting matchup. While not a
Key Release, one of our staff members likes the game quite a bit.
Here's his pick and analysis.
Fresno State +5 over Rutgers
- Fresno State will have 10 starters on offense that was a
scoring machine accumulating 33 points per game last season. After
rarely looking to throw downfield in ‘06, Tom Brandstater, though
still slightly under wraps, suddenly had more confidence in the
pocket a year ago en route to 2654 YP and 15 TDs, with only 5 picks.
How he responds to new o.c. Doug Nussmeier, a former NFL QB who
arrived at Fresno from the NFL (Rams’ QB coach LY), and is Hill’s
fourth o.c. in as many years, remains to be seen. Don’t forget,
however, that the Bulldogs ran 62% of the time in ‘07 and are likely
to remain ground-oriented, with their top three rushers (including
scintillating soph Ryan Matthews) back in the fold. All of
Brandstater’s top targets return, plus Chastin West, the top ‘06
receiver who missed ‘07 with a knee injury. Hill and Nussmeier
played it cool in the spring, however, not risking injury to several
stars on the mend, including most of the veteran OL. Special teams
ace A.J. Jefferson is also a force to be reckoned with after leading
the nation in kick returns in ‘07.
Assuming Fresno will be plenty potent offensively, how close the
Bulldogs get to their BCS dream likely depends upon a defense that
lost 5 starters and has to replace a couple of heavy-duty playmakers
in LB Marcus Riley (WAC Defensive MVP) and DE Tyler Clutts. WAC
sources say the talent, if not the experience, is there, but the
platoon did allow 5.1 ypc in ‘07 and needs to become more disruptive
after forcing just 13 and 14 TOs, respectively, the last two years.
In Riley’s absence, look for jr. SS Moses Harris to become the stop
unit’s emotional leader.
For Rutgers, The initial plan is to use a “by-committee” approach at
RB without the workhorse Rice, who toted the rock 30 times per game
over the last two seasons while racking up 3806 yards & 44 TDs on
the ground. Scouts say don’t expect anything close to Rice-type
stats from projected new top dog Kordell Young (even if the fleet
junior is able to return at full strength in the fall after
suffering a major knee injury early in last year’s campaign) because
coaches would also like to give some carries to a pair of
highly-regarded sophs—Mason Robinson, who possesses the speed to hit
“home runs,” and Jourdan Brooks, who has been transformed into a
235-lb. thumper after arriving on campus last year at a doughy 255.
Sans Rice, the Scarlet Knights will likely be much more dependent on
their aerial attack in 2008, and the passing game has the potential
to be prolific. Strong-armed QB Mike Teel returns for his senior
season with nearly 30 starts under his belt over the last three
years. He had 14 TDP in the first 7 games of 2007, then struggled
over a 4-game stretch (only 1 TDP & 6 ints.) due to painful thumb
injury before finishing strong (64% for 568 yards with 5 TDP & 1
int. in regular-season finale at Louisville & the International Bowl
win over Ball State). Teel will have at his disposal two of the Big
East’s top WRs in sr. Tiquan Underwood (65 catches for 1100 yards &
7 TDs last year) and rangy 6-4 jr. Kenny Britt, who gained a robust
20 ypc on his 62 receptions in 2007. The OL (only 11 sacks last
season!) is retooling after losing three
senior starters, including all-Big East OTs Jeremy Zuttah & Pedro
Sosa. Mammoth soph Anthony Davis (6-6, 350), one of the most touted
recruits in school history, is being moved from RG out to LT in
order to keep pass rushers away from Teel’s blind side.
Experience in the secondary is a major plus with three starters
returning from a platoon that permitted only 171 ypg passing on 51%
completions. And spring practice scouts were very impressed with
hard-hitting RS frosh LBs Manny Abreu & Antonio Lowery.
FINAL THOUGHT: Continuity is the key for this opener, which
favors Fresno State +5