David White: And that's how you usher out yesterday's 'BCS or bust' ideal

The Fresno BeeDecember 8, 2013 

Fresno State fans were bundled up for the cold but just as loud as ever Saturday night during the Mountain West Conference championship game with the Bulldogs facing Utah State at Bulldog Stadium.

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Remember how former Fresno State coach Pat Hill always used to say people in this town don't care if the Bulldogs won a mid-major conference title?

The sea of red that stormed Bulldog Stadium's confetti-splashed field Saturday begged to differ.

With the perfect season gone, and the Fiesta Bowl dreams in permanent siesta mode, the Red Wave showed up, anyhow, for Saturday's Mountain West Conference championship against Utah State, chattering teeth and all.

They cheered every Derek Carr pass completion, jeered every penalty against the home team and barked for joy throughout a 24-17 victory over Utah State.

Above all, they proved that if second-year coach Tim DeRuyter has accomplished anything in replacing Hill, it's this: the deeply ingrained "BCS or Bust" ethos of the local fan base is no more.

Sure, the Bulldogs would have preferred to go 12-0 right into a Bowl Championship Series bowl game. But, come on, let's not act like this wasn't the most successful regular season in decades.

The Bulldogs just went 11-1. They'll finish the regular season ranked in the Top 25 for just the third time in program history. They won their first outright conference title since 1991. They'll even likely get the chance to go Freedom Bowl II on USC in the Las Vegas Bowl after all.

And, you know what? BCS or not, that's plenty good enough for a program that's never crashed anyone's BCS party in the first place.

"If your only goal is to win the BCS, why show up and play (Saturday)?" said DeRuyter, signifying a seismic culture shift in the Bulldogs program.

It didn't used to be that way. Hill sold the Red Wave on his BCS-busting brand of football: topple the big-school giants, shoot up the national polls and hope they don't stumble in the conference schedule.

With Hill setting the agenda, Fresno State fans loved the Wisconsin-Oregon-USC portions of the magnet schedule, and couldn't care less when Louisiana Tech and Idaho came to town.

But, you know what fans despised more than the idea of settling for a lousy conference trophy?

Finishing third or worse in said conference, which the Bulldogs did 14 out of 15 times under Hill, where the first loss of the season always devolved into three because, hey, what does it matter at that BCS-busted point, anyway?

Fans didn't appreciate the idea of conference titles because Hill didn't appreciate the idea of conference titles. When the BCS dream ended with the first loss of the season — which, under Hill, is to say, every year by mid-October — there was nothing left to play for, and it showed on the field and in the emptied stands.

Enter DeRuyter, who led the Bulldogs to their first co-title last season, never complaining about unredeemed seats in the stands. All he's done in two years is win 14 of 16 conference games — including 12 straight between those two losses — and take the inaugural MWC championship game.

His players celebrated every sack and first down as if a BCS berth was on the line. The coaching staff hugged and back-slapped players coming off the field as if a No. 13 national ranking was still at stake.

As fans charged through the barricades and took the field at game's end, chanting "Fresno State!" as loud as they could, they showed they can put on a Fiesta without going to Phoenix on New Year's Day.

What a novel concept.

 

 

The columnist can be reached at bydw@sbcglobal.net or @bydavidwhite on Twitter.

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