2006 Bulldog Football Preview: Running Backs Analysis
There's an old saying that says it doesn't matter how you start, but rather how you finish. Pat Hill and the 2005 Bulldog football team heard that repeatedly after the season, so much so that the theme for the 2006 campaign is "Finish the Job." That theme will ring throughout the next six months, both on the field and in the Fresno State locker room.
"Because of the way the 2005 season ended, we will be better mentally and a more focused football team in 2006," said Hill. "We learned a lot about ourselves and overcoming adversity. This senior class has been through the battles of some big football games and this is their team and their season. There's a tremendous amount of seriousness to how they have prepared themselves for the season."
Hill welcomes his largest senior class, a group that has been instrumental in Fresno State's success over the last three years. With three straight bowl game appearances, including wins over UCLA and Virginia, these Bulldogs are battle-tested.
Headlining the senior class are several players who have earned All-WAC honors, and are looking to earn All-America honors after the season. This group will likely set a Fresno State record for numbers of NFL draft picks, as Hill predicts a minimum of six players will be selected in the 2007 draft.
The 2006 schedule is once again superb, with top-notch non-conference competition, and an excellent balance of WAC teams, the home schedule ranks among the best in Bulldog history. The season kicks off Sept. 1 with a nationally televised game against defending WAC champion Nevada at Bulldog Stadium. Eight days later, Fresno State will host Oregon, a team that finished the 2005 season with a 10-2 record and ranked No. 10 in the nation. One week after that, Fresno State makes its first road trip to Washington, where the Dogs won 35-16 in 2004. After that, the Bulldogs return home to host perennial Mountain West Conference powerhouse Colorado State. Needless to say, the front of the schedule is loading. The Bulldogs are also looking forward their first game against LSU on Oct. 21 at Baton Rouge. In all, at least five games will be shown on national television.
"As long as I'm here, we are going to play as tough a schedule as we can," said Hill, whose 10 wins over BCS Conference schools since the 2001 season are more than any other non-BCS coach. "This is a great home schedule and it's tough from top to bottom. We can really make a statement if we get off to a fast start and then it's up to us as we head down the stretch to finish the job."
Running BacksStarters Returning/Lost: 1/1
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 3/2
While not as deep as last year's squad, and one could argue the loss of first-team All-WAC rusher Wendell Mathis is a huge loss, the running back situation at Fresno State is better than solid.
With the return of a stronger Dwayne Wright and a healthy Clifton Smith, the Bulldogs will have two fantastic weapons. As important to who carries the ball, one would think that Barney Fife might gain 1,000 yard running behind bruising fullback Roshon Vercher, a three-year starter who has been the lead blocker for three different 1,000-yard Bulldog backs. As a freshman, Vercher plowed the way for Wright, who earned second-team All-WAC honors while rushing for 1,038 yards in 2003. As a sophomore, Vercher led Bryson Sumlin to a 1,000-yard season and then last season, was instrumental in Wendell Mathis posting more than 1,300 yards and earning first-team All-WAC honors. Hill calls Vercher the best pure fullback in college football and that's hard to argue.
Wright's injury situation has been well-chronicled, but his recovery time has allowed him to add some muscle to his frame, and he will have a different physical makeup than when Bulldog fans last saw him play. Smith, also recovering from an injury, in a short time has made a name for himself with his playmaking ability and electrifying style of play.
Junior Shannon Dorsey has battled injuries during his career, but if healthy can provide a spark off the bench. Walk-on Rich Owens has moved up the depth chart with his work ethic and hard running style.
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Join the State - Fresno State! Get tickets online 24/7 at www.gobulldogs.com or by calling the Bulldog Ticket Office (559-278-DOGS), Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Ticket Office is located at the south entrance of the stadium off Bulldog Lane. Fresno State's 2006 home schedule- which kicks off Sept. 1 against Nevada- features opponents such as Oregon, Colorado State, Hawai'i, New Mexico State and Idaho.