With the 2010 Fresno State schedule being announced, it's time to break down that schedule and circle four dates on the calendar that will make or break the 2010 Bulldog football season.
There are a few dates you may not agree with and one in particular I know most fans won't agree with, but because I'm allowing for a loss there's a reason I don't have the date circled.
The Bulldogs have a tendency to play up to the bigger opponents and down to their lesser ones, allowing for a letdown and a loss the team couldn't afford. This season may not be that much different if that isn't improved upon.
With the loss of star running back Ryan Mathews to the NFL Draft, the Bulldogs will need to replace him with what could be a "running back by committee" type of situation until Pat Hill and his coaching staff can settle on one they like.
Another question coming in to this season is the quarterback position. Can Ryan Colburn be the leader that this team needs or will they have to turn to sophomore quarterback Derek Carr, younger brother to San Francisco 49er quarterback David Carr, to do the job?
While there are player questions, we're not here to talk about players, we're here to talk about certain dates on the calendar. Dates that will either turn the season into a successful one and give this team momentum or it will completely break this team down and it'll start to look like every other season that's gone by.
September 4, 2010—Cincinnati Bearcats (Fresno, CA)
This will be not only be Fresno State's home opener but it will also be the season opener as the Bulldogs welcome in the Bearcats of Cincinnati. The same Cincinnati team that sneaked away with an eight point win over the Bulldogs last season and eventually made it to a BCS game against Florida. A game the Bearcats were never in right from the start.
This is a game the Bulldogs NEED to win. Not a game they can just "be close" or "almost win," this is a game they absolutely have to win. They need to get off on the right foot and show that this is a different team than last year. They need to show they can win the big games and they need to show that home field advantage means everything.
September 18, 2010—Utah State (Logan, UT)
This is a team that Fresno State has struggled to beat, especially on the road. They needed a last second field goal two years ago to beat Utah State and this year may not be much different with a much improved Aggie team.
After opening the season against Cincinnati, they'll have a bye week before heading to Logan, UT to take on the Aggies and they need to keep the momentum that they gained from a possible win against the Bearcats. After a home game against a BCS opponent, Fresno State has the tendency to let down against a lesser conference opponent.
They'll need all the momentum they can get as the game that follows Utah State will possibly be their biggest challenge of the season.
September 25, 2010—Ole Miss (Oxford, MS)
After what I could call two tough games right off the bat, it won't get much easier as Fresno State will fly out to Oxford, MS to take on the Ole Miss Rebels of the SEC.
This is not a bad team, though they finished with a 9-4 record last season, their four losses came at Auburn, at Mississippi State, at South Carolina, and a home loss to eventual national champion Alabama.
Are they beatable, it depends on which Fresno State team shows up that day. It's not out of the realm of possibility but it's not going to be easy.
September 13, 2010—Nevada (Fresno, CA)
The Bulldogs owe Nevada for the beat down the Wolfpack put on Fresno State last season, though most of that was after running back Ryan Mathews went down with a concussion.
This game falls just one week before their showdown with Boise State on the smurf turf. This is a game that Fresno State needs to win and they need to win decisively. It will give them at least some momentum going in to their game in Boise.
Other games to consider
The game against Boise State is always big but Fresno State has always struggled up in Boise, but who hasn't. I'm allowing for a loss in this game and until the Bulldogs can prove that they can win, or at least play well, on the smurf turf, I'm going to leave it that way.
The final two games of the 2010 schedule will be at home against Idaho and Illinois, two games Fresno State won last year and I expect them to win again this year.
This is not an easy schedule for Fresno State in 2010 but with Pat Hill at the helm, don't expect this kind of schedule to change any time soon. Letting up and just playing cupcakes is not going to do anything for this team or the football program as a whole.
They need to know that they can play, and play well, against teams like Cincinnati and Ole Miss. While most would say "why play teams like this if you can't beat Boise State," I would tend to argue that the Bulldogs had an opportunity to win last year but an early interception return for a touchdown from Ryan Colburn derailed that idea.
The Bulldogs have their work cut out for them. Take it one game at a time and they may just survive.