Merced College

Steve Cameron: It's a shame that Bulldogs play Friday night

FRESNO -- Let's start the week with a really old cliché, shall we?

Fine.

There was plenty of good news and a bit of bad as Fresno State ripped San Jose State 30-0 to celebrate homecoming with a fourth straight victory over the weekend.

The fun stuff was easy to find.

The Bulldogs are now 4-0 in the WAC, 5-2 overall and within sniffing distance of a bowl appearance -- pretty slick business considering that Pat Hill's bunch turned in a horrendous 4-8 mark a year ago and looked to be in total disarray.

After all the success Hill's enjoyed during his 11-year tenure, 2006 was a complete downer -- with a handful of over-hyped seniors practically sleep-walking through the nightmare and hardly breaking a sweat.

For an all-guns-blazing guy like Hill, players quitting like that was nothing short of treachery.

But Hill warned us all way back in the spring that last year's disaster would be a one-off, that he had an army of fast, hungry kids ready to step up and that the Bulldogs would be back.

"And we'll have that Fresno State chip on our shoulders again," Hill said. "I guarantee it."

Saturday's thumping of San Jose State provided more evidence that Hill wasn't exaggerating about the talent streaming into his program -- and that this group had just the attitude he's always demanded.

Freshman running back Ryan Mathews, in fact, is turning out to be even better than advertised.

The youngster from Bakersfield broke off another long touchdown run and added another score as the Dogs exploded after leading just 6-0 at halftime.

Ever since Fresno State busted open a close league opener against Louisiana Tech a month ago, they've been combining an efficient passing game directed by Tom Brandstater, non-stop running from Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Clinton Smith -- and plenty of thrilling special teams plays to run up tons of points against Nevada, Idaho and San Jose.

That 5-2 record looks fine, but in truth, the Dogs quite easily could be 6-1 since they were robbed of an overtime victory at Texas A&M when receiver Marlon Moore was denied a game-winning touchdown just inches from the end zone.

What's even more amazing about this stunning turnaround is that Hill has watched a handful of key players go down with serious injuries and another supposed leader -- defensive tackle Jason Shirley -- blow up his career in disgrace after a couple of suspensions.

The way Hill views his squad now, though, off-loading Shirley was a plus.

Pat's finished with players who don't want to take care of business -- on and off the field.

"I really like this bunch we've got now," he said. "These are guys who want to commit themselves to playing good football, to working at it and handling their commitments the way we expect our athletes to do it.

"Our school and our fans are going to enjoy this team -- everything about them."

Certainly the won-loss record has proved him right.

Fresno State has four WAC games remaining -- they'll be favored to beat Utah State and New Mexico State, underdogs against Boise State and league powerhouse Hawaii.

Just two wins, however, would clinch a finish no worse than third in the conference -- and since the WAC has tie-ins with three bowl games, post-season play is a goal these exciting young Dogs have square in their sights.

Oh, but remember we started today's chat by mentioning that some of the news isn't so hot?

The downer has nothing to do with how the team is playing or the entertainment it's providing.

No, indeed.

Nah, we're back to an issue that's been discussed in the past and rankles me just as much now as it has in the past.

Fresno State's next game is the biggest of the season -- a home bout with defending champion Boise State. If the Dogs can pull off an upset in that one, they'll be on course to finish second in the league and, well...

Perhaps even taking a shot at turning the WAC totally upside down by winning the title with an upset at Hawaii.

A brutal assignment, sure, but just the fact that we're talking about it tells you how far the Bulldogs have come in less than a year.

Unfortunately...

The Boise game is Friday night.

Yes, that's correct.

Friday.

Once again, because they desperately need the income provided by television, the conference must bow to the whims of ESPN -- which is airing the Boise bout nationwide.

Nobody likes this scheduling except the network.

It's just plain awful to schedule a game that'll fill Bulldog Stadium on the same night that almost all Valley high schools are in action.

Hill doesn't feel any better about it than the prep coaches and teams who will lose some attendance facing Fresno State head-to-head on ESPN.

There used to be an NCAA rule against televising college games on Fridays, but like so much else in society...

Money became the trump card.

You know, I'd love to see the Fresno-Boise battle this week, but I won't.

Somebody phone me with the score, OK?

Steve Cameron is the Sun-Star sports editor. He can be reached at scameron@mercedsun-star.com">scameron@mercedsun-star.com.

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