Turn on the lights, the party’s just getting started.
Notwithstanding a 29-minute power delay when one of the light towers went out, Bulldog Stadium on Saturday night was the scene of another illuminating outing by the home team.
As a result, Fresno State is back in the national glare. The day following their 50-20 shellacking of Hawaii the Bulldogs stopped getting a dim view from the polls. Fresno State is ranked No. 20 by the AP, No. 23 by the coaches and should be somewhere in that neighborhood Tuesday night when the initial College Football Playoff seedings are unveiled.
All of which is fairly heady stuff for a fan base that craves national attention and a newly revamped athletic department desperate to sell tickets and generate buzz.
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It’s still nuts, and a little surreal, how quickly the program has 180-ed under second-year head coach Jeff Tedford. From 1-11 to 10-4 to 7-1 (4-0 Mountain West) with four regular-season games remaining on the schedule.
Just don’t expect the people primarily responsible for the turnaround, Fresno State’s players and coaches, to get caught up in any hoopla. That’s just not their nature, at least not when the cameras, microphones and notepads are present.
“We have our goals set. We know what we want to do. That wasn’t one of our goals coming into this, trying to be a top 25 team or anything like that,” cornerback Juju Hughes said at the postgame podium. “We just want to win our games and win our bowl game with class and integrity.”
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion took a similar tact when I lobbed the “Do rankings matter to you and your teammates?” question in his direction.
“It doesn’t really matter to us,” McMaryion said. “Going 1-0 every week, that’s really all we’re worried about. The rankings and everything will come. Keep on winning games and we’ve got to be ranked sooner or later.”
That later is now. The season-high 33,659 fans that turned out on a beautiful October evening were never louder than when Jamire Jordan caught a 53-yard Hawaii field-goal attempt about 8 yards deep in the end zone and returned it for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.
Was that a play the Bulldogs practiced? You bet it was, and Tedford took some satisfaction in pointing that out – which he should.
If we’ve learned anything about Fresno State under Tedford, it’s that his teams are ready for virtually every situation. Even when the game gets halted for half an hour because the lights go dim.
What caused one of the four main Bulldog Stadium light towers to cut out midway through the first quarter? A blown circuit-breaker, Fresno State Assistant Athletic Director for Internal Operations and Events Matt Studwell, told me after the game.
Studwell also confirmed reports I’d heard that Fresno State had an electrician service the stadium late last week. However, he said, the issues were unrelated.
Rather than dwell upon how bad that looked to a national television audience, let alone on homecoming, or remind everyone about the stadium renovation plan that never came to fruition, let’s spin this into a positive.
Never before have so many people been so aware how badly the 38-year-old facility needs some TLC.
Strategically, the power delay couldn’t have worked out better for the Bulldogs. Anytime this coaching staff gets an extra opportunity to go over looks and reads, call it a mini-halftime, it’s an advantage.
Not by accident is Fresno State outscoring opponents 102-14 in the third quarter.
Little wonder the Bulldogs returned from the locker room to cap a touchdown drive, illuminating their side of the scoreboard after Hawaii took an early 3-0 lead.
“To be able to go out and punch it in right after, it kind of shows the maturity level of this team,” said McMaryion, who is completing 70.4 percent of his passes and responsible for 25 touchdowns. “I was really proud of the guys, the way we handled it.”
Bulldogs fans should be proud as well. Since that early September stumble at Minnesota, which hasn’t exactly done Fresno State any favors with its 1-4 record in the Big Ten, this team has barely put a foot wrong.
While it’s always nice to be recognized, the MW schedule has been fairly soft. The Bulldogs have one more conference opponent they should beat soundly – the same UNLV squad that tripped them up a year ago – before getting Boise State and San Diego State back to back.
If Fresno State is still ranked after that stretch, the party on Barstow Avenue will really be lit. Provided somebody can keep the lights on.