NCF Nation: Fresno State Bulldogs

When Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter met with his football team for the first time this year in mid-January, he didn’t have to remind his returning players who wasn’t in the locker room.

The Bulldogs could look around and see that record-setting quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams were no longer there.

“We’re not the Fighting Derek Carrs,” DeRuyter told his team. “We’re the Fresno State Bulldogs.”

[+] EnlargeTim DeRuyter
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesFresno State has to replace Derek Carr and Devante Adams, but coach Tim DeRuyter and the Bulldogs are up for the challenge.
Carr and Adams formed one of college football’s most prolific recent passing duos, helping the Bulldogs go 20-6 over the past two seasons and ending a 13-year title drought by winning back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships. Last season, Carr threw for 5,082 yards with 50 touchdowns, while Adams caught 131 passes for 1,718 yards with 24 touchdowns.

“Derek cast a big shadow,” DeRuyter said. “Davante cast a big shadow. But those guys have moved on. When we got here, nobody knew who Devante Adams was. He was a redshirt freshman who hadn’t played much. We’re excited about what our young guys can do with opportunities.”

Fresno State isn’t the only team from outside the Big Five conferences who will be trying to replace a boatload of star power when spring practice begins later this month. Northern Illinois must replace record-setting quarterback Jordan Lynch, a 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist, and Boise State has to move on without former coach Chris Petersen, who guided the Broncos to a 92-12 record in eight seasons before leaving for Washington in early December.

“The great thing about coaching in college is the kids have short memories,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said.

The Huskies probably won’t forget about Lynch anytime soon. In two seasons as a starter, Lynch led the Huskies to a 24-4 record, including an appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl after the 2012 season. He passed for 6,209 yards with 51 touchdowns and ran for 4,343 yards with 48 touchdowns during his NIU career, the bulk of it during the last two seasons alone.

“We had to go through this when we lost [former quarterback Chandler Harnish],” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “Obviously, it’s a little different this time. There’s a little recall with our older guys that we’ve been through this before. I’ve told our older guys, ‘Jordan didn’t do everything. He only almost did everything.’”

[+] EnlargeRod Carey
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesNIU loses Heisman finalist QB Jordan Lynch, but coach Rod Carey has the bulk of his offensive starters returning.
When the Huskies open spring practice on March 18, three players will battle for the unenviable task of replacing Lynch under center this season. Junior Matt McIntosh and sophomore Drew Hare combined to throw 11 passes as backups last season, and Western Michigan transfer Anthony Maddie will be eligible this fall after sitting out last season under NCAA rules.

“I’ve told them that the quarterback who can throw it the best is going be the guy,” Carey said. “If you can’t throw it, you can’t run it for very long.”

Besides losing Lynch, the Huskies will bring back most of their offensive starters from last season’s team, which started 12-0 before losing to Bowling Green 47-27 in the MAC championship game and Utah State 21-14 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. NIU also will have to replace four starting defensive linemen, as well as star safety Jimmie Ward.

“It will be different than when we broke in Jordan,” Carey said. “We knew we had the quarterback then, but we didn’t know if we had the supporting cast. Now, we know we have the supporting cast, but we have to find the quarterback -- and we have three of them.”

Fresno State’s quarterback competition this spring also figures to be tight. Junior Brian Burrell, who attempted 12 passes as Carr’s backup in 2013, might have a slight edge over two younger competitors heading into spring practice, according to DeRuyter. A transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, Burrell still has two years of eligibility remaining at Fresno State. Redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee, a former Elite 11 prospect from Stockton, Calif., and sophomore Myles Carr (no relation to the former starter) of Arcadia, Calif., also will compete for the job.

“I’m comfortable with what we have, but I also realize that Derek Carr threw for 50 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards last year,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know anybody in the country, let alone on our roster, who is going to be able to do that. I love the guys we have on our roster, and our coaches are excited to find out who is going to be the quarterback this fall.”

[+] EnlargeBryan Harsin
Brian Losness/USA TODAY SportsBryan Harsin, who helped the Broncos win two BCS bowl games as offensive coordinator, returns to Boise State as the head coach and hopes to improve on last year's 8-5 mark.
Spring practice will also look different at Boise State, where Petersen won’t be running the show for the first time since 2006. Former Broncos assistant Bryan Harsin, who had a 7-5 record as Arkansas State’s coach in 2013, was hired to replace his former boss. In Harsin’s five years as Boise State’s offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010, it went 61-5 and won two BCS bowl games.

