NCAA Football Preview - Fresno State Bulldogs
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From The Sports Network By Gregg Xenakes, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: Never one to back down from a challenge, head coach Pat Hill and his Bulldogs of Fresno State may have bitten off more than they could chew last year with their non-conference schedule. The team started the season on the road against 12th-ranked Tennessee in front of nearly 104,00 fans, registered just 117 yards of total offense and scored a season-low six points in the 18-point setback. That was just one of the low points for the Bulldogs, who also lost to Oklahoma on the road two weeks later by a score of 52-28. Add to that the 55-28 defeat at the hands of Western Athletic Conference foe Hawaii out on the island, and it appeared as though, at 3-4 in mid-October, that the Bulldogs were in for a rough ride. However, Fresno State closed out the season with five wins in six chances, the lone loss being against the top scoring offense in the nation, Boise State (31-17), and even then the Bulldogs held the Broncos to far below their season-scoring average that approached 50 ppg. A narrow victory over UTEP (23-20) in the regular season finale provided FSU with a date against UCLA in the Silicon Valley Football Classic in San Jose, which turned into the team's ninth win in 14 tries. The 17-9 win over the Bruins marked the fifth straight appearance in a bowl game for Fresno State, currently the longest run for any program in the Western Athletic Conference. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: With five starters and eight letterwinners coming back for another turn, Fresno State's offensive line will again be a battle tested group. Leading the way is the lone senior of the group, left tackle Logan Mankins . He missed the 2003 season with a knee injury, but previously had been one of the WAC's premiere linemen. Kyle Young returns at center, where he earned first-team Freshman All-American honors last season. Dartangon Shack, a second-team All-WAC selection in 2003 at left tackle, returns to right guard. All those big bodies are there for one primary purpose, that being protecting the quarterback, who in this case will be junior Paul Pinegar. Last year he missed the first five games with a torn right pectoral muscle, but the former WAC Freshman of the Year bounced back to complete nearly 60 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns. Running back Dwayne Wright (1,038 yards and three touchdowns in 2003) has the inside track for the number one spot on the depth chart, but one cannot count out Bryson Sumlin (509 yards and a team-high nine scores on the ground). Juniors Jermaine Jamison (23 receptions) and Adam Jennings (11 catches) are the most experienced receivers and are proven playmakers over the last two years, but they have big shoes to fill left by Bernard Berrian and Marque Davis, both of whom have moved on to the NFL. DEFENSE: While the Fresno State offense brings back as many as nine starters from a year ago, the defense is in good shape as well with eight coming back to try for a sixth straight bowl appearance. At the top of the list are defensive ends Garrett McIntyre and Brian Morris, a junior and senior, respectively. Morris, who is actually coming back for his sixth season after being granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA because of a medical hardship, led the team and the league in sacks last year with 10. It was the seventh most in school history and enough to earn him second team All- WAC honors after he sat out both the 2001 and 2002 campaigns with injury. McIntyre, named the Defensive MVP for the Silicon Valley Football Classic, was also a second team All-WAC choice for the Bulldogs last year as he tallied 7.5 sacks and had 12.5 TFLs overall. Joining the pair on the front line will be seniors Claude Sanders and Donyell Booker, the former placing third on the unit in sacks in 2003 with four and a half. Strong safety James Sanders led the team in tackles last season with 95 and added a pair of interceptions in being named to the All-WAC first teams. At the cornerback spots are juniors Raymond Washington and Awan Diles, both returning starters who have a lot to prove this year after opponents tagged the Fresno State defense with 22 touchdowns through the air. SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior placekicker Brett Visintainer had more than his share of moments in the sun for the Bulldogs last year and is back for a senior campaign that should be just as compelling. In 2003, Visintainer converted all 35 of his point-after attempts and nailed 21-of-28 field goal tries, leading the team in scoring with 98 points. Punter Mike Lingua, although just a freshman last year, averaged better than 38 yards per kick and didn't have a single one of his 84 punts blocked, with 28 of those landing inside the opponent's 20-yard line. OUTLOOK: Once again, save for a date with little-known Portland State in the middle of September, the Bulldogs are not backing down from their commitment to play anyone, anywhere, anytime. The squad starts off with back-to-back road jaunts against Washington and Kansas State and also has a meeting with Louisiana Tech penciled in for the fourth game of the season in Ruston, which means FSU is on the road for three of its first four contests of 2004. While the squad gets Hawaii at home in November, having to go to Boise State three weeks earlier is not going to be a picnic. Expect a decent year out of the ambitious bunch, one that sees them in the postseason yet again, but not vying for any serious hardware.