DraftKings has Fresno St.’s season win total listed at 8.5 (‘over’ -125, ‘under’ +105).
The Bulldogs return eight starters on offense and seven on defense from a 2021 squad that finished 10-3 straight up and 8-5 against the spread. They bring back 40 lettermen, lost 20 lettermen and have added nine players from the transfer portal, including seven from Power Five programs.
Most important, star quarterback Jake Haener decided to return to Fresno after initially following former head coach Kalen DeBoer to Washington. However, once former HC Jeff Tedford was brought back just two seasons after leaving due to medical issues, Haener elected to come back to the Bulldogs.
Haener, who is a preseason fourth-team All-American in Phil Steele’s magazine, completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 4,096 yards last year. He had a 33/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio and three rushing TDs.
After starting his career at Washington by redshirting in 2018, Haener transferred and sat out the 2019 campaign. In two seasons for the Bulldogs, he has 6,117 passing yards with a 47/14 TD-INT ratio and six rushing scores.
Haener is stoked to have his two favorite targets and three of his top four back in the mix. Wide receiver Jalen Cropper, who was a second-team All-Mountain-West selection in 2021, hauled in 85 receptions for 899 yards and 11 TDs. He also produced 76 rushing yards and two TDs on 19 attempts.
Junior WR Josh Kelly had 52 catches for 778 yards and three TDs. Kelly is a preseason second-team All-MWC pick in Steele’s magazine, while Cropper is a preseason first-team All-MWC selection.
WR Zane Pope will also contribute after snagging 25 balls for 471 yards (18.8 yards per catch!) and four TDs last year, while senior WR Erik Brooks had 17 catches for 184 yards and two TDs. Pope and Brooks will vie for playing time with California transfer Nikko Remigio, a solid get out of the portal who has started 16 of 33 career games and has 903 career receiving yards.
He had 38 catches for 513 yards and three TDs as a sophomore for the Golden Bears in 2019. After the pandemic-shortened 2020 year for Pac-12 schools, Remigio caught 38 balls for 238 yards and two TDs last season. He’ll also handle return duties for the Bulldogs. Remigio averaged 29.1 yards per kick return and had one TD in 2021. He has 45 career punt returns for 344 yards (7.6 YPR).
Tight end Raymond Pauwels, who is a preseason fourth-team All-MWC pick by Steele, had 17 receptions for 126 yards and two TDs in 2021.
Haener will work behind an offensive line that brings back three starters. OT Dantae Bull is a preseason first-team All-MWC selection, center Bula Schmidt is a second-team pick and OG Mose Vavao is a third-team selection in Steele’s magazine.
Tedford is hoping that offensive guard Jacob Isaia, who played 14 games for Michigan St. in 2020 and ’21, will win a starting role after transferring in from East Lansing. Steele’s MWC Unit Rankings have Fresno St.’s o-line ranked second, but this group is only ranked No. 63 in Steele’s National Unit Rankings.
But Fresno St. is No. 13 at the QB position and seventh at WR nationally, according to Steele. Both of those position groups are tops in the MWC.
Senior running back Jordan Mims is ready to take on a bigger load in 2022. Athlon’s magazine has him as a preseason first-team All-MWC selection as an all-purpose player. Steele has him as a preseason second-team All-MWC running back.
While splitting carries with RB Ronnie Rivers, who is out of eligibility now, Mims produced 710 rushing yards and six TDs with a 5.6 YPC average last season. He added 25 catches for 324 yards and four TDs. Mims also averaged 21.9 yards on 13 kick returns.
Fresno St.’s defense was vastly improved last year, going from giving up 30.1 and 30.0 points per game in 2019 and ’20, respectively, to allowing just 20.5 PPG. This unit’s top four tacklers are back.
Safety Evan Williams was a first-team All-MWC selection last season when he led the Bulldogs in tackles (92), interceptions (three) and passes broken up (six). He also had 4.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. In three seasons at Fresno St., Williams has produced 157 tackles, five TFL’s, four interceptions, 10 PBU, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Senior DE David Perales garnered second-team All-MWC honors last year. He totaled 45 tackles, 13.5 TFL’s, a team-best seven sacks, three forced fumbles and three QB hurries. In the last two seasons, Perales has 22 TFL’s, 11.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
The Fresno St. secondary is ranked No. 26 nationally by Steele, who has the linebackers at No. 55. In Steele’s MWC Unit Rankings, the Bulldogs are fifth on the defensive line, third at the LB position, No. 1 in the secondary and No. 8 on special teams.
