The Derek Carr era gets underway with a pair of high-profile games for the Bulldogs. Carr, a redshirt sophomore and the younger brother of former Fresno State quarterback David Carr, is already the face of the program. If he can score a victory against California in the opener or Nebraska in week two, then the hype around Carr could reach crazy levels.
David Carr, a former No. 1 NFL Draft pick, guided the Bulldogs to a No. 8 national ranking and the cover of Sports Illustrated, but he never won a conference title. His younger brother wants to carry the legacy further.
"David accomplished an awful lot," Coach Pat Hill said. "Derek wants to take it to the next level."
The Bulldogs have not won an outright conference title in Hill's 14 years as head coach. Nor have they lost fewer than two conference games in a season. This is the Bulldogs final chance to get it done in the WAC. Fresno State leaves for the Mountain West next season.
"We've been in a position to win four and we haven't been able to get that thing done. We want to go from good to great. We've been good for a long time. We haven't been a great football team," Hill said.
Fresno State was picked No. 2 in the WAC behind Hawaii. In typical Bulldog fashion, they'll get a chance to be great right away with games against Cal, Nebraska, Mississippi and Boise State in the first six weeks.
Carr is the one that will have to lead them there.
"There's a different spark about Derek that we all enjoy and makes us better. He's got a good charisma about him that we all enjoy and feed off of," senior wide receiver Devon Wylie told the Fresno Bee.
NOTES AND QUOTES
SERIES HISTORY: Fresno State leads series 2-0 (last meeting, 2000, 17-3 Fresno State).
Fresno State unveiled new Nike Pro Combat Elite uniforms in the off-season. The Bulldogs will have names on the back of the jerseys, a new touch, as well as a helmet with a thick blue stripe in the middle. The uniforms will be red at home and white on the road.
Keeping those new uniforms clean should be a bit easier -- at Bulldog Stadium, at least. Fresno State installed FieldTurf at home, at a cost of $1.2 million.
Greg Watson is the team's backup quarterback, having beaten Kelly O'Brien in a competition for the job. Watson, 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, is a redshirt freshman.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Bulldogs' untested offensive line could hold the key to the season for Fresno State. There are four new starters up front. The group made huge strides during fall camp, coach Pat Hill said. The projected starting line played together against Nevada because of injuries.
"Talk all you want about throwing the football and the quarterbacks," Hill said, but the key to camp was we had to get better at our adjustments at the line of scrimmage. That was a lot to get done. That was a main priority." The group will be tested early against Cal and Nebraska.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Linebacker Travis Brown, the son of late defensive coordinator Dan Brown, is back for his junior season and will have an even bigger role. Brown started all 13 games last season and was second on the team with 79 tackles, including nine for loss. A second-team All-WAC selection, Brown is one of the veterans on a defense that must replace WAC Defensive Player of the Year in defensive end Chris Carter. Junior free safety Phillip Thomas could be poised for a big season. The Bulldogs ranked 83rd nationally in points allowed in 2010, surrendering 30.0 points per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel really good about Derek. I think he's going to be an outstanding player. He has high expectations for himself. I know Derek can carry his load. He should be outstanding." -- State coach Pat Hill on QB Derek Carr.
STRATEGY and PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cal vs. Fresno State, Candlestick Park, Sept. 3 -- It is just the third meeting for the two California programs and the first since 2000. The so-called "Battle by the Bay" has been a big hit with Fresno State fans, which have bought almost 13,000 tickets for Derek Carr's first career start. Cal has sold about 7,500 tickets.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bulldogs return plenty of talent at the offensive skill positions, but it will be up to a revamped offensive line to give first-time starting quarterback Derek Carr time in the pocket. Cal ranked 13th nationally in sacks last year and figures to get after the Bulldogs' new-look offensive line and rookie quarterback.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Derek Carr -- The younger brother of former Bulldogs quarterback David Carr, a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, Carr finally takes over the Fresno State offense. He played sparingly as a true freshman and then used a redshirt season behind Ryan Colburn last year. Now he takes the reins of the Fresno State offense.
RB Robbie Rouse -- Despite missing two games with injuries and being limited in several others, Rouse rushed for 1,129 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. He had back-to-back 200-yard games against Louisiana Tech and Nevada to highlight his season.
DT Logan Harrell -- He enjoyed a breakout season in 2010 playing alongside WAC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Carter. Harrell had 46 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, easily establishing career highs. The Bulldogs may move the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder to defensive end at times this season. He will be the leader of the Bulldogs' defense.
H-Back Tapa Taumoepeau (knee) is out for the season. He was injured during fall camp.
DL Anthony Williams (violation of team rules) will not play in 2011.
DL Nikko Motta (grades) will not play in 2011.
Several Fresno State wide receivers were banged up during fall camp, including Jalen Saunders (dislocated thumb), but Hill said the Bulldogs are healthy now.