The atmosphere was electric, and Fresno State came within an eyelash of pulling off an upset of mammoth proportions on Saturday night.
Fresno State lost 50-42 to top-ranked USC before a crowd of 90,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum and in doing so represented the Western Athletic Conference nicely. One thing about Fresno State coach Pat Hill is that he's not a believer in moral victories.
"I'm very proud," Hill said. "I wanted to see how we measured up against the No. 1 team and we came up short. A loss is a loss. We came down with a goal and mindset to win. We came to win.
"Whenever you lose, you lose a lot. We had a chance to establish ourselves. It's a time of the year where you want to play at a high level. We had the stage to do it. We had a lot to lose in that game."
Hill is hoping the performance might enable the Bulldogs to schedule more national-caliber teams and possibly even get some top teams to come to Fresno State. Hill isn't greedy. He'll play anybody in the country anywhere. It's been his mantra since coming to the San Joaquin Valley nine years ago.
During Monday's weekly Western Athletic Conference teleconference, he was anxious to shrug off the loss to USC and turn his attention to Saturday's game against Nevada in Reno, which has championship implications. Nevada and Boise State are both 6-1 in conference and Fresno State is 5-1. If Nevada wins, the Pack would get no worse than a share of the title.
With resolve in his voice, Hill said his team will be ready for Saturday's game. He is drawing on news clippings from last year's game where Nevada's coaches and players felt they gave the game away and Fresno State didn't beat them. Those are fighting words.
"We're not worried about the weather or anything else," Hill said. "Our team will be ready to play. They understand what's at stake. We have to move forward.
"We want to make sure to win this football game. We're looking forward to coming to Nevada. It's big for both schools. We want to reach our goal of winning the WAC."
Despite the loss, Fresno State stayed in all the polls. The AP and Harris polls had the Bulldogs ranked 16th, the same spot they were last week.
"I was pleasantly surprised that Fresno State stayed in the polls," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "Very rarely does a team get beat and stay where they are."
The Liberty Bowl has already indicated it wants Fresno State, no doubt assuming the Bulldogs will win their remaining two games.
"Officially, the Liberty Bowl controls the invitation." Benson said. "We have to make sure our own bowl selection procedures are followed. The selection committee is made up of the five athletic directors whose teams aren't bowl eligible. That committee will meet today. All bowl acceptances have to be approved by the WAC."
That is something new, stemming from last year when UTEP accepted a Houston Bowl bid without WAC approval. Benson was quick to indicate that all bowl procedures will be followed.
WAC BOWL SITUATION STILL MURKY
The WAC has four bowl-eligible teams and Benson obviously believes all four deserve a bowl bid,
"We have four bowl-eligible teams in a very competitive league," he said. "Fresno State showed well on Saturday night, and they represent the whole league. We'll have a minimum of three. We have to find a spot for the fourth."
Benson indicated that much of the bowl picture would become clearer by Saturday night or Sunday. The majority of schools will be done this weekend, clearing the way for many bowl invitations to be extended.
There could be up to a dozen bowls that could need teams depending on how things work out over the next two weekends.
Benson pointed out that there could be openings in the Plains Capital Ft. Worth Bowl (Big 12 vs. Conference USA), the Motor City Bowl (MAC vs. Big 10) in Detroit and the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (Big Ten vs. SEC). Also, there could be two openings in Pac-10 bowls (Las Vegas and Emerald or Insight.com). The Houston Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) also could have an opening. The Poinsettia Bowl, which replaced the Silicon Valley Football Classic, also has an at-large opening.
At least three conferences - Mountain West, WAC and Atlantic Coast Conference - have more qualified teams than their bowl allotments. The Big 12 and SEC are in danger of not filling their designated spots.
"I'm confident all four of our teams will be placed," Benson said.
Javan Hedlund, assistant director of communications for the MWC said he's hopeful all five of his teams get placed.
Hedlund said the MWC is counting on TCU being taken by an outside bowl. All the MWC teams except TCU (10-1) will enter bowl games with 6-5 records. Utah, BYU, Colorado State and New Mexico are all bowl eligible. The MWC tie-ins are with the Las Vegas, Poinsettia and Emerald bowls.
Benson all but said that there is little chance that Boise State would play in an outside bowl. The Broncos have played away from home the last two years, and no doubt the MPC Computer Bowl folks would like to see the host team stay put.
DAVIS COMING ON STRONG
San Jose State's Yonus Davis enjoyed a career game against New Mexico State, rushing for 150 yards and two TDs in the Spartans' 27-10 victory at Spartan Stadium.
Davis, who was named the WAC Offensive Player of the Week, leads the WAC in yards-per-carry average at 6.7, which is sixth-best in the country. Davis had an 84-yard run early in the second half, enabling the Spartans to take a 20-3 lead.
"He continues to get better," San Jose State coach Dick Tomey said. "He had a great day (versus New Mexico State) and had a great day versus Fresno. Early in the year, he wasn't running with authority. He's gained a lot of confidence, and he gives us some explosiveness with our running game. He surely makes a difference."
REBUILDING A PROGRAM
Rebuilding a program isn't easy as Tomey, Utah State's Brent Guy and New Mexico State's Hal Mumme are finding out.
The three programs have produced just four wins this year, two each by Utah State and San Jose State. New Mexico State is winless entering the final week of its season.
Do you start with the physical part or he attitude first?
"The first year is attitudinal," Tomey said. "It still depends on where the program was before. Our guys accept what we're trying to do. I think you can work in both areas."
IN A NICE POSITION?
Louisiana Tech finds itself in a good position heading into the last two weeks of the season. The good news is that the Bulldogs are bowl eligible at 6-3 with two games left in the season. The bad news is that they host Boise State and visit Fresno State the next two weeks.
"It's huge (to be in this position)," Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell said. "To be in this position on Nov. 21 is everything you want. You play for these games in November. I felt like we had a good team last year (6-6 with a tough schedule). We're still alive."
Depending on what shakes out this weekend, even if the Bulldogs lost twice they could still land in a bowl. A win over Boise State or Fresno State would certainly make the Bulldogs more attractive to a bowl, especially if it was in the Southeast or Southwest.
"It's a huge game," Bicknell said, referring to this weekend's home game against Boise State. "Obviously they're a very good football team. We're looking forward to it. We're happy to have it at home. There is a lot of excitement around here."
BATTLE OF AGGIES
Two struggling teams - Utah State and New Mexico State - face off this weekend. New Mexico State is winless and Utah State has won twice.
"They are similar to us," New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme said. "Both are struggling for wins. It was a close game last year. We're hoping we can get a victory."
Mumme doesn't believe that one win gives the New Mexico State team a whole lot to build on going into the off-season.
"We want to win every week," Mumme said. "We try to win each week. We leave streaks to the media."
Utah State coach Brent Guy said without question New Mexico State will be pointing to this game as one it can win and needs to win to avoid a winless season.
"I feel good about finishing strong; finishing with a win," Guy said. "We need to finish on a positive note."
Utah State's Tony Pennyman was named the WAC Special Teams Player of the Week after a sensational performance against Nevada last weekend.
Pennyman returned three kickoffs for 207 yards, including one for 99 yards and a score. Pennyman's return helped the Aggies cut the lead to 20-10. After a Nevada field goal, Pennyman had an 84-yard return, setting up another score to make it 23-17. He also caught nine passes for 99 yards and a score.
"I was a little surprised they kicked the second one (84-yard return) to him," Guy said.
Nevada has used squib and sky kicks to nullify good return teams, but didn't do that against the Aggies.
n Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org or (775) 881-1281