The Fresno State Bulldogs won a Mountain West Conference championship with a gripping 19-16 victory at Boise State in overtime, but they also lost a bit with the timing of the Las Vegas Bowl and the addition last year of an early signing period for recruits.
That was the first order of business returning home for coach Jeff Tedford and the Bulldogs’ staff, who on Sunday started making in-home visits with recruits and finalizing plans for a big weekend of official visits, just a few hours after they brought the conference’s shiny new championship trophy back to the Duncan Building on campus.
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With the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 15, it will be the only recruiting weekend that Fresno State will get leading up to an early signing period that starts Dec. 19.
“With the early date, it limits you,” Tedford said.
The Bulldogs lost last weekend playing on the road in the Mountain West title game, and they will lose next weekend playing Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
That same schedule applies to making in-home visits with recruits.
Fresno State last season when playing in the Dec. 24 Aloha Bowl had two December weekends to bring recruits in on official visits, and 14 of the 16 players signed to national letters of intent did so early rather than on the traditional signing day in February.
“It’s really tight on time, you just have to adjust and make it work,” said Spencer Harris, the Bulldogs’ director of player personnel.
“But we’re Mountain West champions. We have a trophy to show off. I’m not worried about it. We’re going to get the kids we want to get. We have plenty to sell and we’ve done a really good job building relationships.”
Schools are not allowed under NCAA rules to comment on prospective student-athletes, but The Bee has confirmed that eight players have made verbal commitments to Fresno State including Central Section products Jalen Cropper (Buchanan), Randy Jordan Jr. (Tulare Union) and defensive end Colby Warkentin (Centennial).
The timing of the bowl destination for the Mountain West champion has been a topic of conversation for the conference with the addition of the early signing date, and a contract with the Las Vegas Bowl that ends after 2019 .
The Las Vegas Bowl has had the first selection from the Mountain West for more than a decade and has been the spot for its champion. The conference also has primary agreements with the New Mexico Bowl, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Hawaii Bowl and Arizona Bowl, as well as secondary positions with the Cheez-It Bowl, Redbox Bowl and Frisco Bowl.
It has six teams in bowls this season, and is the only Group of Five conference that has sent six teams to bowls in each of the past six seasons.
Boise State, which lost the conference championship game on its home field, landed in the Dec. 26 First Responders Bowl against Boston College. Utah State is in the New Mexico Bowl against North Texas, San Diego State is in the Frisco Bowl against Ohio, Hawaii is in the Hawaii Bowl against Louisiana Tech and Nevada is in the Arizona Bowl against Arkansas State.
The Mountain West could lose its tie-in with the Las Vegas Bowl – that is its only bowl with a Power 5 conference opponent, the Pac-12, which is another issue for the league.. But it also could land a more favorable bowl date for its champion; not an insignificant thing in building and sustaining a program when the highest-ranked Group of Five champion is guaranteed a spot in a lucrative New Year’s Six bowl game.
Among other Group of Five conferences, the American Athletic has Central Florida playing in the Fiesta Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion and Memphis, which lost to the Knights in the conference title game, in the Dec. 22 Birmingham Bowl against Wake Forest; in Conference USA, champion Alabama-Birmingham is playing in the Dec. 18 Boca Raton Bowl against Mid-American champion Northern Illinois; and Sun Belt champion Appalachian State is playing Dec. 15 in the New Orleans Bowl against Middle Tennessee.
Limited practice time
Fresno State this year also will get to use only a portion of the 15 allotted bowl practices. The Bulldogs will hold their first practice on Wednesday.
“You hear everybody say part of the reason you want to go to a bowl game is you get extra practices, to be able to practice your young guys and it’s like another spring football,” Tedford said. “When you play in the championship game and you play two weeks later in a bowl game, and you’re out recruiting, there’s not a lot of time for the practices to be able to take advantage of being in a bowl game.
“We’ll have a couple where we go generic practices and let some of the young guys go a little bit, but then you have to get into the game planning piece of it because it’s on you really quick.”