Fresno State football
Fresno State enters the field (Photo by Jason Allen/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Fresno State Preview: Bulldogs Would Love Another Bowl Win Over a P5

Fresno State was one of only two Group of Five football teams to finish in the AP Top 25 at the end of last year. It may happen again.

Fresno State won the 2022 Mountain West Conference title game, reached double-digit wins, beat a Pac-12 team in its bowl game (Washington State), and came within a field goal of knocking off another Pac-12 when it played Oregon State early in the year.

A year after finishing in the final AP Top 25 poll, the Bulldogs are out for more blood. The Bulldogs are clearly strong under veteran head coach Jeff Tedford, and there's no reason to believe anything will change this year.

Fresno State 2023 Preview

Levelle Baily of Fresno States celebrates after a play.

Photo by Jason Allen/ISI Photos/Getty Images

THE CONF.: Mountain West Conference (NOTE: Divisions were eliminated this year)

2022 RECORD: 10-4 (went to Los Angeles Bowl, beating the Pac-12's Washington State 29-6)

CONF. FINISH: 7-1 in the West Division

HEAD COACH: Jeff Tedford (5th year at school, 36-18 record; 15th year overall, 118-75 including 10 seasons at Cal from 2002-2012)

ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Levelle Bailey, Sr./LB (87 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 6 PBUs); Mose Vavao, Jr./OL (started all 13 games last year); Johnny Hudson, Sr./DT (34 tackles, 5 TFLs); Carlton Johnson, Jr./CB (28 tackles, 6 TFLs); Erik Brooks, Sr./WR (37 catches, 391 yards, 3 TDs); Morice Norris, Sr./DB-LB (55 tackles, 8 TFLs, 6 PBUs).

THE NEWCOMER: Mikey Keene, Soph./QB (2,377 yards passing, 23 TDs in two years at UCF)

The Breakdown

Erik Brooks

Fresno State's Erik Brooks is the top returning receiver for the Bulldogs (PHOTO CREDIT: Fresno State Athletics)

The receiving corps is strong, and leading the way is Fresno State veteran Erik Brooks, but also has Toledo transfer Mikel Barkley, Boston College transfer Jaelen Gill and many other talented candidates. They'll have UCF transfer Mikey Keene (2,377 yds, 23 TDs in two years) throwing to them. Look for this to be one offensive strength.

But the real bright spot is on defense, where Fresno State may have the top defensive line returning in the entire league. Three of the starters return, led by DT Johnny Hudson. This is a special unit, and the defense allowed fewer than 20 points per game last year — rare and majorly respectable in the scoring-happy Mountain West. That's impressive. Fresno State is legit in 2023.

The Key Game and Why

Boy oh boy, is this like 1+1. This is easy: When Fresno State plays host to Boise State on Nov. 4, this is the biggie. Not only is it a rematch of last year's Mountain West championship game, but the Broncos also won the regular season matchup last year in Idaho by 20 points, which fueled the outcome reversal we saw in the game that mattered most — the MWC title game. These two teams play Power Five caliber ball. Who will win?

The Toughest Game and Why

See the above for the key game. It would be default-easy to say the road trips to Power Five Purdue and Arizona State are the toughest matchups, but the truth is, on paper Fresno State looks better than these two weaker P5 programs.

Remember, Fresno State — after its bowl game win over Wazzu — was one of only three G5 teams (Tulane and Troy are the others) to be ranked in the final AP Top 25 (finished No. 24). To be honest? The toughest game is Boise State at home, and don't be surprised if the Bulldogs knock off either (or both?) Purdue or Arizona State. And don't call it an upset when it happens. It won't be.

Chances of Making Conference Title Game

Seriously legit. While it would be easy to default to Boise State-Air Force in the final, but Fresno State is the No. 1 candidate in the league to mess that all up. And don't be surprised if that happens. The Bulldogs do play Boise State, but not Air Force — and the old division system was scrapped this spring.

Mose Vavao

Fresno State's Mose Vavao is on the Outland Trophy preseason watch list (PHOTO CREDIT: Fresno State Athletics)

The Prediction

Fresno State looks very solid in 2023. While the offense has a lot of new faces, it's not devoid of talent. The defense was good last year and it will be this year, too. And let's not forget that this program has a coach who top-tier P5 programs and NFL teams have chased (before he clearly chose to coach at this level). It is really, really tough to see the Bulldogs not being in double-digit win territory, and we'll go ahead and say it — they will defeat either or both of Purdue and Arizona State. Just watch.

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