SAN DIEGO — What? You thought this undefeated stuff was going to be a snap?
You thought Fresno State was going to breeze through the rest of its schedule and coast into the Fiesta Bowl?
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs got all they could handle from San Diego State on Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium before squeaking by 35-28 in overtime.
It took the longest fumble return in school history, courtesy of linebacker Ejiro Ederaine, as well as a blocked field goal by Marcel Jensen at the end of regulation. And it took safety Derron Smith knocking away a fourth-down pass into the end zone on the game's final play.
When it was finally over, more than 4 hours after it began, the Bulldogs gathered at midfield for their usual postgame prayer. Only this time, there seemed to be more players praying than usual. Then they trotted over to show appreciation to Fresno State fans assembled in the southeast corner of the stadium.
This one was anything but easy. In fact, the Bulldogs were extremely fortunate to escape with their record unblemished.
For most of the game, the Aztecs made Derek Carr look like an ordinary quarterback. Then came the fourth quarter. Carr found Josh Harper for a 50-yard chunk on third-and-17, then hit Davante Adams in the front corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 11:39 left. (Adams also made a spectacular catch.)
Those two throws, when the Bulldogs needed them most, gave Fresno State the lead. But they didn't settle the outcome.
Nope. The Bulldogs needed their defense. They needed a 78-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Ederaine with 9:51 left that left the home fans booing in anger. And they had to overcome some putrid special-teams play.
Breathe easy, Red Wavers. Just don't breathe too easy.
Fresno State in no way resembled the offensive juggernaut we've come to expect. The Bulldogs had more bugs and glitches than healthcare.gov.
Like no team has done this season, the Aztecs pressured and harassed Carr. Especially up the middle. San Diego State took away Fresno State's downfield passing game and halted those bubble screens after short gains.
When Carr did have time to throw, his passes were a step or two off. Or his receivers were well covered by the Aztecs' physical secondary. At other times, he seemed locked onto Davante Adams while missing open receivers.
Remember, this is a San Diego State team that ranked 109th in the country in pass defense. So teams have been throwing on them — just not the Bulldogs and their fourth-ranked passing offense.
Nope, college football doesn't always compute.
Fresno State was fortunate to be tied 7-7 at the half. San Diego State not only missed a field goal, but also was heavily penalized. The Bulldogs' lone touchdown came on a drive that was extended by a pass interference penalty. And the referees reversed a fumble call on Carr that would've given the Aztecs possession at the Fresno State 15.
The Bulldogs' first-half MVP was punter Garrett Swanson (never a good sign), who twice pinned San Diego State inside its 20. It should've been three times, but several Bulldogs waiting in position near the goal line let the ball trickle into the end zone for a touchback.
It was that kind of night for Fresno State, but the Bulldogs found a way.
San Diego State, with its talent-laden roster, might have been the Bulldogs' tallest remaining hurdle until the MWC championship, a presumed rematch against Boise State.
Sure, that game at Wyoming coming up in two weeks looks scary. It'll probably be played in the middle of the night (thank you, ESPN) under crazy weather conditions. Expect frigid temperatures and howling winds. Heck, even a blizzard.
But the Cowboys themselves haven't been terribly impressive. Blown out by rival Colorado State 52-22 at home one week, then lose to San Jose State 51-44 on the road the next.
San Jose State, led by quarterback David Fales, won't be a pushover. That game comes the day after Thanksgiving, and it's always possible Fresno State will still be in a turkey-induced hangover.
On paper, the Bulldogs should have no problems Saturday against Nevada or against New Mexico in the regular-season finale. But these are college kids, not seasoned pros. Anything can happen.
San Diego State proved that. Well, almost.
Now the drumbeat only gets louder.
At coach Tim DeRuyter's weekly news conferences, reporters will continue to come up with inventive ways to get him to talk about the BCS standings. DeRuyter must continue to match their inventiveness with answers showing the Bulldogs appreciate their position while not overlooking that week's opponent.
National college football personalities, many of whom are honks for the big conferences, will degrade Fresno State's schedule and question whether the Bulldogs deserve a $17 million payday over a two-loss team from the SEC or Pac-12.
(They might have a point about the schedule. Rutgers dropped another one Saturday and Boise State now has three losses, the most of Chris Petersen's tenure. This is where the canceled game against Colorado colors perception.)
Most of all, though, the Bulldogs have to continue to ignore the noise coming from the media, family and fans. That's not as easy as it sounds.
Just one slip, and Fresno State will be going bowling in Las Vegas or back here in San Diego. And those are the most attractive options.
But for another week, the dream season still breathes. Just barely, but there's still air in those lungs.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, email@example.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.