At 4-7, with a week to go, the Fresno State football team hasn’t enjoyed the success its fans and the experts expected.
It’s hard to believe now, but back in July the Mountain West media overwhelmingly predicted the defending conference champs would again win the West Division and meet Boise State for the title.
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Well, the 10-1 and 20th-ranked Broncos did their part by clinching the Mountain Division for the third straight year with a 56-21 victory Saturday over Utah State. Now they’ll meet 8-4 Hawaii for the championship.
That would be the same Hawaii team that lost at home 41-38 to Fresno State.
Can Play With Anybody. Can Lose to Anybody
It has been that kind of year for the Bulldogs.
They gave USC, which is now ranked No. 25 in the nation, all the Trojans could handle on their home turf.
They twice had Minnesota, now ranked ninth nationally, beat in the latter stages of their game at Bulldog Stadium.
The Bulldogs proved they could compete with anybody. Unfortunately, they could also lose to anybody as evidenced again by Saturday’s 35-28 loss to Nevada.
Most frustrating: Fresno State lost on its home field on Senior Night in a game it needed to win to keep hopes of a bowl game alive. And it lost after scoring 28 straight points to take a touchdown lead midway through the third quarter.
The Only Thing Left to Play for Is Pride
All that’s left is playing for pride, going to San Jose State on Saturday and possibly bloodying the nose of a longtime rival.
“I think it is still really important to try to end the season with a victory. It isn’t about experimenting. Now, it’s about sending these guys off with a positive memory of winning the last game against a rival.” — Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford
“It’s like I told those guys, I feel bad that we weren’t able to come away with the victory on Senior Night,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “They have been a part of a lot of great times in that stadium and those are the things they should remember. We had a lot of close games this year, but we haven’t found a way to win.
“I think it is still really important to try to end the season with a victory. It isn’t about experimenting. Now, it’s about sending these guys off with a positive memory of winning the last game against a rival.”
A Miserable Home Season
With a few breaks here and there, this could have been a winning season. But the Bulldogs failed to defend their turf and finished 2-4 at home. Three of those losses came against Mountain West opponents — Colorado State, Utah State, Nevada.
So, what went wrong?
For starters, the Mountain West media overrated the Bulldogs.
Perhaps they didn’t anticipate how much Fresno State would miss two stout defenders from the 2018 team — linebacker Jeff Allison and safety Mike Bell — who declared for the NFL draft as juniors. Perhaps they just expected Tedford to keep working miracles the way he did in resuscitating a program that had hit rock bottom.
Certainly, the experts overlooked how young the Bulldogs are. With one game left, Fresno State has started eight true freshmen this season. That speaks to their young talent and to a season filled with injuries.
Bulldogs Are Danger to Themselves and Others
Amazingly, for a team that is three games under .500 overall and in conference play, the Bulldogs have scored the exact number of points as they’re surrendered (344). And they’re winning the turnover battle, picking off 11 passes and recovering 11 fumbles compared to 10 and 7 for opponents.
But the Bulldogs aren’t the smash-mouth team of 2018. Nor do they have Marcus McMaryion’s leadership and resilience under pressure.
This team is fast and makes big plays on the edges. That’s a beautiful thing except that it quickly returns an undermanned defense to the field. Inevitably, the defense wears down as the game goes on, leading to last-second or overtime defeats (Nevada, Utah State, Minnesota). This bend-then-break defense explains the Bulldogs’ 1-4 record in games decided by eight or fewer points.
All season long, the Bulldogs have been a danger — to themselves and to others.
We’ll see which side of the danger line the Bulldogs land against a San Jose State team (4-7, 1-6) that also has lost three straight conference games and isn’t going to a bowl game.