Is Fresno State football BCS bound?

Several national publications are predicting big things, others are wary

07/14/2008 6:04 AM

07/14/2008 6:05 AM

Six months from now, when the college football season is nearing an end, Fresno State could find itself playing for a national championship.

Whoa, Nelly!

Don't all of Fresno State's football dreams die in Boise or some other Western Athletic Conference city?

That's what some national publications had to say about coach Pat Hill's Bulldogs.

In perhaps the most anticipated season in Hill's 12-year tenure, the Bulldogs' drum is banging to a B-C-S beat -- as in a Bowl Championship Series bowl game.

It could be a season to remember forever.

Or it could be another Fresno State run spoiled by rival Boise State or a WAC bottom-feeder.

"Expectations are fine, if you can handle them," Athlon Sports magazine said about Fresno State. "Unfortunately, the Bulldogs fall in the other category.

"Too many times over the years, the Bulldogs have made national waves only to get capsized by some head-scratching conference losses."

Nonetheless, with Fresno State returning the majority of a team that went 9-4 last season and survived a plague of injuries, the Bulldogs appear to be in position to make the 2008 season memorable.

Fresno State returns nine starters on offense, six on defense and one on special teams, and plays what some consider one of the nation's toughest nonconference schedules: at Rutgers, home vs. Wisconsin, at Toledo and at UCLA.

It's why some publications hint that Fresno State might reach not only a Bowl Championship Series bowl, but maybe even a spot in the national championship.

"If Fresno State manages to go undefeated after facing that schedule, nobody's going to argue whether the Bulldogs merit a BCS bid," Rivals.com said. "The question is whether they would deserve a shot to play for the national title."

Six national publications rank Fresno State in their preseason Top 25 or just outside, from No. 22 to No. 41.

Kick returner A.J. Jefferson made the preseason All-America team for CollegeFootballNews.com. Tight end Bear Pascoe received All-America honorable-mention honors from Sporting News.

And with three-year starting quarterback Tom Brandstater and running back Ryan Mathews back, too, these Bulldogs are being lauded as Hill's most talented ever.

"You've got all the makings of a weekly fireworks show," Athlon Sports said.

Added Sporting News: "Fresno State is loaded everywhere and seemingly on the brink of reclaiming its status as the torchbearer for the non-BCS crowd.

"An undefeated run through that nonconference schedule would likely put the Bulldogs into national championship conversations."

Under Lindy's Top 12 nonconference games to watch, it lists the Bulldogs at No. 12: "Fresno State vs. All-comers."

"These Bulldogs can make their BCS case -- or not -- before the WAC season begins."

When CollegeFootballNews.com asked which team from a mid-major conference has the best shot of making a BCS game, it listed Brigham Young and Fresno State.

"This year, [Hill] not only has one of his most talented teams, but he also has a schedule that looks like Tarzan, but will play like Jane."

But as much as Fresno State is applauded for taking on such a demanding schedule, it's that same nonconference route that has publications disinclined to pick the Bulldogs to reach a BCS bowl.

"Fresno State's nonconference schedule makes an undefeated record and potential BCS bid seem unrealistic," Rivals.com said.

Fresno State also has a history of stumbling in WAC play.

That trend might have ended last season when Fresno State beat every team it was favored to beat. It remains to be seen if the 2007 performance was an aberration.

Plus, Fresno State plays Boise State on the Smurf Turf to close out the regular season in a game that likely will decide the WAC championship. Fresno State is 0-3 against Boise State at Bronco Stadium.

As CollegeFootballNews.com writes in its bold prediction: "Fresno State will generate a major amount of national buzz by winning two of the three games against Rutgers, Wisconsin and UCLA, but still will lose at Boise State to close out the regular season.

"Pat Hill's club has always been great at getting to the top of the league mountain, but it can't quite get over the top."

Phil Steele's 2008 College Football Preview, which has Fresno State 41st, picked Boise State to win the WAC title.

"I give Fresno State a shot at knocking off a couple more BCS opponents this year and ... call for a 10-win season," the Phil Steele publication said. "The WAC championship probably comes down to Fresno State's final game on Nov. 28th on the Blue Turf.

"I call [Boise State] to run the table again."

Who'll be right? Who'll be wrong?

The Fresno State season begins Sept. 1.

If the biggest of the optimists are correct, the Bulldogs might even make it to Jan. 8, the day of the national championship game.

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