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May 11, 2011

Fresno St. no stranger to playing top competition

Under head coach Pat Hill, Fresno State has lived by the motto of "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere" when it comes to its non-conference scheduling year in and year out. Once again, the Bulldogs have set up a brutal early season slate, including a trip to Lincoln to take on Nebraska on Sept. 10.

Here's a closer look at Fresno State coming out of the spring from Bulldogs' radio play-by-play man Paul Loeffler.

There seems to be a lot of buzz about Fresno State's quarterback situation this season. Care to fill us in?

"The major storyline is at quarterback. Derek Carr, who's older brother David was obviously the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and led Fresno State to such a great start in 2001 when they were up to No. 8 in the rankings. Derek was around campus back then, and a lot of us remember him as a little 10-year old kid with a high voice running around telling everybody his brother deserved the Heisman.

"He's all grown up now and he's the starting quarterback as a redshirt sophomore, and in spring ball he impressed everybody with just his physical tools. He's got a cannon of an arm. He doesn't have to have his feet set to throw the ball - he can throw running to his right or his left, off balance and he'll hit a guy 25 yards downfield in double coverage on the nose. He was by far the biggest storyline of spring ball, and he's the biggest reason people are fired up about the season."

I saw an interview with Patt Hill where he said there hasn't been this much excitement about the Bulldogs' passing game since David was under center as a senior in 2001. Would you agree?

"Absolutely, and I think if you talk to David he'll tell you that Derek is further ahead at this point than David was. It makes sense, because Derek followed David to Texas (when David was drafted by the Houston Texans) and went to high school there for three years, and we was down at the Texans' camp throwing passes to Andre Johnson and all these NFL guys, so he's had some advantages that David didn't have.

"He's been able to learn from pro coaching David has as a pro, as far as learning about reading defenses, decision making, and I think that's the biggest area that's improved in his game, and it's just going to take time in the saddle to have that split-second decision making and not try to do too much. He's so capable with all his physical tools, he sometimes tries to make plays he has no business making just because he can."

Seeing how he's yet to even make his first collegiate start yet, is there any concern that the pressure to live up to his older brother might be too much for Derek?

"There was argument when Derek was a true freshman for him to be the starter at that point. He and (two-year starter Ryan Colburn) had a spirited battle, and Ryan just did beat him out. I think some people are more worried about the pressure on him than he is. He's not worried about it t all. He's been ready for it. He's a man and he hasn't played yet. I don't think it's going to be an issue. I think he's as prepared for it as anybody could be."

It sounds like Derek will have plenty of experienced guys at the skill positions to help him settle in. How much will those guys factor into Carr's success this year?

"I think that will be key. He's got a guy that ran for over 1,000 yards last year and had two 200-yard games in Robbie Rouse, and then another guy who transferred from UCLA who was the California high school player of the year a couple years ago in Milton Knox. Knox is every bit as good as Rouse is, maybe even better at breaking tackles, so you have a terrific one-two punch in the backfield.

"Then at receiver, they're loaded with young talent. He's got a senior in Devon Wylie who will be here for his fifth year and is super fast. Rashad Evans has been a reliable target. Jalen Saunders and Isaiah Burse have been terrific in spurts as true freshmen last year, and they have a couple guys who redshirted who probably could've helped them last year.

"I think he does have a lot of good options in the receiving game, and I think the offense is changing a little bit because of it. I think the biggest question mark right now for the team is on the offensive line. At the talent positions, they're really loaded, but the offensive line is a bit unproven."

Looking over to the other side of the ball, what can people expect from this year's defense compared to last season?

"The biggest difference on defense this year is going to be speed. I think their back seven are going be significantly faster. I think they've added a little speed in the linebacking corps, and in the secondary they give up some experience but add some speed their too. I think that's key for the schedule that they're playing. I think there's reason to think that this defense will be improved.

"The question mark is going to be on the d-line because they lost an outstanding pass rusher in Chris Carter who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they're very deep in their interior linemen positions, and they have some young guys who maybe aren't proven yet, but they have some ability."

Fresno State has become known in recent years for being a team willing to play the best non-conference schedule it can get every year under Hill. Are Bulldog fans still 100-percent on board with that scheduling philosophy or has it started to wear a little thin lately?

"There's always going to be sectors of the fan base that are 100-percent on board with it and then some people that are tired of it because they want to win the conference. They would trade a couple signature wins for a conference title. But I think for the most part people are on board with it. People look at this schedule and they're excited about it. When you're taking on Cal, Nebraska, Ole Miss and Boise State in your first five games, and you get a couple of those at home and one's a short drive away in the Bay Area, that's a big deal. That's big time football, and people get fired up for that.

"I think the one thing that hasn't sold people on the philosophy is that perfect season that hasn't quite happened yet. It could've happened in 2001 with David Carr, and I think Pat Hill really believes it's possible with three years of Derek Carr as the starting quarterback for one of those perfect storm seasons to materialize."

A lot of teams have to deal with the intimidation factor of playing in a place like Memorial Stadium when they come to Lincoln for the first time. Considering that FSU is no stranger to playing in intimidating venues, do think that will be much of an issue for the Bulldogs?

"I hope not. The last few years they've been to Wisconsin, they've been to Illinois, and in the past they've been to Texas A&M, LSU, Ohio State, so the program certainly has that experience. However, when you have young guys at certain positions, like quarterback, that remains to be seen.

"I don't think Derek Carr's the kind of guy who would be intimidated, but you never know until you see him out there. That's going to be one of the key factors: the guys who aren't experienced in that kind of environment, are they ready for that kind of challenge? I do know that the coaching staff does everything it can to prepare them for it, so it's not something that I worry about."



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