Before strong Red Wave presence, Fresno State makes history with Las Vegas Bowl win
Fresno State has added a second big-money guarantee road game to its 2023 football schedule, playing at Purdue for a $1.3 million payday, according to sources.
And while that scheduling strategy might have seemed a dubious necessity a few years ago when the Bulldogs were routinely wiped out by Power Five conference opponents, the optics have changed considerably.
The Bulldogs in 2018 went 12-2 in the second season under coach Jeff Tedford and won the Mountain West Conference championship and the Las Vegas Bowl.
They played to the wire at Minnesota before losing 21-14 when they had a pass intercepted in the end zone with 1:18 to play.
They rolled UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena 38-14 with quarterback Marcus McMaryion rushing for four touchdowns and passing for a fifth and the Bulldogs defense holding the Bruins to a season-low 270 yards.
They beat Arizona State 31-20 in the bowl game with running back Ronnie Rivers churning out 212 of their 260 yards on the ground at 7.4 yards per play, the most against the Sun Devils all year by almost 2 full yards.
Those guarantee games now appear less a way for a cash-strapped athletics department to collect a seven-figure check and pay some bills and more an opportunity for the Bulldogs to work their way onto a national stage.
Fresno State with the addition of the game against Purdue will be playing two Power Five opponents in each of the next six seasons – though only two of the 12 at Bulldog Stadium. It also filled a hole in 2020 with a home game against FCS Idaho State.
The Group of Five conference champions to play in a New Year’s Six bowl the past few years all have used victories over Power Five opponents to propel them into the Fiesta, Peach or Cotton bowls.
UCF last season had a win over Pitt, and a game at North Carolina canceled due to Hurricane Florence. The Golden Knights in 2017 won at Maryland and had a game against Georgia Tech canceled by Hurricane Irma.
Northern Illinois in 2016 had wins at Northwestern and at Illinois. Houston in 2015 had wins at Louisville and against Vanderbilt.
Those victories stand out because in some conferences they stand almost alone.
The Mountain West from 2014 to ‘18 is just 19-81 (.190) in the regular season against opponents from Power Five conferences.
Fresno State before this season had lost nine game in a row against Power Five opponents, losing by an average of 33.4 points. The Bulldogs allowed 40 points or more in every one of those games, 50 or more in four of them.
A year ago they allowed an average of 18.3 points against Minnesota, UCLA and Arizona State, and while none of those teams were scintillating offensively Fresno State held all of them under their season scoring average by a touchdown or more.
The American Athletic Conference was right there with the Mountain West in 2014, going 3-18. But with UCF, Houston, Memphis and South Florida making runs at the top of that conference it is a more respectable 26-44 (.371) the past four years.
The Mid-American Conference is 19-95, and was just 3-20 last season. The Sun Belt is 4-76, 1-11 a year ago. Conference USA is 8-102, 2-19 last season.
Fresno State future schedules
at Texas A&M
New Mexico State
at Arizona State
at Oregon State