Special thanks to The Bulldog Bounce for answering our questions. My Rutgers Q&A should be running there soon. Remember, we'll be doing another one of these soon with Tar Heel Fan, and hopefully more will be on the way during BE season. Rutgers fans will be sure to note the myriad of similarities between the two programs. Fresno State is a quality team with great fans, so be sure to root for them the rest of the season.
Q: Fresno State has had many good teams during the past few seasons. How does the '08 squad stack up?
A: The '08 squad is a little bit different. Every year it seems like the 'Dogs are loaded with star talent and NFL prospects. That was until last season, when it seemed to shift to more of a team and togetherness theme. The 'Dogs have always been known for playing as a team, but last year didn't have as many big-name players as in past years to rely on (Marcus McCauley, Richard Marshall, James Sanders, Logan Mankins, Dwayne Wright, Paul Pinegar, Paul Williams, Alan Harper, David Carr, Bernard Berrian, etc.). Those pro prospects are here, the difference is most of them are underclassmen now besides QB Tom Brandstater and TE Bear Pascoe. Coming off a 9-4 year with a plethora of starters back, this could be the most high-powered offense in school history. The 2001 team behind David Carr was basically unstoppable, but didn't have anywhere remotely near the running game this year's team has. And, it didn't have anyone like Pascoe. Defensively though, this team is much less proven and star-studded than the 'Dogs teams of 2001 and 2005, which I would consider two of the best ever.
Q: What are some of the strengths of the Bulldogs this year? Weaknesses?
A: Everywhere on offense is a strength. The QB is just about to hit his prime, the running game strikes fear with three tailbacks who are all likely to surpass 100 yards on a given night if they get enough carries. Sophomore Ryan Mathews is one of the most talented backs in the nation (14 TDs as true freshman reserve last year). And the receivers are scary deep with a guy for every situation. Throw Bear Pascoe, one of the top three TEs in the nation, in the mix and who does a defense focus on? Plus, they have to worry about an offensive line that is as loaded as usual in Pat Hill's 12 years with five guys who are legitimate All-WAC contenders. Plus, the nation's top kick returner is back in junior A.J. Jefferson.
The weakness is experience at linebacker, and consistency punting. The Bulldogs can't afford to have anyone unhealthy at linebacker. If the young guys on defense step up and turn into standouts, then the 'Dogs will have a real legitimate shot to win the WAC and make that run at a BCS bowl, or the national championship game. But this team has a history of getting up for big games and having a let down against a middle-of-the-road WAC team. That cannot be allowed this season.
Q: Which Fresno State players should Rutgers fans be familiar with?
A: QB Tom Brandstater, RB Ryan Mathews, RB Lonyae Miller, RB Anthony Harding, WR Marlon Moore, WR Chastin West, WR Seyi Ajirotutu, WR Jason Crawley, TE Bear Pascoe, LT Bobby Lepori, LG Cole Popovich, RT Andrew Jackson, DT Jon Monga, DE Ikenna Ike, LB Ben Jacobs, S Moses Harris, S Marvin Haynes, CB/KR A.J. Jefferson, CB Damion Owens, CB Sharrod Davis
Q: What are your impressions of Rutgers football, and its team this year?
A: The Red Wave is fired up to play Rutgers. Any time the 'Dogs can get a BCS-conference team to agree to a game it dominates the air waves. Fans know Rutgers has become a tough, tough team over the past few years, and there's been a lot of talk to how similar Greg Schiano's path is to what we saw from Pat Hill when he first started in 1997. We remember back then when Hill said he was going to build it the right way and bring in almost strictly high school recruits to build a program that would last instead of having ups and downs. Both teams often play without the prototypical sized guys on D-line and switch safeties to linebackers and whatnot. Both have about the same size stadium. Lots of similarities there.
Q: Do Fresno State fans support Pat Hill's "any time, any where" scheduling philosophy? How did you react when you learned that Kansas State would be replaced on the 2008 schedule by Rutgers?
A: The overwhelming majority of Red Wavers LOVE Hill's scheduling philosophy. That's what makes him such a perfect coach for Fresno State -- he shares the fans' same vision and chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. From Day 1 Hill came in pitching an us-against-the-world, why not us? mantra and it is perfect for Fresno, which is directly between San Francisco (3 hours north) and Los Angeles (3 1/2 hours south). Greater Fresno, with over 1 million people, has always been the target of potshots and punchlines from SF and LA and the people here let loose any time there's a chance to prove themselves on a national stage. With so many large cities in California, Fresno is often overlooked and the people here are starving to show the nation what we're so proud of. Funny thing is, Stanford has refused to play Fresno State since the 1920s, Cal has played the 'Dogs just twice (both Fresno State wins), USC just twice (1-1) and UCLA 7 times (but never in Fresno). Hill calls and tries to schedule them all the time, but often gets not even a call back to say no. Hill once said he didn't care what it took, he'd take the 'Dogs on a bus to play any of them in an empty parking lot at midnight with no one watching if that's what it took. Oregon State is now tough to get to come back to Bulldog Stadium, saying the visiting locker room was too small, so Hill offered to give them the home locker room and said the 'Dogs would dress in a tent in the parking lot...exactly what I mean about the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality Red Wavers love.
As for K-State, they joined Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas as other Big XII teams who have backed out of games in recent years. K-State though was surprising because it was at their place. Still, after two blowout wins over K-State, fans feel Rutgers will be a much tougher matchup.
Q: What's your prediction for the game?
A: It's going to be one heck of an opener. Fans know it'll be a tall task to slow down Mike Teel, Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, but are also very confident Fresno State's offense is going to be dizzying and non-stop this year. This is the farthest east Fresno State has ever traveled for a game (previous was Tennessee in '03 I believe). But these guys have played in some of the most daunting atmospheres in college football in recent years (Oregon, LSU, Washington, Texas A&M) and should be well prepared. Should be a hard fought game.
Thanks again to The Bulldog Bounce. Here's to a great matchup a week from now.