“A lot of what we do will be new,” Harsin said. “Some of our structure and philosophies have remained the same, but a lot of the language and other things are different. I think it’s going to be change in a good way. I think it’s fresh and a different perspective.”

The Broncos might be looking for a fresh start after slipping to 8-5 last season. The Broncos had won 10 games or more in each of Petersen’s first seven seasons.

“Sometimes you have success in a program, and guys just think it’s going to happen,” Harsin said. “Being a young team, I think the hunger is here. But I think understanding what it takes to be a championship team is more important. I think they’re hungry, but I don’t know if they understand what it takes yet.”

Harsin and other coaches around the country will begin to learn how far their teams have to go during the next several weeks.
The USC Trojans defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 45-20 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

It was over when: Buck Allen crossed the goal line on a 1-yard run with 4:44 left to put USC up 45-20. The Trojans had taken a 35-6 lead at halftime before Fresno State made a brief run to close the gap, but Allen provided the finishing touch with his second touchdown of the day.

Game ball: Cody Kessler. The USC quarterback set a career high, and a Las Vegas Bowl record, with four touchdown passes, and he had those in the first half alone. Kessler ended the day by completing 22 of 31 passes for 344 yards, along with one interception that was returned for a touchdown. Kessler also earned hometown bragging rights with longtime friend and fellow Bakersfield native Derek Carr from Fresno State.

Key stat: Marqise Lee with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers that were routine for Lee in his 2012 Biletnikoff Award-winning year, but a pair of injuries in 2013 curtailed his performance. If that was his final game in a USC uniform, as it is widely expected he will declare for the NFL draft, it was a fitting ending for one of the best playmakers in school history.

Key stat 2: Fresno State came in averaging a nation-leading 409 passing yards per game. USC held the Bulldogs to 217.

Unsung hero: Dion Bailey. The Trojans' slot defender in their nickel package was all over the field posing problems for Carr. He had a pair of key tackles for loss and got in passing lanes to help thwart the short passing game of the Bulldogs.

What it means for Fresno State: It means the Bulldogs won’t reach their goal of a program-record 12 wins but that doesn’t take away from what was accomplished this year. Not only did they tie the record for most wins, but also they captured the first-ever MWC title game and had one of the top passing offenses in the country, led by a likely first-round draft choice in Carr. And, to top it off, they won’t have to wait long to get a shot at revenge, as they face the Trojans in the 2014 season opener.

What it means for USC: The goal for these players and coaches was to reach 10 wins in what was a season of adversity and change. It also was a resounding performance from those who wondered about the sense of motivation for the team, especially after last year’s effort in the Sun Bowl. Clay Helton hands off the Trojans on a good note, and now the Steve Sarkisian era begins.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, click here.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl preview

December, 21, 2013

The Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) features No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) against No. 25 USC (9-4). It’s one of just two pre-New Year’s Day bowls to feature a matchup of two ranked teams.

Who to watch: The Bulldogs feature the top-ranked passing offense in the country (409.8 yards per game) and a quarterback -- Derek Carr -- who is the national leader in passing yards (4,866) and touchdowns (48). Carr’s favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams, leads the FBS in catches (122) and touchdowns (23). The Trojans led the Pac-12 with the fewest passing yards allowed per game (214.5) and will look to pressure Carr with a strong front that is led by outside linebacker Devon Kennard (9 sacks, 13 TFL) and defensive end Leonard Williams (6 sacks, 13.5 TFL).

What to watch: The USC offensive line will play with new starters at center and right guard after injuries to the regular starters against UCLA. That line will look to protect quarterback Cody Kessler and give him time to throw to a pair of dangerous receivers in Marqise Lee -- who is as healthy as he’s been all year -- and Nelson Agholor. Fresno State counters with a defense, led by linebacker Ejiro Ederaine, that tied for the national lead in sacks (3.25 per game), but it can be vulnerable in the secondary -- the Bulldogs rank No. 116 in the FBS by allowing 277.4 passing yards per game.

