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UConn football opponent preview: Fresno State Bulldogs

UConn football will return to action with a long road trip to play a really good team.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Fresno State Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

UConn football’s 2021 season kicks off in about three weeks when the Huskies will be in California taking on the Fresno State Bulldogs on August 28 at 2:00 p.m.

Randy Edsall’s squad hasn’t played a game since November 30th, 2019, a 49-17 loss to Temple that closed the door on a 2-10 season. Between the transitions of a rebuilding team and the fact that UConn took the 2020 season off due to COVID-19, over 20 players transferred out of the program.

So we don’t know much about what to expect from UConn. Predicting how they match up against certain teams will be tough. But we can certainly assess the opponents.

In terms of UConn’s first opponent of the season, Fresno State is pretty good. Early betting lines have the Bulldogs as roughly 28-point favorites in this matchup and their over/under for wins on the season is at six, so Vegas expects them to be a bowl-qualifying team. The Huskies will have their hands full in their season opener.

Head Coach and Recent History

Fresno State went 3-3 in 2020 in their first year under head coach Kalen DeBoer.

The Bulldogs went 4-8 in their previous season in Jeff Tedford’s third and final year as head coach. Tedford had achieved tremendous success in his first two seasons in Fresno, however, going 10-4 and 12-2 before resigning in 2019. He announced that his resignation was due to medical issues.

DeBoer spent the 2019 season as Indiana’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and held the same role at Fresno State for two seasons before that. He held the same role at Eastern Michigan for three years before that and four seasons at Southern Illinois. He is not a first-time head coach. Before his time as a Division 1 offensive coordinator, DeBoer was head coach at the University of Sioux Falls, his alma mater, for five seasons, compiling a 67-3 record.

2020 season

Fresno State played six games in 2020, beating Colorado State, UNLV, and Utah State. The Bulldogs lost to Hawaii in their opener, won three in a row, then lost their final two games at Nevada and at home against New Mexico. They finished 89th in the country in Football Outsiders’ FEI rankings, 75th offensively and 80th defensively.

Jake Haener, a transfer from Washington, was their starting quarterback. He had a really strong campaign, completing 64.7% of his passes while throwing for 14 touchdowns and five interceptions and averaging 336.8 passing yards per game.

Star running back Ronnie Rivers was the team’s leading rusher and Haener’s second-favorite passing target, rushing for 5.1 yards per carry with seven touchdowns on the ground and another two receiving while racking up 44.1 receiving yards per game. He was the Bulldogs’ only Mountain West All-Conference first-team selection. Right tackle Syrus Tuitele was a second-team selection and is now on the Buffalo Bills after signing as an undrafted free agent.

Sophomore Jalen Cropper was the team’s leading receiver, hauling in 37 passes for 517 yards and five touchdowns, impressive totals for six games. He earned a Mountain West All-Conference honorable mention.

Defensively, three players had 4.5 sacks or more, including Mountain West 2020 second-team selection David Perales. Kwami Jones led the way with five sacks while Kevin Atkins racked up 4.5, both were all-conference honorable mentions.

2021 outlook

Haener returns for his senior season as does every major offensive contributor including Rivers, the Bulldogs’ lone selection for the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference team, and Cropper.

Perales, Jones, and Atkins are returning to the defense, as is linebacker Levelle Bailey, another all-conference honorable mention last year. The secondary doesn’t have any standout players but does have a lot of depth and experience.

Fresno State should be better than last year’s team on both sides of the ball and could take a notable step up given all of the returning talent.

Prediction

A UConn team still adjusting to live football will have its hands full against an experienced team that knows what its doing on both sides of the ball. UConn loses 38-10 and does not cover.