Never lose, and you can't lose, right?
That's what Fresno State football fans have been saying all season, convinced a perfect regular season will fly their Bulldogs nonstop into the Phoenix sun for the Fiesta Bowl, the promise of Pat Hill fulfilled two years after the school sent his fu manchu packing.
After all, that's how it works for small-conference schools in a Bowl Championship Series world. Go undefeated, make the BCS final top-12, cash in the guaranteed berth and duffle bags full of money. It worked for Boise State in 2006 and Northern Illinois last year, and Hawaii, Texas Christian and Utah in between.
But, what if it doesn't happen that way? What if Fresno State goes 11-0 in the regular season for the first time in the BCS era, beats Boise State in the Mountain West Conference title game -- and gets left out of the New Year's party?
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To dismiss the thought that Fresno State somehow won't qualify is to underestimate the power and influence of those with power and influence. Namely, all those big-name coaches from big-brand schools in the six power conferences with automatic berths in the BCS bowl system.
If Fresno State qualifies, that means a school from a BCS conference won't. That's big money and prime recruiting exposure that goes out of the gold briefcase of the haves, and into the stringy pockets of a have-not.
It's just not the given you would think.
There are two ways Fresno State can earn an automatic berth. Finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, period. Or, finish in the final top 16, and ahead of the champion from an automatic qualifying conference.
Here is how big-school coaches voting in the all-powerful USA Today poll -- which counts for two-thirds of the BCS standings -- can leave the Bulldogs kicking rocks come Dec. 8 when bowl pairings are announced.
The hard way: refuse to vote No. 14 Fresno State two or more spots up the poll, no matter who beats whom. Leapfrog lower-ranked teams ahead when they beat higher-ranked teams, because hey, who have the Bulldogs beaten all year anyway?
Think about it: It took Fresno State four weeks and quality wins against Rutgers and Boise State just to crack the coaches' Top 25. It's taken the Bulldogs eight weeks to move up another nine spots. They are the lowest-ranked undefeated team in the nation. They sit behind seven one-loss teams and two two-loss teams.
But, you say, they're still in the top 16 and ahead of any team from the American Athletic Conference, an automatic qualifier.
Yes, they are. For how long, though?
AAC leader Central Florida (7-1) has gone from unranked to No. 17 in the BCS standings. Put another way, Central Florida has moved up six spots in four weeks of the BCS poll; Fresno State has moved up three spots in that same time frame. So, yeah, Central Florida is closing fast.
If Central Florida keeps winning, you better believe there are fellow AAC coaches who will rocket their friend of the program up the coaches' poll because, hey, who wants the best of their best to finish behind a Mountain West team?
Anyone who thinks conference politics plays no role in poll voting, refer to the 2004 case of Mack Brown, Texas vs. Cal. You know, when Brown successfully campaigned to have his Longhorns hook ahead of the Bears in the final BCS poll, for no good reason except he could.
So, this is what Fresno State must do to make sure none of this happens.
The Bulldogs need to root for Rutgers to upset Central Florida this Thursday. Pull for USC to knock off No. 13 UCLA in the season finale. Pray that No. 12 Oklahoma State gets waxed by No. 5 Baylor next time out. If No. 15 Northern Illinois goes down in flames, we'll miss the part where that's Fresno State's problem.
And, duh, don't lose any games.
Just don't think the Bulldogs can go 12-0 and straight to the Fiesta Bowl, no questions asked. Because, as Hill would tell you, nothing ever comes that easy to Fresno State.