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Speaking with the enemy: Fresno State

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Every week during the season I will talk to a media member who covers that week's opponent for an inside view of what to expect.

This week we start with Paul Loeffler, the play-by-play man for Fresno State. Loeffler has a distinguished first name, is a Syracuse grad and friends with our own Tommy Gelehrter, which puts him under the category "good people."

He gives great insight about what could be the Bulldogs' secret weapon, their biggest matchup advantage, the loss of Ryan Mathews and, most importantly, where I should go to eat in Fresno.

You can follow all things Bulldogs leading up to gameday at his blog here.

Paul Dehner Jr.: How much will the departure of Ryan Mathews change the dynamic of this offense? Can they be as potent?

 

Paul Loeffler: Mathews' departure, coupled with the increased experience at QB, will lead to more balance in 2010. These Bulldogs have the potential to be even more potent than the 2009 version. Robbie Rouse is nearly as explosive as Mathews, but won't touch it 40 times in a game the way Ryan did against the Bearcats last year. The passing game should be much improved. Hamler was the most dependable receiver by the end of last year, Wylie is the fastest player in program history, and Evans showed plenty of promise as a true freshman in 2008 before redshirting last year. There are some true freshmen WRs who will see the field against UC who are also capable of producing.

 

PDJ: A lot of the hopes offensively seem to be pinned on Ryan Colburn. Is he

the real deal? Do you anticipate him being able to take the next step and put up conference-best type numbers?

 

PL: Conference-best is asking a lot, given what Boise State's Kellen Moore has done, but Colburn is capable of leading this team to victories, that's the bottom line. He is a leader. He has the team's respect. Perhaps most importantly, he has that rare drive to make himself better every day, and he has a toughness you don't see too often under center. His skills have improved, and his leadership will make a big difference for this squad.

 

PDJ: Fresno has hosted Wisconsin and Oregon among others in non-conference

play in recent years, they have been close but unable to pull off the victory in those games. Do you get the feeling they believe they figured out how to get over that hump?

 

PL: We'll find out Saturday night. They always believe. Pat Hill makes schedules like this because he believes he can win these games. Take a stroll inside the football complex and you'll see the helmets of the BCS schools he's beaten lining the walls. The Bulldogs would be delighted to add a black Bearcats helmet to that display.

 

PDJ: Defensively, Fresno had its ups and downs last year, particularly rushing

the passer. Is there reason to believe that unit will be improved or is it

still the major residing question mark?

 

PL: No question that's the question mark, and a big one at that. The defensive line is faster and deeper, and the best pass-rusher, Chris Carter, will once again have two hands to work with. After hurting his hand against Wisconsin last year in week two, he had to wear a club on it and play one-handed the rest of the season. He is a beast, and improved speed in the linebacking corps and secondary should help too. Cincinnati's incredible offense will be the perfect trial by fire, so we'll have an early answer to the questions about the defense.

 

PDJ: The big question for any team playing Cincinnati will be the defense and

in particular, the cornerbacks. How are the corners and do they have the depth to stand up to UC's prolific trio of Binns, Hazelton and Woods?

 

PL: I think the corners are key on both sides of this matchup, with Fresno State's receiving corps posing a challenge to the Bearcats DBs as well. Desia Dunn is a three-year starter at one corner, but will give up size and strength to guys like Hazelton and Binns. Jermaine Thomas has the best ball skills on the team, and is slated to start at the other corner. It will be his first career start. Behind those two, Isaiah Green and L.J. Jones both have great speed, but can they avoid mistakes in a matchup where just one mistake could really cost you? We shall see.

 

PDJ: At what position there a feeling that Fresno would have an advantage on

just about anyone they play this year and in particular on UC?

 

PL: The strength of this football team is the offensive line. All five starters return, and clearly they did a pretty decent job of controlling time of possession against the Bearcats last year at Nippert. If this quintet stays healthy, Fresno State will enjoy great success enforcing its will on the offensive side of the ball.

 

PDJ: Pat Hill got another extension, what has made him such a great fit for

Fresno?

 

PL: He'll tell you his program gets more respect around the country than it does in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley, but I think the quality that most mirrors the culture here is his tenacity. He is as hard-working as they come, and this part of California is known for that. In general, people in the Valley are not afraid to get their hands dirty and do it themselves, and Pat Hill epitomizes that mentality.

 

PDJ: What would you consider to be realistic expectations for the Bulldogs?

 

PL: History would indicate that Boise State will be nearly impossible to beat on the blue turf, but the next-best WAC opponent, Nevada, comes to Bulldog stadium this year. I think it's realistic to predict a 7-1 conference mark, and 3-1 non-conference record. That would put Fresno State at 10-2 and give the Bulldogs a quality bowl opponent, in theory. If you want an optimistic projection, I'm convinced football is all about momentum - within a game and throughout a season - if the Bulldogs beat the Bearcats in the opener, I could easily see them getting off to a 3-0 start, garnering some national attention, and having a shot to ride that wave to something magical.

 

PDJ: Vegas has the game at a Pick 'em, and they always win -- I have receipts

and broken dreams to prove it -- what would the line be if you were handicapping the game?

 

PL: It's hard to say with so many unknowns. No one has seen Butch Jones coach a down with the Bearcats, and both defenses have a lot to prove. The lines I've seen are all within a 3-point margin, and if it's that close, Fresno State's accomplished kicker, Kevin Goessling, could be the difference. I don't know about the line, but I would feel fairly comfortable setting the over/under at about 65.

 

PDJ: Now for the important question -- where should I go to eat when I come out to Fresno?

 

PL: The Fresno Grizzlies (AAA affiliate of the S.F. Giants) are home Friday night at Chukchansi Park and fighting for a playoff spot, so that would be a pretty good fit for a sports fan. Restaurants? They're everywhere, but I'd go for something you might not get in Cincinnati. We don't have Skyline Chili, but Fresno has dozens of authentic Mexican restaurants, including spots like Fajita Fiesta and Casa Corona near the Fresno State campus. A few of the other local favorites you wouldn't find in Ohio include Tahoe Joe's (steak), Luna's (Italian), North India Bar & Grill, The Elbow Room, and Me & Ed's (pizza). Now you've made me hungry... 

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