Fresno State just experienced its worst football season in program history, ending with a 1-11 record.
What in the world happened? How did it get to this?
The Bulldogs were not expected to compete for the Mountain West championship this year, following a dismal 3-9 season in 2015, but no one thought that they would be this bad.
There was some optimism going into the year. Quarterback Chason Virgil was healthy, named team captain and won the starting job in fall camp. Having Virgil as the starter from Day 1 was going to give the team the consistency that it lacked last season due to the quarterback merry-go-round debacle.
Virgil started 10 games and threw for 2,021 yards, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and had a 51.6 percent completion rate. There were 114 starting quarterbacks in the NCAA who had a better completion rate. He was inconsistent on his throws and never looked comfortable in the pocket.
Running back Dontel James was expected to put up solid numbers but never got going behind a young offensive line. He gained 697 yards on the ground, good for 129th in the country. He averaged 3.35 yards per carry, unacceptable for a collegiate running back.
No other running backs brought any help through most of the season. Quarterback Zach Kline, who played in seven games, starting two, was second on the team with 134 rushing yards.
Senior captain Aaron Peck was expected to be the go-to receiver but ended up third on the team in receiving yards. Sophomore wide receivers KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan showed flashes of brilliance, bringing much needed talent to the offense, but often struggled with consistency and dropped passes.
Given the defense’s poor performance the last few years, not much was expected from it. The defense gave up 247.4 rushing yards per game, better than only five teams in the country. The pass defense ranked seventh in the country, but that was because teams rushed the ball 329 more times than they passed against Fresno State.
After a 1-7 start, Tim DeRuyter was out as head coach amid another poor season. After winning two consecutive Mountain West championships at the start of the DeRuyter era, the loss of Derek Carr and many others to the NFL was too much to overcome.
In Year 1 after Carr, the team went 6-8 with an appearance in the Mountain West championship game. Many of the stars of that team were Pat Hill’s recruits. The 3-9 season that followed was mostly made up of DeRuyter’s players, and this 1-11 season was completely DeRuyter’s team.
The biggest complaint about DeRuyter was his failure to recruit the Valley. Although the vast majority of the team is still from California, DeRuyter focused much of his effort on recruiting Texas.
People can complain about DeRuyter not recruiting locally, and that is part of the issue, but the true underlying problem that brought the program to its knees was the inability of DeRuyter and his staff to not only develop recruits, but keep them in the program.
Time after time, players were either dismissed by the athletic department for violating department policy or left the team for an unknown reason over the last few years. This issue is perfectly illustrated with the quarterback position alone.
In DeRuyter’s five recruiting classes, he brought in many talented quarterbacks, but none of them panned out and many left the program. Prized 2013 recruit Zack Greenlee left the program after the 2015 season. Brian Burrell left the program after the 2014 season. Myles Carr converted to wide receiver and then left the program to play quarterback elsewhere. Kilton Anderson and Ford Childress were not in the picture this year. This left the Bulldogs with Virgil, and he did not produce.
After the 2015 season, changes were made with the firing of offensive coordinator Dave Schramm and the demoting of defensive coordinator Nick Toth. They were replaced with Eric Kiesau and Lorenzo Ward, and it was announced Monday that neither of them nor the rest of the coaching staff will be retained under new head coach Jeff Tedford.
There has been no word on who Tedford will hire for his staff, but his son, Taylor, has been on his previous coaching staffs and is expected to join him again.
Tedford knows the Valley, and when he was introduced as head coach, he said that recruiting locally is a top priority. Local pipelines should improve over the next few years. Fresno State will not get all the top local recruits, but the Bulldogs should now be in the running for many local players.
Given Tedford’s history of developing quarterbacks, the position should get back to Fresno State’s tradition of developing some of the best quarterbacks in the country. Again, it will not happen right away, but the next David or Derek Carr, the next Kevin Sweeney, the next Trent Dilfer, the next Billy Volek or the next Paul Pinegar could be right around the corner.
Tedford’s tenure at Cal ended poorly, but in his defense, Cal is not the most supportive school for football. Cal’s football facilities were largely a joke for most of Tedford’s time. The stadium was in poor shape until Tedford spearheaded a renovation project.
Simply put, at Berkeley, football is not No. 1. During the stadium renovation, some trees had to be removed. People decided to sit in the trees over a course of 19 months to protest the removal.
A group in Berkeley sued the school because the stadium expansion would block the view of people who wanted to sit on a hill outside the stadium and watch the game for free. These issues that Tedford faced at Cal will not plague him in Fresno.
Tedford should have a much better time in Fresno with the community fully behind him. Athletic Director Jim Bartko’s stadium renovation is on schedule, Tedford was the coach the community wanted. Tedford is Bulldog-born, Bulldog-bred, and should get this program back on track. He should be able to get whatever he wants done in Fresno.
Coming off the worst season in program history, no one expects an immediate turn around, especially given next season’s schedule. After opening with FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) school Incarnate Word, the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama, the current No. 1-ranked team in the country, and the next week play at Washington, the current No. 4 team. Fresno State also hosts BYU (Brigham Young University) later in the year.
Fresno State has a lack of talent on the roster but should be able to do better than a 1-11 season. It will take time, but Tedford should have this team back to its winning ways.