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Is Candlestick Bear Territory? A CGB Discussion About The Cal-Fresno State Game

[We're starting the pre-season with a look at our first opponent Fresno State. We also talked with Matt over at Red Wave Central, a Fresno State site knowledgeable about the bulldogs. He provides his thoughts at the end. Enjoy!]

TwistNHook: On September 3, 2011, an interesting matchup in an interesting location occurs. Cal takes on Fresno State in Candlestick Park. Technically, it is a neutral site game, although the fandom will probably skew towards Cal. I cannot remember the last time Cal had a neutral site game.

When people think of Fresno State, they think of Pat "The Mustache" Hill and his intensely aggressive mentality. The Bulldogs will be amped up to take on a Pac-12 team. What do all y'all think about this game and the Fresno State University Bulldogs in 2011?

NorCalNick: 2010 wasn't a vintage Fresno St. team as the Bulldogs lost three times in the WAC and got blown out by a bad Ole Miss team and by Northern Illinois in the Humanitarian Bowl. But they did continue their 'giant killing' success with wins over Cincinnati and Illinois.

Of course, the Bearcats and Illini were hardly the best competition BCS conferences had to offer last year. But Illinois did manage to reach bowl eligibility and finished 7-6, which is more than you could say for Cal last year. So clearly Cal needs to be wary.

OhioBear: Cal's last neutral site game: 2009 Poinsettia Bowl (lost to Utah)
Cal's last neutral site regular season game: 2003 season opener vs. Kansas State in Kansas City (lost)

LeonPowe: Hey I drove to that game in Kansas city! Reggie Robertson started and we hung tough with k state

HydroTech: I definitely think FSU will be amped to take on Cal. It's a big game for them. To Cal, it's not exactly a huge game, but if they don't treat it as one then they can certainly lose the game. FSU is used to taking on big time opponents. It's what they do. While as of late they haven't been as good at it as they were 5 years ago or so, they're always a dangerous team. Pat Hill will get his boys ready to take on Cal, and I can only hope the Cal players don't overlook this FSU team.

TwistNHook: Obviously the focus for Cal fans will be on how the offense performs. The offense has not been at the standard Tedfordian level in some time now and there is growing concern.

Fortunately for Cal, FSU just lost some key defensive talent:

The emphasis on defense comes at a time when the Bulldogs are undergoing a shift on defense and have lost three of their best defensive players -- WAC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Carter, linebacker Ben Jacobs and safety Lorne Bell.

What is interesting is that David Carr's younger brother will be the signal caller for the Bulldogs this season:

QB Derek Carr -- The brother of former Fresno State star and No. 1 NFL Draft pick David Carr, Derek Carr will be the starting quarterback next season. Fresno State fans are hoping he's worth the wait. Carr played sparingly behind starter Ryan Colburn in 2009 and then redshirted in 2010, leaving him with three years of eligibility.

He has minimal experience going into the game. Hopefully, Coach Lupoi's crushing DLine can grind him into the turf and keep the potentially explosive bulldog offense from ever getting going.

Kodiak: The biggest issue with playing Fresno State is that Pat Hill always instills toughness and a don't-back-down-from-anyone attitude in his team. If the Cal players aren't ready to get hit in the mouth, roughed up, and blindsided with borderline dirty play, it could be a long day. We have to be ready to match their physicality right from kickoff. Otherwise, we could find ourselves blitzkrieged and cede to them all the emotional momentum.

Their QB is a relatively new starter, so he's an unknown quantity. Their RB, Rouse, has some speed and went over 1000 yards last year. (almost 5 ypc) Both WR's are returning starters, and one of them is a senior standout.(Wylie) A couple of their tackles are really big(McEntee and Harrell) and could pose a challenge to our rehabilitated Oline. They also have a senior stud at outside linebacker.(Knox)

Their secondary is a bit inexperienced and thin on depth, however. Whether we have the passing game to take advantage...well, that could be the story of the game.

I think that it might be tough for us to run against them initially, especially up the middle. We might have better success using Maynard's mobility in creative ways. We should have an advantage with Miller against their inexperienced safeties/inside backers, and with Allen/Jones. Hopefully, the Oline can hold up long enough for us to make that work. Designed rollouts or moving pockets might be the way to go.

Defensively, I feel pretty good about our chances. A new starter is going to have trouble with Coach Pendergast's varied looks and pressure packages. I just worry that our offense will cough up turnovers that give them field position, or our aggression lets them pop some big plays.

I hope it's not close because they have the vastly superior field goal kicker. Although we have the better punter, punting ain't winning if the game is on the line and someone needs to split the uprights.

TwistNHook: Red Wave Central has this note about a FSU DLineman:

Defensive tackle Logan Harrell, who racked up 10.5 sacks last year, was named to both the Outland and Nagurski Trophy lists. Without Chris Carter’s presence on the outside, however, Harrell is likely to find it tougher to get to the quarterback.

So, Harrell is a man to keep an eye on.

Berkelium97: This year's opener is a very intriguing matchup. It will be the type of game that defines this season, and may very well have important implications for Tedford's tenure at Cal. After all the criticism following last year's debacle, Tedford and the Bears need to make a strong showing to cast aside any doubts that he has "peaked." The return of Michaczik and Kiesau as well as other important changes among position coaches should greatly improve some glaring weaknesses that have emerged over the past couple seasons. If the Bears come out and make a strong showing, they could be on their way to a 3-0 start and a solid bounce back from last year's losing season. If they lose this game, it could be a sign of a long and painful where we could be a hasty offseason decision away from saying goodbye to Coach Tedford.

