The Fiesta Bowl was in the Dog House, here to see if the nationally ranked Bulldogs are all that and a bag of tortilla chips.
ESPN was in the TV booth to nationally televise Saturday's Nevada-Fresno State game. 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was upstairs scouting draft picks. A Los Angeles Times writer was in the press box for a looming spread on all things Fresno State. No one could confirm any Colin Kaepernick sightings, but we still had favored son David Carr looking tense on the sideline.
The Big Top was back at Bulldog Stadium, from a raging crowd in the parking lots before the game, to a sellout roar machine during the game, there was no doubt the Bulldogs have re-arrived on the national scene again.
"It's a great crowd," said Fiesta Bowl board member Patrick Barkley, who was scouting out the Bulldogs as a potential at-large invite to their BCS Bowl game. "Great fan base."
The Bulldogs have finally re-arrived on the national scene, and coach Tim DeRuyter didn't even have to grow a fu manchu and scream "BCS or Bust" to draw a crowd.
DeRuyter did, however, appear on the Jim Rome Show this week, selling his 16th-ranked Bulldogs on whatever national channel Rome is aired on these days. Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr got mic'd up, too, for a Saturday morning piece on ESPN's College GameDay show.
It was 2001 all over again, only the nation was much later to the party this time. Better late than never, but late just the same.
In 2001, the Bulldogs bottle-rocketed onto the national stage by taking down the powers that were — Sports Illustrated No. 1-ranked Oregon State, Fiesta Bowl-bound Colorado, Big Ten power Wisconsin — and into the national top 10 right out of the gate. Head coach Pat Hill's name went household, quarterback David Carr made the SI cover, the national media crowded us local guys with their extra elbows in the press box.
This year, it's taken a lot more jumping up and down to get any attention. The season-opening win against Rutgers barely registered in the polls. A landmark win against Boise State went unnoticed outside of greater Fresno County. The rest of the schedule is best remembered for the games Fresno State practically blew (Hawaii and San Diego State, for those trying to forget).
Now, everyone will be watching to see how the Bulldogs handle the staggering pressure of being darlings of the college football nation again.
How can their minds not wander to the Phoenix desert when a Fiesta Bowl rep is glad-handing his way through the pre-game sideline in a yellow blazer?
How can they not wonder if DeRuyter is staying or going when his name starts popping up on short lists of coaching candidates at Bigger Better U?
Of course, the Blackout game sellout audience was having none of this conversation Saturday. They were too busy making this a college football town again, for the first time since mid-2005 when the Bulldogs took No. 1 USC to the brink.
The fans finally showed up in full force even when there wasn't a brand-name opponent on the field. It's as if they finally realized that Fresno State is the brand-name team worth coming to see, so what does it matter if the other team's a schmuck?
So, they booed every flag against their team, even when the call was right, because what does being right or wrong have to do with it? They all wore black shirts, because black is apparently the new black in jersey marketing.
Most impressive, Fresno State fans managed not to do The Wave when their team had the ball on offense.
Now, that's the way to put your best face forward when the circus comes back to town.
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