If recent history repeats itself, Fresno State football may be in trouble.
Clinging to preseason hopes of bringing home Fresno State’s first outright Western Athletic Conference title and shelving a decade of dominance by rival Boise State, the ‘Dogs took a big step back Saturday night.
With the Bulldogs falling at home to Hawaii last Saturday 49-27, a scary trend is beginning to brew once again in the Valley.
Boise State has won or shared the WAC title seven of the past nine years since joining the conference in 2001, and may have one less team to worry about when the regular season concludes in early December. Only Hawaii and Nevada have managed to interrupt the Broncos’ dominance, with the Warriors finishing first in 2007 and the Wolf Pack sharing the title in 2005.
The 2005 season marked the only time the current alignment of the WAC has seen a shared title, with both Boise State and Nevada finishing conference play 7-1. The Broncos nearly finished unscathed in the conference that same season, but were upset by Fresno State in Bulldog Stadium late in the season.
Although the Bulldogs made life a lot more complicated when it comes to the WAC title chase, head coach Pat Hill insists his team is down but certainly not out.
“We still control our own destiny,” Hill said. “As amazing as that sounds, I still think that it’s got to go through Boise to get it. As long as we keep winning our conference games, we’re still in the hunt. Now the margin for error is down to zero now. You had a cushion of one game before.”
In order for Fresno State to control its own destiny the ‘Dogs must win their final six conference games. If they manage that feat, only a share of the conference title is guaranteed. Fresno State and Hill’s first outright WAC title will only come if the ‘Dogs finish 7-1 in conference play and both Boise State and Nevada suffer two conference losses, one in their head-to-head matchup and one additional loss.
Even if Fresno State does win out, however, the likelihood of a one-loss team taking sole control of the WAC by season’s end is getting slimmer with each Boise State shellacking.
The Broncos are blowing opponents out by an average of 32 points per game and look poised to set up a Nov. 26 de facto conference title game at Nevada.
Hawaii now becomes Fresno State’s best friend and worst enemy. The Warriors sit on top of the WAC with the Broncos and Wolf Pack at 2-0. If Hawaii upsets Nevada this weekend at Aloha Stadium, it both helps and hurts the ‘Dogs because while it sets the Wolf Pack back, it propels the Warriors to 3-0 and a fellow title contender.
Boise State is in a similar position to Fresno State as well. A Hawaii victory this weekend would give the Broncos some breathing room for their Nov. 26 matchup. But by the same token, if Hawaii wins it makes Boise State’s contest against the Warriors on Nov. 6 a Smurf Turf showdown.
But Hawaii has knocked off both Boise State and Nevada in the same season just once (2007) and has just one victory over the Broncos in WAC history.
Another roadblock separating Fresno State from a WAC championship is the general makeup of college football. Last season, of the 11 conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision, only four had conference champions with one or more losses.
“In college football, at most schools, it’s one [loss],” Hill said. “In our conference, unless it’s [a loss] to Boise State, I still feel we just got to handle our own business week after week and if we can do that we still have a chance to play for a WAC Championship.”
Hill will not let his team get distracted by thinking too far ahead, however. The 14-year leader of the ‘Dogs maintains Fresno State has to take it one game at a time with the WAC title as an afterthought.
“I want to talk about being able to play in November for a conference championship and so do the kids,” Hill said. “But to take care of that we need to take of business on Saturday against New Mexico State.”