Fresno State Football: Five Toughest Players for the Bulldogs to Replace in 2018
The Bulldogs come in 2018 riding high with plenty of returning experience, but some key contributors will need to be replaced.
The Bulldogs shocked the college football world last fall, but they’ll need new pieces to help them do it again.
Fresh off of a ten-win campaign that marked one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in college football history, the Fresno State Bulldogs head into the spring with the kind of expectations that haven’t been seen in the Central Valley since 2013. By many measures, Jeff Tedford’s second Bulldogs squad is on the short list of Group of 5 teams capable of making a run at a New Year’s Day Bowl, and they’ll return a total of 17 starters on both sides of the ball and on special teams, to begin working toward that prize.
With so few departing contributors to choose from, determining the most significant production to replace may seem like a straight-forward task. It’s more than simply looking at the top of the soon-to-be-released depth chart, though, as more than a few role players had an impact on the team’s successes in 2017. Here’s who will be most missed, as well as the potential next men up to take their places.
5. Chason Virgil, quarterback
The Texas native found himself in an unenviable position last year after Marcus McMaryion’s arrival from Oregon State. He had the same kinds of struggles we’d seen in 2016, albeit against the likes of Alabama and Washington, and then he had to watch McMaryion seize the starting role and change the season’s arc. He may have figured out how to be more consistent at some point (I think he would have), but there’s no denying the offensive improvements that followed the change under center.
Virgil transferred to FCS Southeastern Louisiana, leaving behind a quarterback crew that has exactly zero pass attempts in FBS action behind McMaryion. Juco transfer Jorge Reyna seems likely to have the inside track to the backup spot now, but redshirt freshman Kyle Lindquist is a big and physical passer who figures to get a look, as well. Should the unthinkable occur, one of those two could be big players in the fall, so QB2 will be a race to watch.
4. Robert Stanley and Tobenna Okeke, defensive end
Stanley thrived in his last season by collecting 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Okeke led the ‘Dogs with six sacks of his own, and both played a significant part of a front seven that made its bones in the pass rush without relying on one particular athlete.
Duplicating that production won’t be easy. Kwami Jones may get one of the first cracks at a role since he was listed as Stanley’s backup in the Hawaii Bowl, and Emeka Ndoh may have already earned a larger role after collected four sacks of his own as a junior, but youngsters like Damien Degruy could play themselves into the rotation conversation with a strong spring.
3. Aaron Mitchell, center
No particular turnaround was more stunning than that of Fresno State’s offensive line, which makes the fact that they lose three starters something of a disappointment. It would’ve been nice to see these guys grow with the rest of the offense.
As it is, though, Mitchell’s extensive experience — 38 games started altogether — on the interior will be tough to replace. Senior Markus Boyer was listed on the two-deep as his backup in last December’s Hawaii Bowl, and recent four-star pickup Tyrone Sampson might be the center of the future, but the coaching staff can take comfort in knowing there’s no shortage of options.
2. Jimmy Camacho, kicker
The big-legged transfer made good on his potential and was very quietly one of the biggest reasons behind Fresno State’s resurgence, finishing 25-of-32 on field goal attempts. It was a strong enough performance to make the Red Wave forget how rough the kicking game had been a year or two earlier, and the competition at kicker is an utter mystery for now following his departure.
The Bulldogs’ spring roster lists just two athletes, redshirt freshman Asa Fuller and transfer Mateo Thompson. Don’t be surprised if field goal drills are a point of emphasis in spring ball, because both players will need time to prove themselves.
1. Malik Forrester, defensive tackle
The defense’s leader played the best football of his career in 2017, but while his production and his intangible will be missed, the Bulldogs have put in work to make sure the interior of the defense will have depth going forward.
Jasad Haynes and Kevin Atkins had larger roles late in the season, especially after Nathan Madsen’s late-season injury. Others who will fight for first-string rips should include Leevel Tatum III, back from a year off after transferring from UNLV, and Keiti Iakopo, who saw spot duty in 12 games.