Friday, May 23, 2008

How is this year different?

SF Gater again taking the gauntlet as guest on the Fresno State Bulldog Blog. As previously mentioned, those who pay attention to college football are placing the Bulldogs in their top-25s, and the team may be the presumptive favorites to win the conference for the first time since 1999. Nevertheless there are naysayers who point out that the Boise State Broncos have dominated the WAC since joining the conference in 2001, that they have not lost a WAC game at home since joining the conference, that Fresno State has a record for being, in Stewart Mandel’s words, the “Clemson of mid-majors: A big tease.” This raises the question- is this year different? How?

A corollary to the above question might be, how were all those other years different? I propose that this year’s team is a unique entity, one radically unlike those preceding it in several important respects. The first is experience. As much of the team was injured last year, many bench players had an opportunity to get valuable game experience, while many of the starters had played in previous seasons. One of the major separating factors between BCS and mid-major teams has long proven to be depth- often the starters may be comparable, but there is a radical divide in the second string down, where backups at BCS schools would likely start at their mid-major counterparts. Fresno State this year will be in a position unique for a mid-major in that there are skilled bench players such as Adam McDowell, Reynard Camp, and Cornell Banks, who can come in and make a difference after starting games last year.

The biggest difference made is in fortitude and discipline, the ability to shake off a loss. Each of the previous few seasons has an example of a though loss that affected the next game, and the one after, in a negative way. Last year, however, was different. The Texas A&M loss is a key case in point. After going into the half with a big deficit, the Bulldogs rallied and tied the game, taking it into three overtimes before a crushing loss. The next week was never a contest, with the Bulldogs losing by several touchdowns to Oregon. But the team did not let those twin losses get the best of them, and rallied for a four game winning streak against La Tech and Nevada teams that had bested us in similar situations before. The Hawai’i game is another example, when the team dropped a close game to a ranked opponent. The team just went ahead the next week and handed Kansas State a miserable loss. They didn’t lay an egg; instead they took big losses and turned them around into wins.

I think the composition of this bulldog team is different from previous years. The offense will be composed nearly entirely of returning starters, and the bench players behind them largely come into the game with experience. The key might be how to play in adverse circumstances, and the Bulldogs have proven they are able to do so.

Opening the season at Rutgers on September 1st is going to be an intense challenge; it will be important for the team to draw strength from the adversity in an East Coast venue. As the game draws closer, we will discuss the matchup in more detail, but today it can address the question of how this team is different from ones in the past, and most particularly in those qualities that might lead them to excel in the coming season.