Fresno State has five fifth-year seniors who already own conference football championship rings.
Offensive tackle David Patterson, defensive tackle Nate Madsen, defensive ends Robert Stanley and Stephen Van Hook were redshirts in 2013 when the Bulldogs beat Utah State in the Mountain West Conference football championship game.
The fifth, wideout Da’Mari Scott, got a few reps in 10 games that season, including the big one. (He took his redshirt season last year.)
Scott brought out that ring for the team banquet the day after the Bulldogs ended the regular season with a 28-17 victory over Boise State.
The rings are big and shiny, a Bulldog face set in the middle of a football, the tongue red and the setting black. It has “Fresno State” at the top, “MW champions” at the bottom.
It was a big hit at the banquet, and Scott said it would probably accompany the team to Boise.
“Everybody wanted to see it,” Scott said. “They’d never seen it before. It’s a good feeling and I know they want one just as bad as I do.”
In the way, again, are the Broncos, who figure to be a tad testy after getting beat at Bulldog Stadium one week ago and get the game on a home field where they are 107-7 since 2000, their .939 winning percentage the best in the nation.
Coach Jeff Tedford has been careful all week to keep it business as usual, the controversy over home field, the blue turf, the championship at stake all distractions he doesn’t want his team thinking about.
If the Bulldogs pull it off and win a bowl game later this month they would set an NCAA record for win improvement from one season to the next.
From 1-11 to 11-3 would in NCAA math work out to a nine-game improvement – add the difference in victories to the difference in losses and divide by two.
Hawaii set the mark in 1999, going 9-4 after 0-12.
“Well, all of those things, they will never hear in here,” Tedford said at his news conference at the start of the week. “They hear that from all of you all the time, so my biggest job is to have them not listen to you all.
“It’s funny to say that, but that’s really the truth. We can’t get bogged down by the enormity of the job at hand. 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. We’re not going to prepare differently. We’re going to play how we normally play and hopefully we make more plays than they do.”
Through the week of practice, there were no red flags, no signs of trouble. “Business as usual,” Tedford said midweek. “No different. Another game. It’s an opportunity to play this week and everything looks the same as it always does.”
Since a 26-16 loss at home to UNLV, Fresno State has proven its adaptability and resilience in victories on the road at Hawaii and at Wyoming in back-to-back weeks sandwiched between home wins over Brigham Young and Boise State.
“I’ve said many times, ‘If we do something different this week, why aren’t we doing it every week?” Tedford said.
“The things that we’re doing right now, or this week, are no different than any other time as far as what our meetings will be like, the whole bit. Consistency I think is key and we’re trying to stay as consistent as we can so the kids don’t have any surprises, they know exactly what to expect and there’s nothing different.”
They gleaned what they could out of their victory over the Broncos in the final game of the regular season.
There is a sense that the Bulldogs still are trending upward – particularly quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who came off the bench in the first three games and made his first start in the conference opener against Nevada.
“I thought Marcus was as sharp as he has ever been,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said, after the victory over Boise State. “It wasn’t just the stuff you see as a fan, either.
“It was checks, it was everything. He was on his game. It’s cool when the lights are the brightest a guy plays his best. That was really cool to see.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. BOISE STATE
- Saturday: 4:45 p.m., 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 due to a leg injury suffered in the Bulldogs’ victory over Boise State in their final regular-season game. Boise State is 8-1 against Fresno State on its home field and has won eight in a row, all of them coming by 10 or more points. The Bulldogs’ victory was in their first trip to Boise in 1984.