From left to right. Stephen Van Hook (44), Nathan Madsen (91), Patrick Belony (94), Kevin Atkins (90)
BY ERIC BARBOZA
On November 14, 2015, lead by a career night by then quarterback Zack Greenlee, throwing for six touchdown passes to help Fresno State beat Hawaii 42-14. That was the last win the Bulldogs had over an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) school, that was also the last time Fresno State won a Mountain West Conference game. Since then Greenlee has transferred to The University of Texas at El Paso, (UTEP) where he serves as the back-up quarterback. Head coach Tim DeRuyter is now the defensive coordinator at Cal, and Jeff Tedford has come back to his alma mater to take over a 1-11 squad.
Fast forward to Saturday, September 30th, the Bulldogs sitting at (1-2) with their lone victory being a
66-0 blowout of Incarnate Word an FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) school, welcome winless Nevada (0-4) to open Mountain West Conference play. It will be exactly 686 days since that night in the islands, and do not think for a second that this Fresno State State football team does not know what is at stake. In fact they knew this was going to be the year Fresno State gets back to respectability. At the 2017 Mountain West Football Media Summit in late July, the media predicted Fresno State to finish last in the western division. Last to fellow first year head coaches Jay Norvell of Nevada, and Brent Brennan of San Jose State. When I spoke to Paul Loeffler (play by play announcer for 940 ESPN, Fresno) better known as the "voice of the Bulldogs" he along with others had this Nevada game circled as the one that can make or break this season. "Well, I think you do have to be optimistic that this coaching staff can make a difference. The physicality can make a difference." Paul Loeffler Key words that stood out, "this coaching staff can make a difference" because not only were the Bulldogs predicted to finish last, but last to a couple of first time head coaches in Brennan and Norvell from San Jose State and Nevada respectfully. Loeffler continues "The word that I know that is graded on people in the community when they heard and said about their Bulldogs was that these guys are soft. Players don't want to be called soft, the team doesn't want to be called soft, and its up to this years team to prove that they're back to Bulldog football. That they're tough, that they're aggressive, they're physical, and they have a chance to show that early on against some of the most physical teams in the country. So, I think if they can do that, grab some momentum early, that Nevada game to me is really pivotal. First conference game, you've got Alabama and Washington in your rear view mirror by then, you've got a bye the week before and its a chance to start off in first place in your division. If you get a little momentum going then that's the most powerful force." And if the voice of the Bulldogs had this game circled, Imagine the coaches and players.
Not only will the monkey, the 400 pound gorilla or whatever else you want to call it come off their back, but they will also be 1-0 in Mountain West Conference play, and be atop of the western division standings. Not only that, with a favorable match-up next week, when Fresno State travels to San Jose and take on the Spartans (1-4, 0-1 Mountain West) who could be winless in conference play pending Saturday nights match-up at UNLV, The Bulldogs could be on dare I say... A winning streak! If you thought 686 days without an FBS win was bad, try 1,036 days since Fresno State posted back to back wins. You would have to go back to November 29th, 2014 against Hawaii, as the last time the Bulldogs posted back to back wins. If you are curious about who started that streak in 2014, it was none other than Nevada. But all of this is irrelevant if Fresno State can not produce a win Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium. Yes, the distractions will be there regarding the last time they beat an FBS school, the last time they won back to back games, how ESPN's football power index or FPI has the Bulldogs favored to win seven out of their nine remaining contest. But a win will give Fresno State that much needed "momentum" that Loeffler mentioned in July, that can be the start of bringing Fresno State football back to what it once was. Respectability.