Fresno State beat writer Bryant-Jon Anteola of the Fresno Bee has graciously agreed to answer some questions about the Bulldogs to give Cal fans a perspective on Saturday’s opponents:
1. How big a deal is this game for Fresno State fans?
This might be one of the more exciting openers Fresno State has had in recent years. Not only is Fresno State playing Cal, which is only the third time the schools will have met despite their proximity, but it’ll be quarterback Derek Carr’s starting debut, it’s the debut of the Bulldogs’ new uniforms, and it’s a chance for Fresno State fans to tailgate in San Francisco.
Fresno State fans love making in-state road trips to see good football games, specifically meaning they love watching their Bulldogs take on California Pac-12 teams.
About 18,000 showed up to the Rose Bowl when Fresno State beat UCLA in 2008. About 15,000 showed up when Fresno State lost a close one to then-No. 1 USC in 2005 — a game many fans still vividly recall and recite as if Fresno State actually won the game (FresnoState lost 50-42). At least 14,000 will show up for the Cal game.
Plus, there’s a solid Cal alumni base inFresno. So you’ll have those types from Fresno at the game, too.
The only way a opener could be more exciting forFresno State fans is if Cal and Fresno State were both nationally ranked going into the game and maybe if the game was play at Bulldog Stadium. Fans here are stoked for this opener.
2. Why do you think Fresno State has had such success against BCS conference teams?
Since coach Pat Hill has been around, it’s become Fresno State’s motto to play Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime, which means taking on the best and in the most difficult venues. They just love the challenge, even if they’ve come out of the losing end a lot of times. But, Fresno State typically plays these teams tough because… No. 1 …FresnoState looks forward to these types of games; No. 2… the games typically are scheduled early in the season when Fresno State’s best players are healthy so the Bulldogs can throw their best at these BCS opponents… and No. 3 … The Bulldogs like to and play better when they have a chip on their shoulder.
3. What are the strengths of this year’s team?
Fresno State’s running game should be good, as it usually is. But that’ll also depend on the offensive line, which is a huge question mark going into the season. Carr seems like he’s ready to produce big, but he’s never even thrown a touchdown pass in college yet. And again, his success will be dependent on the offensive line. So, the safest bet to say is Fresno State’s strength is their senior kicker Kevin Goessling. From 40 yards and in, he seems money.
4. What are the biggest questions about this year’s team?
Both sides of the line still seem unsettled. There’s only one returning offensive lineman, that being left tackle Bryce Harris. So at least you assume Carr’s blindside will be protected. But the remaining four starting o-lineman have a combined 11 starts in their career.
The defensive line has just as many holes, with defensive tackle Logan Harrell the only proven commodity. But some also think Harrell and his 10.5 sacks from last season was more of a product of departed defensive end Chris Carter, who was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year last season but is now in the NFL.
If both of these groups surprise,Fresno State could have a good season.
5. What do you think of Derek Carr?
Derek has showed all the signs of someone ready to succeed. He likes the challenge of being the face of the program. He seems to know how to lead and make teammates play better around him. And he appears to have many of the skill sets to lead Fresno State to victory with his quick release, knowledge of the offense and ability to read defenses. But… all of this has occurred during practices.
And until he proves something in game situations, Carr remains as much of a question mark as the offensive line.