The Fresno State football season opener will be looked back upon as another missed opportunity on a national stage, and if the Bulldogs still manage to reach the unreasonably high expectations bestowed on them before the season, the scrutiny for the loss by the fans will be multiplied tenfold.
To the behest of many, the Bulldogs were not to go into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and handily beat a downtrodden USC Trojan team on a national stage, prevailing while all eyes watched on ESPN in primetime and proving that Fresno State is the premier college football team in California.
After the initial disappointment of the outcome, once again the Red Wave will have to come down to Earth and conceptualize a more reasonable outcome to the 2019 football season. But it was fun while it lasted.
Will the Bulldogs be able to come within striking distance of a New Year’s Six bowl game? Highly unlikely.
Can this team still finish the regular season 11-1 and ranked in the Top 25? Unlikely, but still very doable.
Is there a chance the Bulldogs can still win the Mountain West (MW)? Much more likely.
Even with the turnover of many of the starters from last season, players switching positions and switching back due to injuries plaguing the team, ultimately following the first quarter, both the defense and offense seemed to be getting acclimated.
There were bright spots on the defense from linebacking duo Justin Rice and Mykal Walker, who were able to make crucial plays to keep the Bulldogs in the game.
And on offense, first-year starter Jorge Reyna finished off with a commendable effort, despite the situation he was thrust into.
In defeat, there were many fans on numerous social media sites calling for the head of Reyna following the USC matchup, most likely due to initial anger. But many fail to realize just how much pressure it is to make your first career start at the historic LA Coliseum in front of 80,000 fans on national TV.
The fact that the Bulldogs were able to cut an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter down to eight, within striking distance of scoring the game-tying touchdown in the waning minutes following a fourth and long heave, was a miracle in its own right.
The Bulldogs are currently rostering five quarterbacks, with two true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, and Reyna being the only one with in-game experience at the Division I level.
Despite the talent level at the quarterback position, it is reasonable to say that neither of the backups would have handled the situation any better, and I believe very few first-year starters in all of college football would have been successful in Reyna’s shoes.
The Bulldogs falling short against USC stung a bit more as their MW contemporaries Boise State, Wyoming, Hawaii and Nevada added a W in the win column, following strong showings against Power Five (P5) conference opponent — Florida State, Missouri, Arizona and Purdue.
But the ‘Dogs will have another opportunity at taking down a P5 conference opponent in the form of the University of Minnesota, a Big Ten team reeling from lackluster showing after narrowly defeating Division II opponent South Dakota State, 28-21.
The Bulldogs will be facing the Golden Gophers, finishing up a home/home series between the two teams and following last season’s meeting that ended due to a goal line interception late in a 21-14 loss on the road.
Hopefully, this team can put the USC game behind it and fight through the growing pains, as the Bulldogs find themselves in the rare situation of a P5 opponent willing to travel to the Central Valley and face Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium.
With Saturday’s home opener quickly approaching, there are two questions that will be answered against Minnesota. The first is whether or not the growing pains and jitters will be behind this Fresno State team and it can bounce back.
And secondly, whether or not the fan support has faded following the USC loss.
For the past few years, the university has found it difficult to find an influx of fans willing to attend any Fresno State games, despite the sport or the success the teams are having, and has found it near impossible to fill Bulldog Stadium.
In early June, Fresno State Athletics announced the Pride of the Valley campaign in an effort to attract those who live in the Central Valley to support the university’s athletics, seeming to have gained traction throughout the summer with its sign giveaways and stylish hype videos showcasing the different sports and areas within Fresno.
Saturday will be the first test to see if the effort was all for naught. With Fresno State coming off the successes of the past two seasons and facing a team it will be chomping at the bit to avenge a loss against, there should be a good number of fans in attendance.
A lot of fans that traveled to LA to cheer on the ‘Dogs. There were also a lot of fans who were disappointed, with the outcome weighing on their brains during the drive back. With that being said, there’s no telling how many have already jumped off the bandwagon.