Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fresno State of Affairs: Running Backs

It's never too soon to look ahead to next year -- especially when us Bulldog Bouncers are always thinking years in advance when it comes to Fresno State football. So we'll examine each position, whether fans can expect an improvement or a drop off next year and touch on the up and comers. As always, we encourage your opinions as well.

Key Losses: Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, Anthony Hardng, Jamaal Rashad
Fresno State of Affairs 2010: Large drop off

Not to say there will be a lack of talent in the 2010 Fresno State backfield -- that's almost never the case with the Bulldogs running attack -- but any time a team loses a player of Ryan Mathews, there's going to be a drop off. Mathews declared a year early for the NFL Draft after rushing for a school single-season record 1,808 yards (6.6 per carry) and 19 touchdowns (nation-best 150.7 yards per game). Couple that with the departure of Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding and the Bulldogs lose 6,766 career yards and 70 touchdowns.

The most experienced back attempting to replace that prolific trio will be sophomore Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185), a strong, quick, elusive back who used his lack of height as a leverage advantage on his way to 479 yards and 4 touchdowns as a true freshman (5.8 yards per carry). Though he's by far the most seasoned returnee, some still question whether Rouse can carry the workload, or if he's better suited to be a change-of-pace guy. Rouse will be pushed for starting duties by sophomores Mike Harris (5-11, 200) and A.J. Ellis (5-11, 180).

Harris is likely to give the biggest push, as he fits the featured back mold more than the slimmer, shifty Ellis, who was recruited two years ago with thoughts of replacing Clifton Smith (Buccaneers). Both redshirted their first year in the program, but Harris shined in last year's Spring Game, breaking off the day's biggest run. Harris had 12 carries for 26 yards this season, while Ellis had 2 carries for 7 yards. Both are sure to see a big increase in workload this year. Harris appeared to have jumped past Ellis on the depth chart this past fall, but Ellis will get plenty of chances to prove himself.

If you're looking for excuses to go out to spring practice and fall camp in the coming months, watching the competition between those three will be fascinating. During the fall, look out for two incoming freshmen who have already given verbal commitments to join the Bulldogs next year, in Leslie Rogers (6-1, 180) out of Point Loma Senior High-San Diego (video) and Emery Schexnayder (5-11, 210) of North High-Riverside. Both look to have a high ceiling on high school film, with Rogers displaying a running style similar to Mathews' hit-the-hole-and-go mentality and Schexnayder showing an even more physical style with size similar to Miller's.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Point guard help in the Bulldogs' own back yard?

Longtime Fresno Bee writer Andy Boogaard says in his blog that Clovis East High's Robert Sandoval would start at point guard for Fresno State today. He's that talented, Boogaard writes.

Recruitniks have heard about Clovis East's point man for more than a year, but is he the guy to come in and turn this program in the right direction? And is he really better than sophomore Steven Shepp, a JC transfer from Allegany College in Maryland who as of this past Saturday was the WAC's leader in assists with 5 per game?

In the comments section on Boogaard's blog, he says, yes, Sandoval is better. Actually, he worded it, "To repeat: Sandoval starts for the Bulldogs today." Question is, how familiar is Boogaard with Shepp?

Have you seen both Sandoval and Shepp play? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fresno State of Affairs: Quarterbacks

It's never too soon to look ahead to next year -- especially when us Bulldog Bouncers are always thinking years in advance when it comes to Fresno State football. So we'll examine each position, whether fans can expect an improvement or a drop off next year and touch on the up and comers. As always, we encourage your opinions as well.

Key Losses: None
Fresno State of Affairs 2010: Slightly Improved

Once again this will be the most magnified position at Fresno State in the offseason. But this year it won't be because there's no experienced starter -- it'll be because people are questioning whether the incumbent is a better starting choice than the much ballyhooed youngster? And whoever does get the nod will have more responsibility now that Ryan Mathews is headed to the NFL, and the Bulldogs will be less reliable on the run.

Senior Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) started all 13 games for the Bulldogs in 2009, throwing for 2,459 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing 61% of his passes. The one downside -- and it's a big one -- were his nine interceptions, many of which came at the most inopportune times. Namely, there was the double overtime pick that cost the Bulldogs a win at Wisconsin, the game-opening pick-six against Boise State and the pick near the 5-yard line that ended a go-ahead drive at Cincinnati. As a second-year starter though, it's likely Colburn will improve his decision making and ball security. Taking that into consideration, Colburn still proved to be an upgrade from Tom Brandstater the previous three seasons. Colburn's competitive spirit, leadership and presence among teammates makes him an ideal leader. But the question remains, is there an even better option waiting in the wings?

It's now clear that all the hype about Derek Carr (6-3, 190) during his true freshman season was merited. While Carr got few opportunities to prove himself in game situations (especially late in the year), he displayed more tools and ability than any other quarterback on the roster in fall camp. Carr finished the season having completed 10 of 14 passes (two of which were drops) for a 71% completion percentage and a total of 112 yards in five games. It's unfortunate he didn't get more live game looks, because now Colburn has the decided experience advantage and it would be tough to justify starting over developing a quarterback. Still, Carr can be expected to develop quicker than the average prospect -- he's a special talent. And even if he's not the starter again in 2010, it'll be fascinating to see how coach Pat Hill handles his situation (please Hill, if you're not going to start Carr, redshirt him so he can start the next three years instead of two).

