An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Bulldogs.
Why they might look familiar: Even if you're not a fan of wee-hour broadcasts featuring the spookiest-looking night games west of Lubbock, chances are you know Ryan Mathews. Acclaimed by breathless pundits who've doubtlessly never seen him play a game, Mathews was I-A's leading rusher in 2009, amassing over 1,800 yards on the ground with touchdowns on close to seven yards a carry. Mathews chose to leave school following his junior season, but he's not going too far: He was snapped up with the 12th overall pick in last week's NFL draft by San Diego, where he'll join fellow Bulldog alum Billy Volek.
Previously on: A stiff non-conference schedule and strong performances by Boise State and Nevada kept the Bulldogs at 6-2 in the WAC, 8-5 overall, still clustered at the top of the conference but a game behind the Wolf Pack and two behind the title-hunting Broncos.
After some fancy opening-week offensive fireworks with UC-Davis that resulted in a 51-0 blowout (even the mids get cupcake games), the Bulldogs actually slid into a losing record by mid-October thanks to three straight high-profile losses -- 34-31 on a road trip to Wisconsin, 51-34 to Boise State at home, and 28-20 at Cincinnati. FSU clawed back to a respectable slot in the conference standings, but the season wrapped with a baffling double-overtime loss to Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl.
Encounters in the wild: Loads of opportunities (some rather inexplicable) to catch these guys on national television this year. The Bulldogs host Cincinnati opening week in a West-Coast primetime clash on ESPN2. In Week They'll be in the SEC two weeks later for a date with Ole Miss. The Boise State game on Nov. 19 will also garner national attention, particularly if the Broncos are making another undefeated run, and the regular season concludes with a visit from Illinois, a rematch of one of best finishes of 2009 last December:
Stock characters: Absent Mathews, the Bulldogs are facing a gaping hole at running back. The top three prospective replacements are all underclassemen, but the heir apparent thus far appears to be Robbie "Mighty Mouse" Rouse, a 5'7" sophomore who ran for close to 500 yards as last year's No. 2 rusher and showed off his versatility with a receiving touchdown in the Bulldogs' most recent scrimmage. Changes at quarterback are possible, if unlikely -- Ryan Colburn is last year's starter and the most experienced player, but coach Pat Hill has opened the competition to all five QBs on the roster. Any hope of relying on the passing game more in 2010 to make up for the absence of a sure-thing rusher will depend on a fresh crop of talent at wide receiver, another area of attrition. Spring ball standouts here include Jamel Hamler, who's credited with five touchdowns and 503 yards last year as a sophomore, and redshirt freshman A.J. Johnson, who didn't see the field last year but has allegedly been impressive in practice.
Prognosis: A bit rocky, with the blow to the run game and a new emphasis on an aerial attack that may not be ready to carry the team. Don't look for another top-10 rushing season, but when Rouse gets going he can be cartoonishly entertaining to watch. The caliber of non-conference games on the schedule won't make for an easy 2010, but would that more Big Six schools filled their OOC slots like Fresno State.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments (alphabetically by team): Boston College ... Central Michigan ... Clemson ... Colorado State ... Connecticut ... Florida Atlantic ... Hawaii ... Iowa ... Kansas State ... Kentucky ... LSU ... Marshall ... Memphis … Missouri … Oregon State ... Pittsburgh … Stanford.
Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.