Mountain West football round-up Week 1 West Division
Here's the second part of the new Mountain West football notebook, written by the beat writers who cover those teams. You can find Part I here on the Mountain Division. Check out news from around the West Division:
Fresno State won a share of the Mountain West last year without really beating anybody of note, continuing a poor run in non-conference and bowl games against FBS opponents.
Over the past four seasons, the Bulldogs are 4-13 in those games and the wins are over Colorado last season (a 1-11 team), Cincinnati (a 4-8 team) and Illinois (a 7-6 team) in 2010 and Illinois (a 3-9 team) again in 2009. They came close last season, making a run at Oregon in the second half and losing to Tulsa 27-26 and to Boise State 20-10. But presented opportunity, they didn't finish.
The teams Fresno State beat last season went a combined 40-71. Only two of those opponents were better than .500 when beaten by the Bulldogs and they had gotten there by beating up on the same conference opponents that Fresno State had along the way.
San Diego State went on to go 9-4 and share the Mountain West title, but when blitzed by the Bulldogs were 2-2 with wins over an Army team that would finish the season 2-10 and North Dakota, a Championship Subdivision team that finished its season 5-6.
Nevada was 6-3 when Fresno State went to Reno, but also was on a two-game losing streak and en route to dropping five of its last six games including a bowl loss to Arizona. Air Force was 6-5 when it went into Bulldog Stadium and about to end the season on a 1-4 slide.
That obviously will have to change if Fresno State is to fulfill what it believes could be a special season, starting Thursday against Rutgers.
But the Bulldogs said there is a different feel around the program now.
"Some of the teams that we were on that didn't do so well early in my career, I can see a big difference," quarterback Derek Carr said. "I can see a huge difference. It's night and day. Not only how we get along as a team, just the respect we have for all the staff, the respect we have for the coaches, the respect we have for the trainers. That's the stuff that matters to me and to success.
''Last year, it was new to us so we were kind of nervous, like, 'Does this stuff even work? Are these guys just crazy? What's going on?' We didn't know. But we bought in. We had faith in them. We had hope that it would work. We went in full-go. Now that we've done it for a year, it's nice to go into a system two years in a row - this will be my first time being able to play in a system two years in a row as a starter. You get a sense of comfort, not in a bad way, but you just know things more and you can add more stuff. That goes for the whole team. The team is so excited.
''You know, we bought in last year and we saw where it got us and we're hungry. We don't see it as people are targeting us. Every team we play, we're trying to go get them. That's our mentality and we have more of a confidence, I'd say. Not in an arrogant kind of way, just more confident that we can go out and really do this thing.''
Said DeRuyter: "I think we have a pretty hard edge on our team right now. There's a lot of investment and any time you have guys that have made that large of an investment it hurts a little bit more when you lose. You fight a little stronger. When you don't invest much, it's easy to lose, and our guys are fully invested so I like where we're at."
Next game: vs. Rutgers, 8:30 p.m. MT Thursday (ESPNU)
Notable: Fresno State is coming off a MW conference title-winning season and is having a ''White Out'' promotion against Rutgers, but the game is not close to a sellout. They are expecting in the mid-30,000s. The building holds 41,031. ... The Bulldogs had two JC cornerbacks fail to gain admission to school this fall. But they have been pretty much saved by Curtis Riley, who they recruited late out of Fullerton College. He signed his grant in aid the day before fall camp started and even though he had no idea what Fresno State was running when camp opened was running with the No. 1 defense a week into camp. Riley will start against Rutgers. He didn't play last season at Fullerton. He started his career at Mars Hill College in North Carolina, took a year off and ended up at Fullerton. Fresno State receivers coach Ron Antoine saw him in practice there and they basically scouted him off practice tape.
- Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee
A retro theme is expected when Hawaii opens against USC on Thursday at Aloha Stadium. After 13 years as the "Warriors," UH resurrected the "Rainbow Warriors" nickname. Also returning (after a one-year break) are 7 a.m. practices and an emphasis on the passing game.
Last year, Norm Chow's first as head coach, Hawaii relied on a ball-control attack to milk the clock and ease the burden on the defense. The pro-set offense involved a tight end and fullback, positions that were absent during the 13 seasons of the run-and-shoot offense.
Chow vowed to pass more this season, a decision based on injuries and personnel. Will Gregory, last season's top rusher, was expelled because of a dormitory violation. Joey Iosefa, projected as the No. 1 tailback, will need another two weeks to recover from a fractured foot. Three freshmen - Faga Wily, Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste - are expected to rotate at tailback. Although Billy Ray Stutzmann missed training camp because of a concussion suffered in a single-car accident, the Rainbow Warriors are deep at receiver. UH added five receivers who are 6-2 and taller, led by junior college transfer Vasquez Haynes and freshmen Marcus Kemp and Keith Kirkwood.
Quarterback Taylor Graham, who redshirted last year after transferring from Ohio State, will make his first start since his senior season at Wheaton (Ill.) North High in 2009.
Next game: vs. No. 24 USC, 9 p.m. MT Thursday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Twenty-nine players are expected to make their UH debut against USC. Of the 110 players on the active roster, only 37 remain from Greg McMackin's last UH season in 2011.
- Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Nevada has long been known for its staunch offensive line - the Union, as the Wolf Pack like to call it. But it remains to be seen if this season's front can live up to the high standards of its predecessors, which in the last eight years or so regularly paved the way for rushing numbers that were among the nation's best.
First-year coach Brian Polian was still trying to find a right tackle late last week. He and offensive line coach Ron Hudson settled on junior Kyle Roberts, who edged out junior college transfer Braxton Isaac.
The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Roberts, from Reed High in nearby Sparks, Nev., played in nine games last season but will be making his first start when Nevada visits UCLA on Saturday night.
Next to Roberts at right guard will be Fred Lavulo (6-2, 305), a senior who transferred from Cerritos College in 2012. Lavulo, who turns 28 next month, was a defensive tackle until about two weeks ago.
The Wolf Pack are fairly deep on the defensive front, but endured a great deal of attrition on the offensive line. Nevada lost six linemen since the start of spring ball, including three who were expected to compete for playing time.
The left side of the line, anchored by 2012 All-MW honorable mention Joel Bitonio at tackle, should be solid. Sophomore Connor Talbott, who earned his first start in the New Mexico Bowl last season, starts at left guard. And Matt Galas returns as the starting center.
Next game: at No. 21 UCLA, 8 p.m. MT (Pac-12 Networks)
Notable: Polian said WR Nigel Westbrooks, likely a third-team receiver, has been reinstated to the team after having been suspended indefinitely following a "summer incident." Polian said Westbrooks is suspended for the UCLA game for a violation of team rules. TEs Stephen Jeffers (foot) and Randy Horton (knee) have been ruled out for the UCLA game. The status of starting DE Lenny Jones (knee) likely will be determined as the week progresses.
- Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
San Diego State
Even though the Aztecs' Aug. 31 opener comes again a non-FBS team, it will be a good test for San Diego State's inexperienced new cornerbacks.
The Aztecs will not announce the starting cornerback rotation till later this week, but they've confirmed that they will be using four cornerbacks this season instead of sticking with two starters on every play like they did last year.
Junior J.J. Whittaker and sophomore walk-on Pierre Romain are the likely starters. Whittaker has had the misfortune of being injured three years in a row and Romain has seen cleanup duty at cornerback in one game during his college career.
So the Aztecs will be fielding green cornerbacks against a spread offense that finished 2012 ranked No. 7 in the FCS in total offense.
"It's always a concern every time you've got green corners and you're facing teams that want to throw the ball," Aztecs cornerbacks coach Tony White said. "Spread teams want to throw it all over the place, and as with every team, they want to exploit your weaknesses.
"So it don't matter if we're playing a spread, a pro style, a triple option (offense). If they believe your corners are weak, they're going to attack. So we just have to be ready."
Next game: vs. Eastern Illinois, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: The Aztecs came out of camp very healthy, with all the starters ready to go. The only player lost for the season is third-string LB Scott Graves, who ruptured a bicep tendon and had to have surgery.
- Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego
San Jose State
The Ron Caragher era begins Thursday for San Jose State against a Sacramento State team that the players have no choice but to take seriously.
The Hornets, a Football Championship Subdivision team, have beaten Pac-12 teams in each of the last two years. They beat Colorado last season and Oregon State in 2011.
"We know they're a good team," Caragher said. "Having seen them beat some Pac-12 teams, that's instant credibility. You show (the players) the scoreboard and really don't have to say much more."
The Spartans haven't won their season opener since 2008, a 17-13 win over another FCS foe in UC Davis. Their past three season openers have come on the road against Top 25 teams. This is the first all-time meeting between Sacramento State and the Spartans, despite being separated by about a 2-hour drive.
SJSU brings a seven-game winning streak into the season and is looking to win its eighth straight for the first time since 1987.
Quarterback David Fales, who broke every significant single-season school passing record last year, begins his second year with the Spartans 3,355 yards and 26 touchdowns away from breaking the school's career records in those categories.
Next game: vs. Sacramento State, 8 p.m. MT Thursday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: Senior LB Vince Buhagiar, a first-team All-WAC choice last year, is likely out for the season with a shoulder injury. He has a redshirt year available so he should return in 2014.
- Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
UNLV takes a 22-game road losing streak into Thursday's season-opening game at Minnesota.
It is the second-longest skid in school history. The Rebels lost 26 in a row from 1994 to 1998.
They have not won on the road under fourth-year coach Bobby Hauck, who is 0-20 away from Las Vegas.
"We need to flip that switch at some point in time," Hauck said. "Whether it's this Thursday night or not, we get to go see. I like the preparation we've put in. I think Minnesota's a good football team. It'll be a major accomplishment if we're able to go in there and beat them."
The Rebels nearly did last season when they took Minnesota to three overtimes before losing 30-27.
"I think we're better," Hauck said. "I think they're better, too. They went to a bowl game last year, and we didn't. They're moving forward, progressing like their staff would like them, too."
Next game: at Minnesota, 5 p.m. MT Thursday (Big Ten Network)
Notable: Freshman wide receiver Kendal Keys, who signed with Boise State in February before obtaining his release, still has not been cleared by the NCAA and is not expected to play.
- Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal