Throughout its 96-season history of fielding football teams, Fresno State has racked up many impressive accomplishments.
The Bulldogs have gone undefeated twice (1961 and ’85), finished with double-digit wins eight times, won 27 conference titles and played in 26 bowls.
They’ve had 18 first-team All-Americans, NCAA record-holders and 107 players drafted by the NFL including five first-rounders and one (David Carr) that went No. 1 overall.
Saturday afternoon in Boise, Idaho, this Fresno State team and this group of Bulldogs can accomplish something that would set them apart from all those past teams and players. Something that would engrave their own legend.
Fresno State can win the Mountain West Conference championship on an opponent’s home field.
Even better: on an opponent’s blue home field.
But that only raises the level of opportunity. Beat Boise State twice in Fresno, and there will be some who question whether homefield tilted the odds. Beat Boise State twice, once on your field and once on theirs, and all doubt gets erased.
These kinds of opportunities don’t come every year – or even once a decade.
An opportunity to finally avenge Boise State’s 2001 upset over a No. 8-ranked Fresno State squad, led by Carr, which busted the Red Wave’s BCS dreams.
An opportunity to pay back the Broncos for all the blowouts that followed (i.e. 67-21 in 2002, 61-10 in ’08, 51-0 in ’10, 57-7 in ’11), years where it felt like the Bulldogs were psyched out before even taking the field.
And most of all, an opportunity to recalibrate the conference in Fresno State’s image.
Remember, these Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the West Division, returning 18 starters from a squad that went 1-11.
While Boise State was picked first in the Mountain Division, by a hefty margin, despite returning only nine starters from a team that finished 10-3.
Why the wide disparity? Because there’s an assumption Boise State will simply reload because … well, they’re Boise State. They’re the conference’s marquee program (despite San Diego State’s two-year reign), and that’s what marquee programs do.
Here’s a chance to spray red paint all over that narrative.
First-year head coach Jeff Tedford may not want to acknowledge any of that back story – and is wise to keep it cloistered – but it definitely exists.
“We can’t get bogged down by the enormity of the job at hand,” Tedford said early in the week. “It’s a football game and it’s one play at a time and it’s about execution. It’s about playing smart, doing the things that we’ve been doing all year long.”
Yes, it’s nuts the Bulldogs are even in this position.
Given recent history, this was supposed to be a season of collecting checks, taking lumps and showing incremental improvement.
That storyline didn’t even make it through October. Fresno State has two cracks at becoming only the second team in FBS history, after Miami (Ohio) in 2010, to go from double-digit losses to double-digit victories in one season.
And if the Bulldogs win Saturday and in their bowl, the 10-win improvement will represent the greatest single-season gain ever.
But you know what? Beating Boise State for the conference title on its home field trumps all that.
That would be this team’s legacy.
As much as Fresno fans and media railed against the Mountain West championship being held in Boise, I don’t get the sense it was that big a deal for the Bulldogs themselves. Players (and coaches) like road games because they get to stay in nice hotels, get fed well and have fewer distractions to negotiate.
Plus, playing on the road also fuels the “us against the world” complex that can strengthen team unity.
“I think we’re taking a SWAT team mentality,” junior safety Juju Hughes said. “We’re all kind of embracing it. Everybody’s locked in and ready to play come game day. It’s a tight bond here.”
If anything, the Bulldogs will be extra motivated by this week’s all-conference selections. Still a little baffling how Fresno State only placed one player (middle linebacker Jeffrey Allison) on the first-team defense. Or how just five Bulldogs merited first- or second- team status compared to Boise State’s 12 and San Diego State’s eight.
There’s the disrespect rearing its head one more time.
Like I said earlier, the opportunity to change the narrative about your program while upsetting the established hierarchy doesn’t come around often.
Which is why the Bulldogs are getting Boise State right where they want them.
FRESNO STATE VS. BOISE STATE
- Saturday: 4:45 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium (36,387) in Boise, Idaho
- Records: Bulldogs 9-3, 7-1 Mountain West; Broncos 9-3, 7-1
- TV/radio: ESPN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600).
- Of note: The Bulldogs are playing in their third Mountain West Conference championship game, having beaten Utah State in 2013 and lost at Boise State in 2014. The Bulldogs have 18 players from that 2014 team on the roster and four who played in that game – wideout Da’Mari Scott, outside linebacker Justin Green, kicker Kody Kroening and defensive tackle Nate Madsen. … Madsen has been ruled out of the game because of a leg injury suffered in the victory over Boise State in the regular-season finale. … Boise State is 8-1 against Fresno State on its home field and has won eight in a row, all by 10 or more points. The Bulldogs’ victory was in their first trip to Boise in 1984.