Although DeBoer parlayed last year’s 10-win season into a Power-Five job at Washington, it isn’t as if Fresno St. is going through a radical regime change. Remember, Tedford went 10-4 SU and 10-2-2 ATS here in 2017. That was one year after the Bulldogs limped to a 1-11 SU mark.
Then in 2018 under Tedford, Fresno St. won the MWC Championship Game (at Boise St. in overtime!) and finished 12-2 SU and 10-4 ATS. After a disappointing 4-8 SU finish in 2019, Tedford resigned due to medical issues.
Nevertheless, many of these players were recruited by Tedford. He also retained three assistants from DeBoer’s staff. Furthermore, four other assistants hired by Tedford are either former players or former coaches at Fresno St.
Therefore, I don’t believe bettors should think of this coaching change as a negative.
Now let’s look at the schedule. The non-conference slate consists of two home games (vs. Cal Poly and vs. Oregon St.) and a pair of road assignments (at USC in Week 3 and at UConn on Oct. 1 after an open date). I have Fresno St. going 3-1 in this stretch, losing at USC.
But winning a road game against a Pac-12 power isn’t completely unreasonable. Remember, Haener rallied the Bulldogs to a 40-37 win at UCLA last year. In Fresno St.’s last trip to The Coliseum in the 2019 season opener, the Trojans prevailed 31-23 but Tedford’s team took the cash as a 13.5-point road underdog.
Fresno St. will win easily at UConn, but the cross-country trip sets up for a difficult spot the following week on the smurf turf in Boise. I have the Bulldogs losing on the blue carpet on Oct. 8 to fall to 3-2.
I think Fresno St. will be favored in its next seven games, though. The Bulldogs get San Jose St., San Diego St., Hawaii and Wyoming at home. They have easy road games at New Mexico and at UNLV. Although a trip to Reno is usually tricky, let’s remember that Nevada returns only six starters, lost its coaching staff to rival Colorado St. and no longer has star QB Carson Strong.
I’ve got Fresno St. going 10-2. Unless Haener gets injured (and that’s obviously THE concern with any season win total you play ‘over’ like I did with Boston College and got crushed by Phil Jurkovec’s injury last year), I’m extremely confident in nine of those wins. If there’s one game that wouldn’t surprise me if it went against us, it would be the Sept. 10 clash vs. Oregon St.
But even if the Beavers win that one, we’ll still be good with nine wins. Therefore, I’m recommending a three-unit play on Fresno St. to go ‘over’ 8.5 wins (at a -125 price at DraftKings).
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–Remember, season win totals involve regular-season games only. Conference championship games and bowl games do not count. Also, if a team has a game cancelled due to weather or whatever sort of reason, the wager becomes a no-play or a push.
–In two of Fresno St.’s three defeats last year, it lost by 10 combined points due to an abysmal -7 turnover margin. The Bulldogs had 30 more yards than the Ducks in a 31-24 Week 2 loss at Oregon, but they were -2 in turnover margin with first-half fumbles costing them immensely. Fresno St. also lost 27-24 at Hawaii in a game when it was -5 in turnover margin and +157 in total yards.
–With its nine gets from out of the portal, 247Sports has Fresno St. ranked 34th nationally in its specific rankings for transfers.
–Last year’s Bulldogs were +1,531 in net yardage against their 13 opponents. They were +2 in turnover margin.
–I doubt Fresno St. will be a home underdog this year (unless it loses outright to Cal Poly in the opener and Oregon St. blasts Boise St. in its lid-lifter in Corvallis — the Beavers come to Bulldog Stadium in Week 2). Nevertheless, we’ll note that the Bulldogs own a 7-0-1 spread record in their last eight games as home ‘dogs dating back to the 2015 regular-season finale.
–During Tedford’s previous three-year tenure from 2017-19, Fresno St. compiled a stellar 7-1 ATS mark in eight games as a road underdog. The Bulldogs went 5-2-2 ATS as road ‘chalk.’
–Rivers finished his career with 3,417 rushing yards to rank third in school history behind his father, Ron Rivers, and the school’s all-time leading rusher, Robbie Rouse, who had 4,647 yards from 2009-12.