GAME DAY! Boise State at Fresno State, 7:00 pm Kick-off Live on ESPN2
While Boise State scaled the heights of college football last year, Fresno State was in the dumps.
When the Broncos capped their storybook season with a stunning Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma, their biggest conference rivals were sitting at home in Fresno, still hurting from a shockingly bad 4-8 season.
"I didn't really watch it," freshman running back Ryan Mathews said of the victory that already has a place in college football lore. "I didn't care about that."
But few doubted coach Pat Hill would get his Bulldogs (5-2, 4-0) together again, and they're hoping to punctuate their comeback campaign Friday night with a win over the team that couldn't be beaten in 2006.
"I know they were up and we were down, so that was tough," Fresno State tight end Bear Pascoe said. "We've brought a new attitude to it as a team this year. We're saying we aren't going through what we did last year. We're not going to be embarrassed like that again. We're bringing back the new 'Dogs with the same old attitude."
The Broncos (6-1, 3-0 Western Athletic Conference) will return to the site of their only conference loss in the last five years for another showdown with Fresno State, which set the standard for WAC fearlessness over the last decade.
"I always think of it as a big game every single year," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "It wouldn't matter what the records are. Any time we're playing a great program like that, it's a big game."
But except for that loss in 2005, Boise State has owned the Bulldogs -- and until the last few weeks, Hill's program had been nursing a hangover from a remarkable two-week stretch in 2005.
Fresno State decisively beat Boise State 27-7 at Bulldog Stadium to end the Broncos' 31-game conference winning streak, then came agonizingly close to upsetting top-ranked USC in Los Angeles.
Fresno State lost its next three games after just missing the Trojans. The Bulldogs then stumbled through last year, falling back in the WAC pack for the first time in a decade.
Hill spent the offseason rebuilding everything about his program, hiring a new offensive coordinator and taking on a new group of youngsters.
"We spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about Bulldog football -- not winning, losing, stats, who's on the schedule, just Bulldog football," Hill said. "We've only got nine kids on this team that played against Boise State in 2005. We've had to relearn what this program is about, whereas I think Boise State has a lot of carry-over from last year."
Fresno State's only losses this season were on the road against Texas A&M and Oregon. The Bulldogs have rolled through their WAC schedule to date, punctuated by a 30-0 win last weekend over San Jose State, a bowl team last year.
"Boise is very impressive, but this win should let Boise know that we're going to play," Owens said. "We're not going to back down from anybody. It's definitely going to send a message."
Petersen was an assistant when Fresno State finally ended the Broncos' WAC winning streak two years ago. The Broncos hadn't lost since then until Washington's 24-10 upset victory last month.
While the Broncos took control of the WAC a half-decade ago, Fresno State is a perennial challenge -- particularly when Boise State must visit raucous Bulldog Stadium, where the fans and the rain conspired to make life miserable for the Broncos on their last trip.
Fresno State and Boise State are no longer the unquestioned powers of the WAC, either. Hawaii and quarterback Colt Brennan are getting the national attention and rankings this season. A victory Friday night will be a big push for the winner.
"I know we've played a lot of these games, but Friday night is going to be pretty special for this city," Hill said.
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