SAN JOSE — More than 8,000 red-clad Fresno State football fans marked the long funeral procession from the San Joaquin Valley to Spartan Stadium, where a dream season that almost was went to die on a suddenly Black Friday.
No more undefeated record. No more top-20 national ranking.
And, most certainly, no need to book those Phoenix-bound air tickets for a major bowl game, not after the 16th-ranked Bulldogs' hopes were crushed by a 62-52 loss to San Jose State in Friday's regular-season finale.
Just like that, all was lost.
"It hurts tremendously," coach Tim DeRuyter said, speaking for the extended Bulldogs family of diehard fans who sat in solemn silence for most of the second half.All Fresno State had to do was punch out the Spartans, a nondescript 5-6 team from the Mountain West Conference, and the Bulldogs would be 11-0 for the first time in school history.
Win the MWC championship game next week, hope for a break in the computer rankings, and -- boom -- Fresno State would have been in prime position to earn an automatic berth in a Bowl Championship Series postseason game, most likely the Fiesta Bowl in the Arizona desert.
Now, Fresno State and its legions of followers will never know what might have been.
Would they have leaped ahead of Northern Illinois in the final BCS standings to fulfill former coach Pat Hill's dream of crashing the BCS bowl system? Could they have hung with a Big 12 opponent in the Fiesta Bowl, like an Oklahoma State?
All of that was on the table, which is why Friday's game started as a celebration of life for a 10-0 team and finished as a wake for mourners, some of whom left early because they couldn't bear the sight of lowering the team's undefeated record into the Spartan Stadium ground.
"It's a tough thing to swallow, but we have to," senior quarterback Derek Carr said.
Carr's hope of making a late push into the Heisman Trophy conversation likely ended with the loss on national television. Fresno State's budgetary hopes pinned to its $4 million share (minus travel and ticket-allotment costs) of an estimated $11 million BCS payday will go uncashed.DeRuyter's darkhorse candidacy as national Coach of the Year came to a resounding halt.
So where does this leave Fresno State, other than a long and dark bus ride home over the Pacheco Pass?
The Bulldogs likely will plummet from No. 13 in the coaches' poll -- not out altogether, but certainly behind No. 20 Northern Illinois. The BCS dreams are officially shattered beyond repair.But there is still something to play for.
If the Bulldogs win the MWC title game -- likely to be played at Bulldog Stadium against Utah State or Boise State -- they will likely earn a bid to the Dec. 21 Las Vegas Bowl.
Sure, it's not a Fiesta, but Fresno State would be paired against a Pac-12 team -- possibly even USC -- and be seen on ABC national television.
Of course, that was no consolation to the thousands of fans who came all this way to see their dreams die an untimely death.
"San Jose?" yelled a 20-something Bulldogs fan, cursing his way to the exits. "Really?"
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