The Bulldogs have at least one big test ahead of them in non-conference play this fall.
A difficult slate, just how they like it.
The Fresno State Bulldogs have plenty of reasons to believe they’ll be serious Mountain West football contenders next fall, but the program’s ceiling might be higher than simply a conference title if things break their way during what looks like a typically rigorous September.
In other words, Pat Hill’s credo – “anyone, anytime, anywhere” – is as strong as ever in the Central Valley. Here’s who the ‘Dogs have to prepare for in non-conference play:
Thursday, September 1, 7:30 PM – vs. Cal Poly:
It’s been a while since the Mustangs have upended the Bulldogs – not since 1979, to be exact – which helps explain why this matchup was seen at the least exciting of Fresno State’s four non-conference games this fall. The program hasn’t really had a chance to find its footing under Beau Baldwin, though, because the COVID-19 pandemic limited the team to just three games in the FCS’s spring season back in 2021 and the roster skewed very young as it took its lumps through a 2-9 campaign last fall.
That makes 2022 the first real test of how much progress Cal Poly can make in the Big Sky Conference, which figures to be tough from top to bottom. If they can find some stability at quarterback, the Mustangs do return six different pass catchers who caught at least ten passes last season (including former Bulldog Chris Coleman) and lead running back Shakobe Harper, though improving a defense that allowed 39.2 points per game will be the biggest measure of improvement.
Saturday, September 10, 7:30 PM – Vs. Oregon State:
It isn’t the biggest game on this year’s schedule, but the Red Wave has almost certainly waited for this game just as impatiently as they looked forward to their matchup with the Beavers in 2001. You know, when Sports Illustrated had Oregon State ranked as its preseason # 1 team and the Bulldogs beat them by 20 at home.
Granted, the situation is not quite the same this time around, but the Beavers looked like they were on the upswing in 2021 thanks to a powerful offense and can not be taken lightly. Oregon State has to replace top running back BJ Baylor and tight end Teagan Quitoriano, but quarterback Chance Nolan is rock solid and an offensive line that was a Joe Moore Award finalist returns three starters. It should be a good contest, which is why our staff penciled it in as one of the ten non-conference games to which they’re most looking forward.
Saturday, September 17, 7:30 PM – at USC:
Hoo boy. The Coliseum has housed a lot of Fresno State heartache over the years and not just because of Reggie Bush – the Bulldogs lost a frustrating contest with the Trojans back in 2019, too – but they’ll get a chance to turn the tables as Southern California begins a new era under head coach Lincoln Riley.
Quarterback Caleb Williams figures to remain one of the nation’s best after following Riley from Oklahoma, and he’ll get to throw to the defending Biletnikoff Award winner, Jordan Addison, as well as returning veterans Tahj Washington, Gary Bryant, and Kyle Ford. Oh, and he’ll get to hand off to Oregon transfer Travis Dye, too. Question is, will they play enough defense to keep the Bulldogs from lighting up the scoreboard?
Either way, that’s why our staff circled this game as the # 1 matchup in the entire Mountain West non-conference slate. Just make sure you have popcorn ready.
Saturday, October 1, 12:30 PM – at UConn:
The Bulldogs will get a week off to recuperate from their battle with the Trojans before heading east to face the Huskies. They had no problem dispatching UConn in their season opener last year, but new head coach Jim Mora should instill some new fight into what looks like a very young squad.
He inherits some interesting pieces who will be motivated to lead a turnaround, too, including linebackers Jackson Mitchell and Ian Swenson, running back Nathan Carter, and edge rusher Kevon Jones. And do not forget: For as rough as things got in Connecticut last year, these same Huskies almost tripped up Wyoming in non-conference play and going to the east coast for an early start is never easy.