Note: For 11 straight days, I’ll post a brief team preview for each school in the Mountain West (except Boise State). I’m going in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the West Division.
FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS
Coach: Tim DeRuyter
Record: 20-6 (two seasons)
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Last year: 11-2 overall, 7-1 MW
Last bowl: 2013 Las Vegas (L, 45-20 to USC)
Returning starters: 5/8/2 (offense/defense/specialists)
Story line: The Bulldogs return eight starters on defense but face the always-difficult task of replacing a star quarterback, Derek Carr. Nevada (Colin Kaepernick) and Boise State (Kellen Moore) have not been the same since their quarterbacks left. DeRuyter will choose between the top spring quarterback, junior Brian Burrell, and Duke transfer Brandon Connette. “I don’t think you replace a Derek Carr,” DeRuyter said. “One guy in the country last year threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and it was Derek. So we’re not going to put that on our new quarterback, but we need to have a quarterback who’s going to make good decisions like Derek did, be able to lead like Derek did, and be able to take care of the football. Both of the (candidates) have the potential to lead us to a championship but, as you mention, history tells you when you have these great quarterbacks it’s tough to immediately replace them. But I do think we have guys with the potential to do it.” DeRuyter has led the Bulldogs to back-to-back conference titles — a share of the Mountain West championship in 2012 and the outright championship in 2013. He made a point of telling his team in January that this is not the same group that won those titles, but that shouldn’t stop them. “I like the way we’ve worked since January,” he said. “We’ve got tremendous leaders like (safety) Derron Smith. Derron has a lot of pride and wants to keep this thing rolling. We have some guys who have that blue-collar, chip-on-their-shoulder attitude that say, ‘Hey, we haven’t arrived. We’re still climbing.’ ”
Star player: Derron Smith, Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 1 senior safety and the preseason Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, enters the season with 14 interceptions. That’s the most in the nation. He grabbed seven of those picks last season but decided to come back for his senior year after seeing his evaluation from the NFL advisory group. “I still have things to work on before I feel like I’m ready,” he said.
Quotable: “We went years without beating Boise and those games were lopsided wins, too. For us to come and be at home and get that victory, it was the monkey off the back. We finally got over that hump. We’re heading up there this year. It’s time for us to get that monkey off our back as well.” — Josh Harper, senior wide receiver
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