Nearly three weeks after losing their defensive boss to the Great White North, Fresno State officially has a replacement.
The Mountain West Conference program confirmed Tuesday that Bert Watts has been promoted to defensive coordinator. Watts will replace Orlondo Steinauer, left late last month to take the same job with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
Watts has spent the past two seasons as linebackers coach for the Bulldogs.
“I have a lot of trust and confidence in Coach Watts as a member of our defensive staff and he will be the right person for the position,” said head coach Jeff Tedford in a statement. “I was really excited about the progress of the defense last season and the familiarity with what we are doing and the players’ familiarity with Bert will be great for our team’s overall success.”
Prior to his time at Fresno, Watts was the coordinator at UC-Davis for four seasons.
Tedford has an extensive history in Watts, with the latter playing his college football for the former at Cal. Watts first coaching job also came at his alma mater as a graduate assistant for Tedford from 2004-05.
That certainly didn’t last long.
In December of 2016, it was confirmed that Orlondo Steinauer would be leaving his post as the defensive coordinator of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League to take the same job at Fresno State. After one season at the Mountain West Conference school, Steinauer announced on Twitter that he has decided to move back to the CFL with the same organization.
“Orlondo is an accomplished CFL coach with a great track record at this level,” said Ticats head coach June Jones in a statement. “He’s a coach whose great work ethic, intelligence, knowledge of the Canadian game and ability to get the most out of his players will be a huge asset to our staff.
“We’re very happy to bring him home to Hamilton after an exceptional year at Fresno State.”
Prior to his one season at Fresno, Steinauer had spent his entire coaching career in the CFL, including a four-year stint as the defensive coordinator for Hamilton from 2013-16. Steinauer, a Seattle native who played his college football at Western Washington, also played professionally in Canada from 1996-2008 prior to embarking on his coaching career.
All four-star 2018 recruits are officially accounted for.
After the first-ever Early Signing Period in December and the annual National Signing Day earlier this month, just one of 347 four-star recruits remained unsigned by FBS programs. That one, Tyrone Sampson Jr. of Detroit, had reportedly zeroed in on Arizona State, Mississippi State and Nebraska as likely destinations but, instead of signing on the first Wednesday of February, opted instead to continue studying his options as schools such as Illinois, Missouri and West Virginia had entered the picture.
In the end, however, it appears that the one-time Syracuse commit will at least begin his collegiate playing career not at a Power Five program but rather at a Mountain West Conference school according to the offensive lineman as well as his new football coach.
That commitment came shortly after Sampson visited the Bulldogs’ campus.
Sampson was rated as the No. 7 center in the country and the No. 346 recruit overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. He had been committed to Syracuse for more than eight months before decommitting in December.
Easily the highest-rated member of Jeff Tedford‘s second recruiting class, Sampson is the first four-star recruit signed by the football program since 2015 (wide receiver L.J. Reed) and just the fourth such prospect in the school’s history, joining quarterback Derek Carr (2009) and offensive tackle James Paulk (2005).
Yet another FCS roster will have a pinch and/or a dash of FBS experience this coming season.
Southeastern Louisiana announced Thursday that it has added quarterback Chason Virgil (pictured) and defensive back Xavier Lewis to its roster. The latter comes to SLU from LSU, the former from Fresno State.
As they are dropping down to the FCS level from the FBS, both will be eligible to play in 2018 for the Lions. Both players will also be redshirt juniors in 2018, meaning they’ll have two seasons of eligibility each including this year.
A four-star member of LSU’s 2015 recruiting class, Lewis was rated as the No. 22 cornerback in the country and the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Louisiana. After redshirting as a true freshman, Lewis played in 15 games the past two seasons. Four of those appearances came in what turned out to be his final season with the Tigers.
Virgil, a three-star 2015 signee, started 14 games during his time at Fresno State, including 10 two years ago. His best season came in that 2016 season when he became the third Bulldogs quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards (2,021) in a single season as a freshman. This past season, he completed 48-of-83 passes for 524 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions as he started four games.
For his career thus far, Virgil has passed for 2,843 yards, 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
WHO: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)
WHAT: The 15th Hawai’i Bowl
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Aloha Stadium in Honolulu
THE SKINNY: While he hasn’t taken any trophies home this month, one could make a good case that Jeff Tedford is the college football coach of the year in 2017 for the work he’s done at Fresno State. After all, the former Bulldogs quarterback has sparked one of the great turnarounds in the sport this season, taking over a 1-11 team from a year ago and leading them to the doorstep of a Mountain West title and a spot in the Selection Committee’s top 25 in late November.
While optimism and good football have returned to California’s Central Valley, the dream season isn’t over yet as Fresno State aims for a 10th win — as many as the program had in the three years prior — and a bowl victory for the first time in a decade on Christmas Eve.
Leading the resurgence has been the tandem of quarterback Marcus McMaryion and wideout KeeSean Johnson. The two have hooked up for eight touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards through the air as the Oregon State transfer under center has helped inject some life into an offense that looks completely different from the same unit a year ago. Fresno’s defense also isn’t anything to gloss over either, leading the conference in scoring at just 17.2 points a game allowed.
Their opponent, Houston, knows all too well what a good defense can do for you as the Cougars sport perhaps the best defensive player in all of college football. That would be defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the Outland Trophy Award winner this season after another incredible campaign that saw him record 14.5 TFL’s and 5.5 sacks despite being double (and often triple) teamed on every snap. To say he is a disruptive force goes without saying and he’s reason enough to tune in for this game amid the holiday season.
Offensively, the Cougars have been a bit up and down in 2017 under new coach and former offensive coordinator Major Applewhite but did score some big wins over Arizona early and USF late. Part time receiver D’Eriq King has seemingly taken hold of the job behind center during the team’s last four games and, despite being the third quarterback to take snaps this year, brings plenty to the table as both a passer (832 yards, 73% passing in three starts) and a runner (seven scores on the ground).
The question is though, can Fresno State stop Oliver from wreaking havoc on every play? That’s really what this game will come down to and the Bulldogs do have experience against superstars in the trenches having played Alabama and Washington earlier in the season. While offensive linemen Aaron Mitchell and Netane Muti are a big reason why the team has only allowed nine sacks all year (fifth in FBS), something says that won’t quite hold up in Honolulu as the Cougars sneak out with a close victory in what should be a pretty competitive bowl game.
THE PICK: Houston 28, Fresno State 23