The eyes of Western Athletic Conference coaches and fans, and much of the nation, will be on Thursday night's Fresno State-Boise State game which will likely decide the conference championship.
Kickoff is at 5 p.m. in Fresno and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
"Certainly, it's an opportunity to showcase the WAC," said Karl Benson, WAC commissioner during the weekly WAC teleconference. "When ESPN selected this game, they were expecting a meaningful game and it certainly is."
Coaches around the conference seemed genuinely excited about the game.
"This will be a big one," Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell said. "You have two excellent football teams. Both are good on offense, defense and special teams. It will be a very interesting game. It should be a fantastic game."
"It should be a whale of a game," New Mexico State's Hal Mumme said. "Physically, they're pretty even. Yeah, sure I'll be watching."
Brent Guy, Utah State head coach, said he would love to watch. However, his team is traveling to Hawai'i on Thursday, and will go to practice shortly after arrival in Honolulu.
"It will be a great game," he said. "Both are the better rushing teams in the league. In the end, turnovers will be a factor.
"You have to beat Boise State at their own game. You can't make mistakes. We had a 14-10 lead and we muffed a punt. They wait for you to make mistakes. You have to force them into mistakes and capitalize on them."
Boise State's Dan Hawkins and Fresno's Pat Hill have tremendous respect each other. Both have worked extremely hard to get their programs in the national spotlight. Fresno State has recently moved into the top 25 in all three polls (ESPN, AP and Harris), and Boise is not far behind.
It will be a short week for both teams since both played and won on Saturday.
"Life isn't fair," Hawkins said. "Pat has played Wednesday games and so have we. We've had games at 9 a.m. Both teams are in the same boat."
Hill said a big key is not getting off to a slow start as has been the case the last few years.
"When you look at the WAC over the last three years, it's been dominated by Boise State," he said. "They have won 31 in a row. I can't fathom that. It's been well documented that we haven't beaten them the last four years. It's a great challenge.
"They are pretty solid in all three phases (offense, defense and special teams). The last two years they've gotten off to fast starts (21-0 and 17-0)."
Fast starts have taken the Bulldogs away from what they like to do best, which is run the football. Fresno State will need to control the ball and clock, thereby keeping Boise State's potent offense off the field.
BOWL BOYS IN TOWN
Benson said that representatives from the Liberty Bowl, San Diego Poinsettia Bowl, Emerald Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and the Fort Worth Bowl will be at Thursday's BSU-Fresno State showdown.
It's likely that the Boise-Fresno winner will get invited to a non-WAC bowl. At least that is what Benson believes.
"Right now we're working on one team," Benson said. "It's not 100 percent that Boise State will play in the MPC Bowl if it finishes first or second. It's highly unlikely we would move Boise out of Boise (if only two teams qualify)."
Both Nevada and Louisiana Tech are one win away from being bowl eligible. The WAC could have four bowl-eligible teams and not enough bowls to place them in.
"We've been fortunate in the past to get bowl for all our bowl-eligible teams," Benson said. He indicated the fates of Nevada and Louisiana Tech's rests on whether other conferences meet their bowl obligations and whether Fresno State or Boise State get invited to an outside bowl game. The SEC may have trouble filling one of its five spots and the Pac-10 may not fill one of its four spots.
Benson also said that the Houston Bowl has contacted him, presumably about Boise State or Fresno State.
"They are not expecting an SEC team," Benson said. "They have already made an outside search. They are aggressively trying to find a team."
Fresno State's Paul Pinegar, along with Louisiana Tech's duo of Byron Santiago and Danny Horwedel have been honored as the offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week.
Pinegar, a senior, threw for 368 yards and three TDs and also rushed for another score in the Bulldogs' 45-7 win over San Jose State. He completed 22 of 35 passes and didn't have an interception. He tied the Fresno State record of 70 career TD passes that David Carr, now of the NFL Texans, accomplished from 1997 to 2001.
Pinegar is 31-8 as a starter and Hill said that's the biggest stat people need to look at for starting quarterbacks.
Santiago forced three fumbles in a 27-17 win over Utah State. The Bulldogs recovered two of the fumbles which led to 10 points.
Bicknell said only injuries stopped Santiago from having this kind of season a year ago.
"He was hurt his junior year," Bicknell said. "I think he is a top NFL prospect. I think he's one of the best linebackers in the country. I definitely think he'll be a draft pick."
Horwedel kicked two field goals, including a career-long 46 yards and another from 37. He also made all three of his extra points.
When Guy changed to a 3-4 defense at Utah State, he said that John Chick would benefit from it, and thus far that's been true.
Chick, a defensive end/outside linebacker in the new defense, had probably the best game of his season if not career last weekend in a 27-17 loss against Louisiana Tech. Chick finished with seven tackles, including two sacks for minus-17 yards and two tackles for minus-7 yards.
"John continues to do what we expect him to do," Guy said. "When we switched to the 3-4, I told everybody that this would make him a more productive football player. He understands blocking schemes. It gives him an opportunity to make plays."
Chick ranks at or near the top in sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
HARRINGTON A TROOPER
This has been a disappointing season for Idaho quarterback Michael Harrington, younger brother of Detroit's Joey Harrington.
Harrington, a starter for most of the last two years, lost his starting job this year to JC transfer Steve Wichman. He has impressed Idaho coach Nick Holt by his maturity in handling the situation.
"He's done a real good job staying with it," Holt said. "He holds for PATs and field goals. He's been supportive and is doing a great job of staying focused. He's done a good job of staying ready (in case of an injury)."
Harrington does relay the plays into Wichman, according to Holt.
FINALLY, A RUNNING GAME
The San Jose State Spartans found their running game in a 45-7 loss to Fresno State last weekend, as Yonus Davis carried 16 times for 136 yards and Al Guidry rushed nine times for 65 yards.
It was a career-high for Davis and the best individual mark for a San Jose State runner this season.
Part of the reason for the run success is that a freak injury hampered starting quarterback Adam Tafralis. The Spartans used three quarterbacks in the game and they were a woeful 5-for-23.
"It's the first time in six games that I felt like we didn't have a chance to win in the fourth quarter," San Jose State coach Dick Tomey said. "The bye week comes at a good time for us. We're banged up. We've had six road games in nine weeks. We have two tough games left and fortunately both are at home."
HOME FIELD EDGE
The record might not show it, but Holt believes the Kibbie Dome gives the Vandals a good home field edge if for no other reason than playing indoors is tough because teams aren't used to being indoors.
"It's a great home field advantage," Holt said. "It's loud. Kids like playing there. It's tough on opponents."
Holt also pointed out that home teams should have better records at home than on the road.
n Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or (775) 881-1281