James Burns: Fresno State's bowl hopes bloom in San Diego

James Burns

Players injured. Opportunity lost. Dreams shattered.

If the Fresno State football team were looking to place blame for its 4-3 record in Western Athletic Conference play and inexplicable losses to Hawaii and Louisiana Tech, they could surely start here.

Players injured.

Opportunity lost.

Dreams shattered.

Good thing Pat Hill and his boys don't waste their breath uttering such silly excuses.

A waste of time, they'd say.

Following the Dogs' 24-10 victory at San Jose State last week, running back Anthony Harding acknowledged the team's shortcomings this season.

Which is admirable.

Harding pointed out the cracks in the foundation, the leaky roof and the yellow lawn.

But in the very same breath, he also touched on the curtains, carpet and granite countertops.

You see, there's value left in this house.

A bowl full.

"We just know that we're going to a bowl," Harding told The Associated Press after Friday's victory. "That's what is important to us right now. Obviously we didn't get our WAC championship or BCS run, but there's still a game left and we can finish on a high note."

The victory pushed the Dogs comfortably past the requisite six-win threshold with seven.

Simply, seven wins equals a bowl game -- a small one, for sure, miles and millions of dollars away from the BCS lineup -- but a bowl game, nonetheless.

And wasn't that the goal all along?

At this point, there's just one question that remains: Which one?

The WAC is guaranteed three bowls: the Humanitarian, New Mexico and Hawaii.

Two more California bowls -- the Poinsettia and Emerald -- factor into the mix if the Pac-10 can't produce a qualifier, which looks likely.

And then there's the faint chance Boise State could bypass all this great fun and grab one of those BCS jewels, but...

Probably not.

The Broncos trail Utah in the rankings, and the Utes have built quite a resume, picking off Brigham Young University, Texas Christian University, Oregon State and Michigan.


That's why I believe Boise State -- which will outlast Fresno State in Friday's WAC finale -- will stay home for the holidays, starring in the Humanitarian Bowl against another BCS loser, Ball State.

Together, the two unbeatens will sell a lot of popcorn and T-shirts, generate tens of thousands of dollars, and the winner will likely end the season somewhere in the top-10.

Now for the rest of the pack.

With the H-Bowl off the board, the pickings get slimmer for the Dogs, who probably end the season in a dead-heat with Nevada, Hawaii and Louisiana Tech with seven wins apiece.

While I can't speak for Tech, which has been linked to the Independence and Texas bowls, I've got an idea where our West Coast schools will land.

Let's start with Nevada.

Given their credentials, proximity and history, the New Mexico Bowl seems a likely a destination for the Pack.

And given the chance, you'd think Nevada would jump at the opportunity to correct that 23-0 drubbing they took in 2007.

So New Mexico it is.

Hawaii would be a sensible pick to stay close to home for the Hawaii Bowl, largely because they're about the only team in the country that can promise bowl reps a fanbase.

That leaves Fresno State -- that bandaged, battle-tested bunch -- without a guaranteed bowl.

Worry not, Dog lovers.

Remember that nasty stretch of games early in the season, a gauntlet that included Rutgers, Wisconsin and UCLA?

Remember the trap games in conference that ultimately cost you a shot at a WAC crown?

Well, this is where the payoff comes.

This is where the flower finally blooms into...

A beautiful Poinsettia.

The Dogs are an interesting pick for the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego because 1) the Pac-10's sixth and seventh selections ( 5-7 Stanford and 4-6 Arizona State) aren't bowl eligible, and 2) Fresno State is precisely the team every mid-major bowl wants.

They travel well.

They have a history of showing up in bowl games.

And they're one of the few non-BCS teams that send shivers up and down the Top 25.

Imagine you're the Poinsettia Bowl rep.

Would you rather have Nevada or Hawaii or Louisiana Tech -- teams without one marketable NFL player?

Or would you rather put a team like Fresno on the pedestal -- a team with at least four future pro football players?

Furthermore, who's the one coach on your short list of candidates that can promise the other reps and TV executives a real show?

A real barnburner?

It ain't Nevada's Chris Ault.

So say what you will about the Dogs' season.

They've been injured.

They've lost some tough-luck games.

Squandered opportunity.

But in sunny Southern California, where the stars shine in the sun and mouse ears are trendy, dreams really do come true.

Even the fractured ones.

James Burns is the sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at