Posted on July 15, 2023
With Jeff Tedford back on the sideline in the Valley, Fresno State promptly took home the Mountain West title.
It was the fourth 10-win season for the Bulldogs in the last six years, and they are unbeaten in their last four bowl games including the 29-6 triumph over Washington State in the L.A. Bowl to conclude last season.
I preview Fresno State’s upcoming season below with a look back at last season and an analysis of the offense, defense, and schedule.
2022 in Review
Alook back reveals that a lot of big pieces from the 2022 team are no longer in Fresno State. Jeff Tedford and the Bulldogs will need to reload this season.
On offense the most glaring piece no longer there is QB Jake Haener, who was taken in the Fourth Round of the 2023 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.
Most of his top weapons from 2022 are also gone.
All told, on the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs need to replace their leading passer, leading rusher, top three pass catchers, and starting TE from the 2022 squad.
When Haener went down in the third game of the season, Logan Fife stepped in and was solid, though he struggled with turnovers.
He completed 70% of his passes and threw for 892 yards but threw six picks vs. two TDs—an interception on 8.6% of his passes.
Mickey Keene was in a comparable situation at Central Florida in 2021, stepping in for injured starter Dillon Gabriel at the time and performing brilliantly with 17 TDs to 6 Interceptions in 11 total games that year.
Keene did not win the job back in 2022 and has now come to Fresno and should be the one slinging the ball this season. Keane will give the Bulldogs a good starting point on the new offense.
But, again, just about everyone else is gone from last season. Erik Brooks, the fourth-leading receiver on the 2022 team with 37 receptions is the leading returnee.
Also in the mix should be Jaelen Gill, a Boston College transfer who has had 80 receptions in his three-year career.
Mikel Barkley and Josiah Freeman are JUCO transfers who will add instant depth along with Mac Delena on the outside. Tre Watson should get most of the snaps at TE.
The running back spot will also see a new face get most of the carries as Jordan Mims departs.
The Bulldogs had the same issue last season when Ronnie Rivers departed, and Mims stepped in and ran for almost 1,400 yards and 18 TDs.
This season it will be Malik Sherrod stepping up and into a bigger role after going for 428 yards and a touchdown in 2022. Cal transfer Damien Moore also will be in the mix.
The backfield will still have talent and should be able to produce once again. The production will be there because the offensive line will again be a strength with four of the five starters returning.
Mose Vavao will be the leader of that group. The All-Conference performer will anchor a guard spot. Jacob Spomer moves to center from a tackle spot and could be in the awards mix come the postseason.
The defense could be the straw that stirs the drink for the Bulldogs in 2023.
This unit has a chance to be really solid. Where the offense only returns four starters from a year ago, the defense has all but four returning.
The lone question is the defensive line. David Perales had a third of the Bulldogs sacks in 2022 and he is gone.
The rest of the line is still there, however, with Johnny Hudson clogging the middle and Devo Bridges and Isaiah Johnson on the ends. Hudson is a 300-pound run-stuffer who collected 3.5 TFLs in 2022.
The linebackers will clean everything up in the middle of the field. Lavelle Bailey was the team’s leading tackler last season with 88 stops to go along with 5.5 TFLs and seven pass breakups.
Malachi Langley was a bit of a hybrid last season playing all over the defense, this season he should put up huge numbers as the other linebacker.
Look for USC transfer Tuasivi Nomura to also play a big role in the middle of the field.
The back end of the defense has a lot of talent and will need to force turnovers. The Bulldogs had 12 interceptions in 2022 with five coming from Cam Lockridge.
Lockridge could be the best defensive player in the Mountain West, and we could see his name on some postseason All-American teams. Lockridge will be paired up with Carlton Johnson, a JUCO transfer with a lot of talent.
Dean Clark comes from Kent State and should team up with Steven Comstock and Morice Norris at safety. Norris will also see some time in the NB/LB hybrid spot.
The DBs should be a strength but will need to see the line get pressure in order to be successful.
The defense allowed just 19.5 points per game and 340 yards in 2022 but has a good chance of being even better this season.
2023 Fresno State Football Schedule
Sept 2 at Purdue
Sept 9 vs Eastern Washington
Sept 16 at Arizona State
Sept 23 vs Kent State
Sept 30 vs Nevada
Oct 7 at Wyoming
Oct 14 at Utah State
Oct 28 vs UNLV
Nov 4 vs Boise State
Nov 11 at San Jose State
Nov 18 vs New Mexico
Nov 25 at San Diego State
Fresno State has a pair of Power Five road trips on the non-conference schedule with Purdue and Arizona State. Both of those teams have new coaches and should be near the bottom of their respective conferences.
The Bulldogs have not beaten a Big Ten team since 2010 and are 4-5 against Pac-12 opponents since 2017, but either one of these games could be there for the taking.
In conference play, they will open with Nevada and then travel to Wyoming and Utah State ahead of their bye week. That is a tough back-to-back.
Following the bye week, the Bulldogs host UNLV and then they have a difficult four-game stretch to end the season awaits with Boise State and trips to San Jose State and San Diego State among the final four of the regular season.
How they navigate that stretch could be the difference in getting a chance to defend their title or not.
Even in a rebuilding year, the Bulldogs should be in the MW hunt. The offense has a lot of weapons to get back into place, but they still have a lot of depth on that side of the ball.
A Jeff Tedford-coached team is going to get things working pretty quickly on offense. While the offense was the star of the show last season, it could be the defense in the spotlight this year.
Especially in those early season road tilts while the offense may still be finding themselves.
If things can click on the D-line and they can get to the QB then the Bulldogs could have a chance of running 2022 back.