Fresno State’s season opener at Bulldog Stadium on Thursday against Rutgers marks the start of a season that has attracted more attention than the Bulldogs have been used to in recent years.
There were the preseason honors, the watch lists and the preseason chatter that comes with exceeding expectations from the season before.
The season, which the Bulldogs hope ends with a Mountain West Conference Championship, holds promise – and a formidable first challenge.
The beginning of the 2013 season seems to contrast with 2012’s start. Fresno State, though not facing the first-year uncertainty in head coach Tim DeRuyter’s switches in schemes, is not playing a Football Subdivision School to start the season. The playing field is more leveled; the Bulldogs are playing against a fellow conference champion.
Rutgers, which won the last Big East Championship, finished 9-4 last season. Seven players from its championship team were selected in the NFL Draft.
“It gave our guys an edge in the offseason that they knew we’d better be ready … there’s no easing into a season. There is no preseason,” DeRuyter said of playing the Scarlet Knights. “Having that has really helped us. I’m glad we have a veteran group coming back.”
The Scarlet Knights offense is a bit of an unknown for the Bulldogs. New Rutgers offensive coordinator Ron Prince is known for running a pro-style offense centered on a power running game.
Fresno State, however, does not have film from last year to substantiate Rutgers’ tendencies on offense.
“We’re having to go through some scenarios that we may not see because we’re guessing what they’re going to do,” DeRuyter said. “We’ve got good coaches who’ll be up in the box drawing up what’s happening. We’ll have our guys set depending if we see something new.
“Our guys are veteran enough to where if they do something different, we can adjust.”
The depth at key preseason position battles is established. Josh Quezada, who established himself as a capable pass catcher and protector, is slated to start at running back against Rutgers, with Marteze Waller receiving carries on the second offensive series, DeRuyter said.
Junior-college transfer Curtis Riley, following an impressive fall camp showing, will start at the cornerback position opposite of L.J. Jones.
The Bulldogs have high expectations. An unblemished record would likely place the Bulldogs in a BCS bowl game.
Rutgers is the first roadblock.
“This time of year, nobody’s played, so everybody wants to talk about the possibilities. We’ve talked since Day 1 about ignoring the noise. The only thing our guys are focusing on is that which we have control over, and that’s Thursday night. It’s a matter of trying to go 1-0 every single week.”