The start of the 2014 College Football season is just days away. As many of the countries top schools prepare to battle it out on the gridiron, fans wonder what surprises this season has in store for their respective teams. The situation is no different in the Central Valley as the Fresno State Bulldogs face some tough tests early on.
It looks as though Fresno State will have two quarterbacks taking snaps to start the season on Saturday against the USC Trojans. The Bulldogs have had a very competitive battle waging between junior Brian Burrell and graduate transfer Brandon Connette. Either has separated himself as the starter, so it appears as if Bulldogs’ head Coach Tim DeRuyter will have packages installed for both signal callers to start the 2014 campaign.
The Bulldogs’ starting running back has not been determined as the depth chart reads Josh Quezada or Marteze Waller at the position. At wide receiver, senior Josh Harper, Junior Aaron Peck, sophomore Da’Mari Scott as well as senior tight end Riley Barnes round out the skill positions.
On the defensive side, Fresno State will feature defensive lineman Tyler Davison and Todd Hunt with Karl Mickelsen, Ejiro Ederaine, Kyrie Wison and Donavon Lewis at the linebacker spots. The Bulldogs’ defensive secondary is anchored by senior preseason All-American free safety Deron Smith and junior Charles Washington who will play either strong Safety or cornerback.
Here is a look at the first three opponents that Fresno State will face in 2014.
AUG 30: FRESNO STATE @ USC 15
Fresno State takes on a nationally ranked team right out of the gate, as they face the 15th ranked USC Trojans Saturday at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Junior quarterback Cody Kesler will lead USC into this game. Kessler completed 59 percent of his passes through the first eight games of last season, throwing nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He rebounded strongly over the last six games, completing 70 percent of his passes with a 11:2 touchdown to interception ratio.
The two questions for USC on offense, are how did they replace running back, Silas Redd and wide receiver Marqise Lee? Both have departed for the NFL. Last season’s team MVP, Javorius Allen and Tre Madden who is a game-time decision against the Bulldogs (toe) will both get touches for the Trojans at running back this season. Allen will most likely be the work-horse as he burst on to the scene last year with 785 yards rushing on 135 carries and 14 touchdowns while starting in just four games after injuries hit the Trojans hard at the running back position.
Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers will help fill the void left at the wide receiver position.
The Trojans are returning key defensive players such as 2013 All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams, defensive back Josh Shaw (captain) and linebacker Hayes Pullard. The defense has depth issues though, as outside linebacker Jabari Ruffin and defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow suffered season-ending injuries.
Last Meeting: The 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on December 31, 2013, USC won 45-20
SEPT 6: FRESNO STATE @ UTAH
Fresno State faces the University of Utah on the road. This is the first time the two teams will meet since the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl.
One of the biggest problems for Utah last year was that the offensive line failed to protect quarterback Travis Wilson, giving up 23 sacks. Utah returns the same offensive line from last year. Left Guard Jeremiah Poutasi is returning who has started 22 games, but after him the experience at right guard, center and both tackle positions starts to drop off a bit. Senior right guard Junior Salt, junior center Siaosi Aiono, and sophomore right tackle Issac Asiata have started twelve, nine and three games respectively.
On defense, Utah returns four of its starters, senior Jacoby Hale and juniors Jared Norris, Jason Whittingham and Gionni Paul. The same can be said for Utah’s secondary, as Utah has Free Safety, Eric Rowe, Strong Safety Brian Blechen and Cornerback Davion Oriphey all returning.
The inexperience on the offensive line could be something Fresno State could take advantage of. Look for the Bulldogs’ defense to test it early and often.
Last Meeting: The Las Vegas Bowl on December 12, 1999, Utah won 17-16
SEPT 13: Nebraska 22 @ Fresno State
Fresno State finally returns home to host the 22nd ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. will start at quarterback after starting eight games in 2013 due to four-year starter Taylor Martinez going down with an injury. The Cornhuskers offensive line is inexperienced. The longest tenured offensive lineman for Nebraska is left guard Jake Cotton who has started only 11 games. He is followed by right guard Mike Moudy, center, Mark Pelini, and left tackle, Matt Finnin, who have started three, two, and zero games.
The inexperience at the offensive line positions and with Armstrong Jr. still a bit green, this could be something that Fresno State could take advantage of in this game.
Last Meeting: September 10, 2011 in Lincoln Nebraska, Cornhuskers won 42-29
Fresno State will try to get off to a strong start as they face two teams ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll within the first three weeks. After the Bulldogs navigate these first three games of their schedule, the team and fans alike will have a better idea of what lies ahead for Fresno state in 2014.