The X-factor of the group remains in sophomore Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210), who has now become somewhat of a mystery regarding his status in the program. The most attentive fans noticed he wasn't on the sidelines for the home finale win over Louisiana Tech or the road finale win at Illinois. Word on local radio shows was that Feathers had some personal matters to take care of, and he said on 1430 ESPN it wasn't a matter of grades. However, Feathers did dress for the New Mexico Bowl, but didn't play. Assuming he's back at the quarterback position next season (we have no reason to believe otherwise right now), Feathers still poses a huge threat as a runner, but needs to prove how bad he wants playing time by putting in the offseason work on his passing skills. Feathers played in seven games in his first season of action, running for 57 yards (5.2 per carry) and a touchdown and passing for 7 yards and a score while completing 2 of 3 attempts.

In the two games Feathers didn't dress, he was replaced on the sideline by walk-on Tyler Stirewalt (6-1, 190), who saw no action. Stirewalt isn't likely to see playing time unless an emergency situation comes up, but did show he can hold his own against the scout team during the Spring Game.

Rounding out the depth chart looks like it will be verbal commitment Marcus McDade (6-3, 195) out of St. Mary's High in Stockton (it won't be official until he signs on National Letter of Intent Day Feb. 3). McDade was rated by one scouting service as the fifth strongest high school arm in the country (see video). It would be ideal for the Bulldogs, and for McDade, if he greyshirted this year, redshirted in 2011 and then had two or three years to potentially start once Carr graduates.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bozo State gets Paul Georged

With the adrenaline of Fresno State's 71-68 come-from-behind, WAC-opening win tonight against Boise State still lingering, I present my keys to a successful Bulldogs men's basketball campaign.

Tonight's game in front of nearly 8,000 fans was a nail-biter pretty much from tip off to final buzzer. And for a while, it looked like the Potato People were going to sneak out of the Save Mart Center with a win (not a common thing for Boise State). But the Bulldogs -- namely Paul George -- were clutch in the final minute as George completed two straight 3-point plays. Fresno State will need the clutch magic, as the parity-stricken WAC is set for a tough, hard-fought, gritty conference season. Here's what it'll take for the 'Dogs to stay in the WAC race:

Paul George: It's no secret George is considered lottery-pick material, but so far in his career the sophomore hasn't proven that he can consistently take over games. Even tonight he started 0 for 6 from the field before finishing 5 of 11 with 21 points. Fresno State needs George to reach a new plateau, where he's leading the team in scoring most every night and taking and hitting the biggest shots. And he had zero turnovers against Boise State, a huge step in the right direction for someone who's been bothered by turnovers all year.

Sylvester Seay: Seay played beautifully in the WAC opener, with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Most importantly, he wasn't forcing shots and playing 1-on-1 in situations that took his teammates out of the mix. Seay's had a tendency to do that in earlier games, and also a tendency to complain and blame others when things go wrong. A better attitude from Seay will only grow this team closer -- and there's no excuse for the team's only senior not providing that leadership.

Greg Smith: The freshman isn't quite a sensation yet, but he will be as soon as he becomes an imposing defender. The ineffectiveness of Boise State's big men are a credit to what a difference-maker Smith is already, but he's not a fear-inducing defender yet. And he certainly has the potential to be.

Mychal Ladd: It's no coincidence that when Ladd scores points, the Bulldogs are tough to beat. Ladd had 18 tonight and was on fire from downtown again. The Bulldogs need at least one of their guards scoring to keep defenses honest against the three bigs inside. Ladd creates one too many worries for opposing defenses.

Steven Shepp: Shepp to My Lou has developed nicely since the first few games of the season when he was plagued by turnovers. He's since turned himself into the WAC's leading assist man, and showed a sweet stroke from well beyond NBA rang on the perimeter. Steve Cleveland says Shepp is the team's best shooter and he needs to capitalize on more opportunities to prove it. If he can develop his penetrating game (both finishing and kicking out to open shooters) it will go a long way in solving the Bulldogs' offense woes.

Bench: There is basically no bench production offensively right now. That's a huge problem, and one that only a few guys are capable of fixing. The most promising change might be giving freshman Garrett Johnson more minutes than sophomore Brandon Sperling. Sperling has been a huge liability with his poor ball-handling and 3-point shooting -- Johnson at least deserves a chance to show if he can be an upgrade. Both get after it on defense, but Johnson is also stronger. Ned Golubovich has been hindered by hand/wrist injuries and won't be effective until he's recovered -- especially since he's still nowhere near the level of aggression he needs to be to turn into a solid rebounder and role player. Right now, he essentially is a role player without a role. "The Governor" Jerry Brown Jr. brings added intensity when he's on the floor, but still doesn't look completely comfortable in the offense. Big man Brandon Webster has seen very little playing time recently, but is making the most of his opportunities with much improved effort and aggression. He could be helpful against teams like Louisiana Tech with bigs the 'Dogs need to keep out of the paint.