After its first loss of the season to the San Jose State Spartans, the Fresno State football team is ready to move forward.
There’s still a conference championship left to try to win.
“Our guys realize it’s championship week, and then we practice like it,” said Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter. “We have a great balance in our step.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1 Mountain West Conference) will host the inaugural Mountain West Championship game against the Utah State Aggies (8-4, 7-1 MWC).
It is the first time both teams have squared off since Oct. 15, 2011 (Fresno State won 31-21). This is also the 28th all-time meeting between the two dating back to 1952 (Fresno State leads 16-10-1).
“We’ve never had the goal to go undefeated and go to a BCS,” said quarterback Derek Carr. “Our No. 1 goal was always to win the Mountain West. That’s what coach DeRuyter and our coaches have instilled in us.”
Fresno State is seeking back-to-back championships for the first time since 1992 and 1993, when it shared the Western Athletic Championship.
An outright championship will be the Bulldogs’ first since winning the Big West Championship in 1991.
The Bulldogs are also seeking their fifth 11-win season in school history, and first since 2001.
“The fact that the game is outright is what makes it different than last year’s,” Carr said. “Hopefully when we win it, we won’t have to share it.”
The Bulldogs have never lost two consecutive games under DeRuyter. In a total of three regular-season losses in his tenure, Fresno State has outscored opponents the following game by an average of 31.7 points.
On Nov. 20, 2012, in their last game after a loss, the Bulldogs beat the Wyoming Cowboys 42-14.
Utah State makes first-year splash
Just like Fresno State last year, the Aggies are looking to win the Mountain West Championship in their first season.
But the Aggies are 2-50 against Associated Press-ranked opponents all time (1-39 on the road). However, the last time Utah State faced a top-25 team was on Nov. 17, 2011, when it defeated the No. 19 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 48-41 in overtime.
The Aggies’ other win was on Nov. 2, 1991 over No. 25 Fresno State, 20-19.
This is also the first time the Aggies have back-to-back-to-back winning seasons since 1978-80. With a spot in a bowl game assured, they will appear in a postseason game three times in a row for the first time in program history.
And with a hungry Aggies squad across the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs understand they need to play physical football.
DeRuyter likened Utah State’s physicality to San Diego State’s, which gave Fresno State fits with its defense in the 35-28 overtime win.
“[Utah State] is very physical and very mature,” DeRuyter said. “They have seven senior defensive starters and two more juniors. When you have that much experience, guys play harder and faster.
“I thought San Diego State was one of the most physical teams at the time, and [Utah State] is right there with it.”
Homecoming at season’s end
The Bulldogs’ No. 24 ranking allows them to return to Bulldog Stadium. Their last home loss was during the Pat Hill era, when San Diego State won 27-24 on Nov. 26, 2011.
With their final regular-season game on the road, this allows the Bulldogs to perform one more time in front of the Red Wave. To commemorate this moment, they will wear their popular all-black uniforms from their Nov. 2 win over Nevada, a decision made by the team’s captains.
For Carr, it’s one last hurrah. He finished the regular season with 4,462 yards, 45 touchdowns and completed 70 percent of his touchdowns.
For him, the proper way to bid adieu is in front of the home crowd.
“I love it that way,” Carr said. “I’m very excited for the opportunity to play in front of our home crowd. It’s perfect that our last game is at home.
“It’s a conference championship game for the first time at our stadium. That’ll be a trivia question someday, and I’ll know the answer to it.”