Why to watch: Both teams have something to prove. Fresno State came close to earning a BCS berth and a shot at an undefeated season before a shocking 62-52 loss to San Jose State in the regular-season finale. The Bulldogs would love to finish with a 12th win -- which would set a school record -- especially one that comes against a big-name opponent such as USC. The Trojans, on the other hand, have fought through a tumultuous season that has them playing under their third head coach. The rallying cry in the weeks leading up to the bowl game was the chance to reach 10 wins, an accomplishment that would mean a lot after all this team has gone through. And, as an aside, this game also will offer something of a preview for next year as these two teams will meet to open the 2014 season.

USC 42, Fresno State 40

Heisman shaft for Pac-12

December, 10, 2013
The hits keep coming for the Pac-12. First, the nation's deepest and most ambitious conference in terms of scheduling gets just one BCS bowl team. Then it doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy finalist, even with two candidates who are superior to the players who were invited.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
AP Photo/Eric DraperArizona RB Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game he has played in this season.
Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's best running back. He is a better running back than Auburn's Tre Mason and Boston College's Andre Williams, who are two of the six Heisman finalists.

What that means is that if you had all the college -- or NFL -- coaches pick a running back, the vast majority would choose Carey first. Why? Again, he's better than Mason and Williams.

And, if this is about pure numbers, Carey's numbers are superior to Mason's, who apparently got invited to New York because he posted an undeniably great performance in the SEC title game against Missouri. If that was the selling measure, then the Auburn offensive line should have been sent to New York.

Then there's Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, whose Heisman case is hampered by the Ducks losing two of their final four games. Of course, that didn't change the fact that he's been better than three of the four QB finalists over the entire season.

None of the four invited QBs -- Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, AJ McCarron of Alabama and Jameis Winston of Florida State -- has a resume without holes.

Lynch played against weak competition. Manziel lost his final two games of the season and played poorly while doing so. McCarron's candidacy was about career achievement, but he lost to his team's arch-rival to end the season, thereby missing out on his much-celebrated drive for a three-peat.

Winston, the overwhelming favorite as the best player on the best team, obviously had his off-field issue. No charges were filed, but the incident was hardly a shining and blameless moment for Winston.

Who's to blame for nobody from the West Coast heading to NYC? Well, we hate to bring out a hackneyed harrumph but it's obvious: East Coast Bias.

Notice anything about the finalists? Yep, none play in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones. To get off the Pac-12 train for a bit, consider that Fresno State QB Derek Carr, who is probably a better NFL prospect than Manziel, McCarron and Lynch, wasn't invited. He only led the nation in passing and threw 10 more TD passes than anyone else.

This bias isn't about some evil and corrupt dislike of all things West Coast. It's about a limited and flawed radar of evaluation. And, you know, going to bed early.

But East Coast voters aren't the only ones who suffer from bias. Here's a guess that when the regional voting patterns are revealed that Mariota's and Carey's support will only be lukewarm out West. That's because many West Coast voters suffer from a form of college football Stockholm Syndrome, where they are unduly influenced by the dominant and oft-repeated East Coast narrative, even if it runs counter to the conclusions of their own eyes and brains.

Before Oregon lost to Stanford, there was no East Coast Bias to fret. Folks loved Mariota and he led every Heisman poll. But when he lost, he plummeted unlike any other candidate who had an off-game. His consideration died completely when the Ducks also lost at Arizona.

It's a case of out of sight, out of mind, a condition that none of the other finalists back East had to deal with as they were re-evaluated despite shortcomings not unlike Mariota's.

When the odd ending to the season forced Heisman voters to revisit their pecking order, they apparently didn't include players outside their time zones. Bad finishes for Manziel, Lynch and McCarron? Neh.

A bad finish for Mariota? Wait… who's that?

For Carey, it was just a matter of everyone knowing he's the nation's best running back but not caring because he played for a 7-5 Arizona team. Are there really voters in the country who would be willing to step up to a microphone and say, "Mason/Williams are better than Carey"? I hope not.

And, despite a tireless effort from the Wildcats sports information department to point out that Carey's 15 consecutive games with over 100 yards hasn't been accomplished IN A DECADE, voters went all lazy because I'd bet at least 50 percent of them never watched him play all season.

Sour grapes? Absolutely. But sour grapes based entirely on facts and sound logic.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

December, 8, 2013

USC Trojans (9-4) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (11-1)

Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET, Las Vegas (ABC)

It's fair to say that probably no team in the nation dealt with more drama than USC this year. How many teams can say they've had four head coaches since August?

