Football: Bulldogs tune out ‘noise’ in high-stakes rivalry


Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr steps back to search for his target during the Bulldogs’ victory over the Cal Poly Mustangs. Carr and the Bulldogs will host Boise State on Friday. Roe Borunda / The Collegian

Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr knows why the questions are asked. About the mental hurdles, about the rivalry, about its history…

And coach Tim DeRuyter also knows why it all resonates deeper with fans this week against this opponent – his second time facing the Broncos as the Bulldogs head coach.

It all has to do with two words:

Boise State – the team that has won the last 11 of  12 meetings against the Bulldogs, including seven straight in games that have almost always had implications for conference championships and ambitions beyond. It’s the team No. 25 Fresno State will face Friday night at Bulldog Stadium (6 p.m.) in its Mountain West Conference opener.

DeRuyter counters those words with one:

Earplugs – the physical metaphor Fresno State’s second-year head coach used on his players to send an emphatic message.

“There’s going to be a lot of talk,” said DeRuyter, who handed the team pairs of earplugs on Monday.

“Whether it’s talk about Boise, whether it’s talk of where we are in the mythical national rankings, just all kinds of talk – about teams 12 years ago. All that stuff doesn’t matter.”

Between these two teams, there’s history.

David Carr, Derek’s older brother, was behind center when the rivalry began. David’s Bulldogs were ranked No. 8 in the nation, Sports Illustrated had him on the cover a month before the game. Those Bulldogs stirred up national conversation as Bowl Championship Series busters before losing to the Broncos 35-30 at home.

“Over the last 10 years, within our community there have been a lot of feelings towards this game,” DeRuyter said. “But one thing I keep reminding our guys about each week is this year’s team is 0-0 against Boise. Every year’s a different year.”

In last year’s game against the Broncos, DeRuyter said he noticed the intensity of the rivalry and how his players reacted to it, “after the fact.”

“Going in, I didn’t think it was going to be as big of a deal,” he said.

“The sense I had from some of our players in the locker room last year was there was some trepidation there.”

Between these two teams, there’s also respect.

This year’s meeting – between the Mountain West’s preseason picks for division champions – like many of the others, has added significance by giving an edge on winning the conference crown.

The inaugural Mountain West Championship game will be held between the winners of the West and Mountain Divisions on Dec. 7 at the home stadium of the team with the highest BCS ranking.

Both teams know what they’re up against.

“He’s as good as anybody out there,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said of Carr, who he’ll be facing on the opposing sideline for a fifth and final year. “He’s got great arm strength and he’s an accurate thrower. He’s fun to watch. Don’t like to watch him when he’s playing us, but he’s a good player.”

“He’s one of the best coaches to ever be around college football,” Carr said of Petersen. “So we know the challenge that’s in front of us.”

Among the Bulldogs, Carr said, there’s maturity.

Carr will be facing the Broncos for the third time as Fresno State’s starting quarterback. Big brother David hung a Boise State flag on Derek’s wall in 2009, his younger brother’s first year at Fresno State, telling him that it could not be taken down until after he beat the Broncos – adding motivation to an already intense rivalry.

Well, it’s been brought down – the younger Carr’s dog jumped up and grabbed it. It hasn’t been seen since, he said.

“I felt it was just a distraction to the team, and that’s something that I don’t want. I never want anything to be about me. That’s over with, and now I feel a lot more comfortable.”

Friday will determine whether or not the flag was taken down prematurely.

A more levelheaded Carr doesn’t think so.

“The past two years, I thought about those things way too much. I’m more mature now,” Carr said.

“Talking with the coaches and preparing for this game, [I’m] just treating it like another game. Being older, this being my almost 30th start, I learned how to prepare more mentally now for game than I did last year. I got caught up in all that stuff. Now, it just doesn’t matter.

“I’m glad that I can say that and have more peace in my heart about it than saying it last year and not really feeling that way.”