Of course, I believe the Bears have a big talent advantage, but you can never count out a Pat Hill team. Those Bulldogs will do their best to punch the Bears in the mouth all day. Cal can (and should) win, but it will be a tough matchup. Fresno State's loss of talent on defense is encouraging, as is the fact that they will roll out a new quarterback who will be under siege all day thanks to Coach Pendergast.

TwistNHook: Score predictions? Who is going to win?

Berkelium97: I'm expecting a defensive battle where special teams could be a wild card (ALAMAR!--it would be great to be on the other side of an Alamar Special for once). Bears hold on to win 20-13.

OhioBear: In 1995 at Memorial Stadium, Cal led Fresno State 24-12 in the 4th quarter after Na'il Benjamin turned a short pass from Pat Barnes into an 84-yard touchdown strike. But Fresno State rallied to win, 25-24.

Not this time.
Sixteen years later, Cal holds the 4th quarter lead this time and wins 24-12.

Avinash: 100-0 Cal, the score we've won every opening home game by the past decade under Tedford.

OhioBear: Not so fast, Avi. This game is on a neutral site. And we are 0-1 in season openers at neutral sites under Tedford. (Lost to Kansas State in Kansas City in 2003.)

Avinash: Kansas City is a neutral site for Kansas State? Did all the Wildcat fans have to walk from Manhattan?

Fine then, lope off half the points. 50-0 Cal.

OhioBear: Don't be silly. I think they rode Segways.

TwistNHook: Just like the Stick is a neutral game for Cal!

HydroTech: I'm gonna say 27-17 Cal.

NorCalNick: I think the Cal defense will hold down a decent Fresno St. offense reasonably well. The game will likely come down to how well Cal's iffy offense does against Fresno St.'s rebuilding defense, which lost quite a few starters from last years squad. If Cal can move the ball reasonably well, or if they get a few big turnovers or defensive touchdowns, then Cal cruises. If that doesn't happen it's an ugly, low scoring battle the whole way. I'll split the difference. How about 24-13, Cal?

Matt at Red Wave Central: You could argue that Fresno State in 2010 was just like vintage Fresno State: The 'Dogs have won either 8 or 9 games in eight of the last ten years, and have lost at least two conference games in each of those seasons. The lack of a WAC title grates on fans here in Fresno and now, with Boise State in another conference, Pat Hill is under a lot of pressure to deliver a conference crown. A win against Cal to open 2011 would bring a lot of goodwill to a coach that's been much-maligned by local critics.

Kodiak mentioned WR Devon Wylie midway through the piece. He and Jalen Saunders, the other returning starter (and last year's #2 in catches and yards), can fly, and behind them junior Rashad Evans will be joined in 2011 by Victor Dean and Josh Harper, two redshirt freshmen that fans in the Valley expect big things from in 2011. You guys might also consider it noteworthy that Dean is the tallest WR in Fresno State history (6-5 or 6-6, depending on what you read) and Harper had originally committed to Cal before changing his mind to join the Bulldogs.

Needless to say, Derek Carr won't lack for options when he drops back to pass.

- I get the sense that Pete Alamar's problem at Cal, and what ultimately led to his firing, was horrendous punt and kickoff coverage. I had a little difficulty tracking down how that translated to Fresno State opponents in 2010, but I figured out that opponents' 24.3 yards per KO return ranked 104th among FBS teams. On the flip side, I can also tell you that the special teams recorded six blocked punts and two blocked field goals last year. For the Bulldogs, a team that's paced the nation in blocked kicks over the past ten years, 2010 represented more of the same as usual. Kevin Goessling also earned all-WAC honors under Alamar's watch and has already been named a part of the Lou Groza Award watch-list for 2011. The team's kickoff return and punt return average both ranked in the top third of FBS teams, too.

The biggest question is whether Andrew Shapiro can improve in his second year as the 'Dogs punter. His 37.4 yards per punt was among the worst in the nation, though 21 of his 59 landed inside the 20-yard line. It's hard to fault him, though, since Matt Darr had been slated to replace Robert Malone but instead transferred to Tennessee. Year two will have to be a different story, though, at least to help out Fresno's reloading defense.

- I can't imagine that Cal won't try to test Fresno State's secondary even with a new quarterback under center, since they return only one starter (free safety Philip Thomas) and they haven't been known as pickoff machines in recent years. I didn't know this until I purchased Phil Steele's College Football Preview, but the Bulldogs have just 20 interceptions from their defensive backs in the last four years. Pat Hill should spend a lot of time preparing to neutralize Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones, or else it could be a long day.

- Robbie Rouse will be a difference maker in this game, I think, but I'm also expecting to see a bit of A.J. Ellis. Some of Pat Hill's best rushing attacks have come when running backs shared the load, and "Mighty Mouse" (as Rouse is only 5-7) doesn't have the build to get much more than the 200 or so carries he received in 2010. Ellis racked up 165 yards against Utah State when Rouse was injured, but he was a non-factor against Ole Miss and Illinois. How well he produces when Rouse needs a rest could be one of those hidden factors that decides the game.

- On a related note, Rouse actually average 5.5 yards per carry in 2010.

- Fresno State is 2-0 against Cal and they've won their last seven season openers! There's no reason to think those trends won't continue but, then again, I'm a homer. My final score prediction: Fresno State 23, Cal 17.