[+] EnlargeClay Helton
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOffensive coordinator Clay Helton will step in as head coach for the Trojans in their bowl game.
Lane Kiffin started the season on one of the nation's hottest seats, and that seat melted at Arizona State during a 62-41 defeat that dropped the Trojans to 3-2 on the year and 0-2 in the Pac-12. Kiffin was fired at LAX by athletic director Pat Haden, and Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach. He beat Arizona in his debut, lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, then rolled off five consecutive victories.

At that point, many saw Orgeron as a serious candidate to take over the job full time. But his chances were doused when the Trojans were whipped 35-14 at home against archrival UCLA. When Haden told Orgeron he wouldn't get the job, he promptly resigned, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton will lead the Trojans in their bowl game.

On Dec. 2, news broke that Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant under Pete Carroll, would be the Trojans’ next coach.

This was a far better team after Kiffin's termination, in large part because the offense got better with Helton calling plays instead of Kiffin. A unit that managed just seven points in a home loss to Washington State with Kiffin calling plays averaged 30 points per game during its 6-2 stretch under Orgeron.

The biggest win was a 20-17 takedown of then-No. 4 Stanford. But the Trojans’ biggest strength is defense. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast's unit ranked among the nation's top 25 in scoring, total and rushing defense.


[+] EnlargeDerek Carr
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDerek Carr has 48 TD passes and just seven interceptions in 2013.
Fresno State was just a couple of plays from an undefeated season and a BCS bowl berth, but a 62-52 loss at San Jose State -- the college football season's ultimate offensive barn burner -- ended those hopes. The Bulldogs therefore had to settle for a Mountain West Conference title and a Las Vegas Bowl berth opposite USC.

The story with the Bulldogs was offense, and the leader of that offense was one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Derek Carr, who led the nation with 405.5 yards passing per game, 39 yards more than anyone else. Carr threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.

The Bulldogs still have something to prove in their bowl game because their pillow-soft scheduled was ridiculed most of the year. It featured an overtime win over Rutgers to open the season and victories over Boise State and Utah State that secured the conference crown. In terms of quality foes, that was about it.
1. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, on salaries of the top coaches, as seen from the inside: “Everybody says, ‘Aw, they’re paying him too much.’ Once you start winning, that’s the fun time. They should come and offer you less money, because it’s total hell when you’re doing the rebuilding and the losing. That’s when they’re not paying you enough.”

2. I quit complaining about the polls a long time ago. But what are the Harris Poll voters and the coaches in the USA Today poll watching? They have No. 15 Fresno State four and five spots, respectively, ahead of No. 16 Northern Illinois. The Huskies have beaten two Big Ten teams. Last week, Northern Illinois beat Ball State (9-2), 48-27. Fresno State has played three teams with winning records, which the Bulldogs won by one point in overtime (Rutgers, 52-51), one point (Boise State, 41-40) and in overtime (San Diego State, 35-28).

3. Passing records fall with regularity in the age of the uptempo spread offense. After all, 10 teams are on pace to throw for 4,000 yards this season. So many teams are throwing and so few are pounding the ball on the ground. That’s what makes the season that Boston College tailback Andre Williams is having so impressive. Last Saturday, Williams rushed for 339 yards against North Carolina State, breaking a single-game ACC record set in 1993. Williams’ 1,810 yards broke the league season record set in 1999. It must be sweeter to break records from another century.

Video: All-access -- Fresno State

November, 6, 2013

Go behind the scenes with Malique Micenheimer and Nikko Motta as they show off Frenso State's facilities. For more behind the scenes looks at programs across the country, watch ESPNU All Access every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.

Video: Derek Carr's life-changing moment

November, 2, 2013

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr saw his priorities change after his son had to undergo surgery following his birth.

Video: No. 23 Fresno State 61, Idaho 14

October, 5, 2013

David Carr threw for 419 yards and five touchdowns as Fresno State improved to 5-0 with a 61-14 win over Idaho.

Video: Fresno State a BCS buster?

September, 24, 2013

Kirk Herbstreit breaks down his biggest takeaway from Week 4 of college football.

Video: Boise State-Fresno State

September, 21, 2013

Derek Carr threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns to lead Fresno State past Boise State 41-40.