Fresno State (vs Tennessee):
Super sophomore signal caller Paul Pinegar leads the Bulldog attack. Fresno State has produced three pro-caliber QBs - Trent Dilfer (Seattle
Seahawks), Billy Volek (Tennessee Titans) and David Carr (Houston
Texans) in the last 12 years. Mr. Pinegar may be better than all of them.
Last season, Pinegar completed passes for 2,800 yards, and compiled a spectacular quarterback rating of 129.54 that led all freshmen
nationwide. He started all 12 games as a redshirt freshman at
Fresno last season and was selected Western Athletic Conference Freshman
of the Year.
Senior WR Marque Davis returns. He was a second-teamAll-WAC selevtion in 2002, after catching 64 balls for 956 yards and 7 touchdowns. WR Bruce Berrian, who earned some All-America recognition in 2001 but missed 2002 with a sprained knee, is back for his senior season.
The Bulldogs return six starters on defense, led by linebacker Bryce
McGill (second-team All-WAC). Safety James Sanders (73 tackles,
3 sacks, 2 interceptions) earned Freshman All-America honors last year.
Fresno State relies on an aggressive defensive scheme that seeks to put a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback. TheBulldogs have posted 132 sacks over the last 3 seasons. Over that same three-year span, Fresno ranked third nationally in interceptions with 70.
The Bulldogs finished the year 9-5 (6-2 in the WAC), includung a 30-21 victory over Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Classic.
Fresno State is 36-5 under Hill when leading at halftime.
San Jose State (vs Florida)
Offense, offense, and more offense. Last year, the Spartans put up 29 points/game, and 375 yards of total offense/game. This year's squad looks to be even more proficient. QB Scott Rislov (3251 passing yards, 22 td's, 61% completion percentage) leads the attack. He could throw for 3,500 yards and 25 TD's this year. The receiving corps is solid and experienced, led by senior WR Kendrick Starling. Lamar Ferguson (634 rushing yds, 8 td's) is the top RB. He averaged 5 yds/carry last year.
Defense, on the other hand, is not the Spartan's forte. San Jose State finished 2nd to last in pass defense, and 3rd to last in total defense last year (giving up 493 yds/game). Senior safety Gerald Jones is the best defensive player. He was credited with 8 interceptions last year.
The Spartans (6-7 overall last year) are being picked to be a "sleeper" team in the WAC this year.
UL - Lafayette (vs South Carolina)
The only thing reasonably close to these two schools is that both wear red.
The Ragin Cajuns finished near the bottom of the Sunbelt Conference. That is all you need to know. They were outscored 113-26 in the 1st quarter last year by opponents. They were out-rushed 182 yds/game to 61 yds/game.
WR Fred Stamps (18.6 yds/catch) is one of the premiere WR's in the league. He caught 54 balls last year for 1002 yards and 8 td's. The receiving corps is solid. The Cajuns will be led by redshirt freshman quarterback Jerry Babb. Junior RB Dwight Lindon will be asked to shoulder the load. He has little experience (19 carries for 42 yds).
Defensively, the Cajuns must replace nearly the entire secondary. A boat-load of Junior College talent was brought in to make the defensive squad respectable. The Cajuns must find some way to bring pressure on the opposing team's quarterback.
UL @ Lafayette is expected to finish in the lower half of the Sunbelt Conference again this year.
Clemson (vs Georgia)
The Tigers finished a forgettable 7-6 last year, including a 55-15 drubbing at the hands of Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl. Many speculate that it is time Coach Tommy Bowden delivers. If not, he may be on the proverbial "hot seat".
Though respectable, the Tigers (under Bowden) have not climed the hill into the elite of the ACC. While Maryland, NC State, and Virginia now threaten Florida State nfor supremecy in the ACC, Clemson has been "middle of the pack". Last season, the Tigers were handled by the above mentioned by a combined score of 138-66.
The Tigers have offensive weapons. The offensive line is good-really good. Establishing a ground game is of the utmost importance this year. RB Yusef Kelly returns (520 yds, 8 td's). He is a pure power back. Word is the Tigers will line up more in the "I" formation this year. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (1554 psg yds, 10 td's, 6 ints) returns to call the signals. He has the talent and experience to lead this year. WR Kevin Youngblood is the team's most dependable receiver (59 catches), but is more of a possession type receiver.
On defense, the line is the strength of the team. The Tigers lost a couple of linebackers because of academic problems. The linebackers and secondary possess speed, but lack in size. Defensive end Khaleed Vaughn (2 time all-ACC performer) anchors the squad. He had 18 tackles for loss last year. Linebacker John Leake was one of the nation's leading tacklers last year (169), and is cat quick. Sophomore cornerback Justin Miller had 8 picks in the 7 games he started.
The Tigers are picked middle of the pack in the ACC.
Louisville (vs Kentucky)
The schizophenic Cards were anything but reliable. How does a team beat Florida State and lose to Houston? In the end, the Cards had enough in the tank to win C-USA. Their reward? A trip to the GMAC Bowl, and a 38-15 shellacking at the hands of Marshall.
The Cards have a new head coach in Bobby Petrino. They also have a new running back in Eric Shelton (transfer from Florida State).
Shelton is a 245 pound mix of size and speed. He promises add to the rushing totals this year. He is good, and will run behind a talented offensive line. Meanwhile, the quarterback slot is open for the taking. Junior Stefan Lefors is projectyed to call the signals. He has a decent arm, but not much size. Sophomore Broderick Clark (13 catches) leads a talented but inexperienced WR corps. Clark was one of the top kick returners in the country last year.
Senior LB Rod Day (101 tackles last year) plays sideline to sideline. The corners and linebackers are the heart of this squad. Much was lost along the defensive line, and the Cards will be young in the trenches.
Expect the Cards to contend for the CUSA championship again.