Fresno State came to the City of Angels wanting to be a big-time college football program all over again.
Instead, the Bulldogs got big-timed by USC.
All over again.
If Fresno State thought it would make a 2014 sequel to last year's dream season, that curtain was dropped like a hammer Saturday. The Trojans saw to that in a 52-13 horror show of a season opener before an audience of 76,037 as Hollywood's bright stars blinged in the distance.
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"You've got to be ready to step into the limelight," said Bulldogs fan Erik Mares, a 40-year-old correctional officer from Fresno who made it a weekend game trip with friends. "It was over and it was over early. It was like, 'What do we do now?' "
Back to reality, Fresno State goes.
No more Derek Carr saving the day as the star quarterback; he's off to the National Football League playing hero for the Oakland Raiders. No repeat of the 2014 undefeated run into the top 20 national rankings; not after the Bulldogs suffered their most lopsided season-opening loss in 94 years of program history.
All the estimated 5,000 Fresno State fans in the stadium got was a front-row view of how much bigger and better college football can be on this side of the Grapevine.
They found USC's stadium is bigger than Bulldog Stadium by more than double. The Trojans' caped band in the end zone seats was bigger than Fresno State's musical counterparts. Their mascot, Traveler the white galloping horse, was bigger than Timeout the Bulldog mascot.
The players were bigger. The coaching staff was bigger. Same goes for the oversized retired jerseys in the end zone seats, the Heisman Trophies sitting in the halls, the national title rings in the glass cases, the life-size images of future NFL stars in the tunnel leading to and from the playing field.
And, in the end, the deficit on USC's bigger scoreboard was bigger than any other game played during head coach Tim DeRuyter's two-plus seasons at Fresno State.
"At times I think it can be nerves," DeRuyter said, when asked how his Bulldogs fell behind 24-0 in no time. "You get discouraged."
The traveling fan base knows the feeling. Squeezed into the southeast corner of the stadium, they spent most the afternoon on their seats with little to stand, clap or cheer about.
At best, they wanted a repeat of the 1992 Freedom Bowl, when the Bulldogs beat the mighty Trojans for the very first time. At worst, they hoped for a repeat of the 2005 game here, when Fresno State nearly toppled national No. 1 USC in a 50-42 loss.
By the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs would have settled for a game like last season's Las Vegas Bowl, when the Carr-led team at least stayed close for a quarter in a 45-20 loss to the Trojans.
Instead, Fresno State's party started and ended at Brewer Park outside the stadium before kickoff. Fresno State President Joseph Castro mingled with the tailgaters, hoping his football team could recapture some of last year's magic.
"I experienced the football run all of last year and that was great," Castro said. "This feels very comparable to that, and it's great to see that this early in the season.
"We're excited about playing teams like USC. That's good for us because that's where we're headed."
Not Saturday. All Fresno State was headed for was a reminder that USC is one of the haves in the top conferences in college football, and the Bulldogs aren't as members of the lesser Mountain West Conference -- even as a USC coach encouraged Fresno State quarterback Brandon Connette after the game to "go win the WAC."
Fresno State still has a chance to recapture some spotlight in the next two weeks. The Bulldogs play at Utah of the Pac-12 on Saturday, then host the famed Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sept. 13.
As far as opening acts go, all Fresno State found was that one of the biggest stages of college football still belongs to the one of its biggest stars.