Monday, January 17, 2011

Fresno State Football: On the Edge of Greatness or on the Edge of a Cliff?

Carr has Bulldogs looking to pass

That's been a question that's been asked by Fresno State fans since Pat Hill came to town just over 12 years ago.

Back in 1998, Hill was hired as the new head coach of the Fresno State football program replacing the man that single-handedly put the program on the map, Jim Sweeney. Sure that can be argued but the field at Bulldog Stadium is named after who? I rest my case.

But over the last 12 years this football program has been on the edge of greatness. They've been just one or two big wins away from doing some serious damage on the national stage. A few of them did come back in 2001 with David Carr at the helm but since then, those wins have become few and far between. Most of them have ended in losses instead of wins.

With each football season that comes around, fans begin to believe that this year is going to be different. This is the year they finally break through and end the mediocre streak. But at the end of each season the expectations decrease and the fan base begins to wonder when things will change.

Those decreasing expectations have led to the fan base calling for Hill's firing. The university, however, has yet to make sort of action close to firing their head coach. In fact, they gave him a three-year extension in December of 2009.

Hill isn't the most popular guy around campus anymore. His "Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime" mantra has worn itself thin and his team's 4-7 record in 11 bowl appearances has some wondering if this team is meant for anything but mediocrity.

Even the head coach himself wondered aloud during a press conference whether or not this team can or will do any better than their 8-4 or 8-5 record during any given season. When that quote made it's way around the valley as well as around college football, it either left fans with their jaws on the floor or shaking their heads in disgust. Maybe they took it out of context or maybe their coach really didn't believe any more than they did.

With the 2011 season a little over seven months away, there's a new found feeling of anticipation in the air and it has nothing to do with years gone by or anything said by Hill. It has everything to do with the most hyped quarterback since David Carr wore the Bulldog read a decade ago.

It just so happens that this quarterback just happens to be related to David. It's his younger brother, Derek Carr.

He was looked at as one of the best high school prospects when he committed to Fresno State in the spring of 2009. He redshirted last season to extend his eligibility and he's apparently already gained the respect of teammates as well as coaches.

He has tremendous arm strength and knowledge of the game, something that's mostly unheard of from a quarterback that hasn't started a single Division One football game.

The Carr's are no strangers to pressure. Older brother David made his Fresno State debut on the road in Columbus, Ohio against the Ohio State Buckeyes in front of almost 97,000 fans. Younger brother, Derek, will make his Fresno State debut at Candlestick Park in San Francisco against the Cal Golden Bears.

Though you can't compare The Horsehoe to Candlestick Park, but making a debut on the road comes with the same amount of pressure no matter where you are.

What Derek will need to know is the kind of pressure Fresno State fans will put on him before he throws his first pass of his collegiate career. His other brother threw four interceptions against Ohio State and Bulldog fans quickly called for his benching in favor of current Fresno State offensive coordinator, Jeff Grady.

That move, of course, was not made and David Carr became one of the best quarterbacks in Fresno State history.

While Derek shouldn't be held to the same kind of expectations as his older brother, that won't stop the Bulldog fans from expecting the world from this young man.

For the program itself, maybe the difference in success and just another typical season rests in the hands of a soon-to-be 21-year old quarterback. Fresno State has asked for patience from their fans before but they may ask for even more of it going into this season.

They've been so close before but haven't been able to do what they needed to do to become great. Since Pat Hill has become the head coach they've been passed by teams like Boise State, Nevada, and Hawaii. Teams that weren't even close to being a blip on the national radar.

You might remember Boise State's first claim to fame was knocking off then eighth ranked Fresno State in Fresno back in 2001.

Since then, the Broncos have seen incredible success and have done things this Bulldog football program could only hope to accomplish.

For the better part of the last five to six years, Fresno State has been that cute little program out west who isn't afraid to travel anywhere to get beat. Then again, maybe they're no better than San Jose State who took a big time payday just to get a beating handed to them by Alabama in Tuscaloosa this past season.

The Bulldogs don't want to be known for that but until they start winning some of these games they've scheduled out of conference, they'll never be known as more than just another cupcake for some big name team.

Greatness is what Pat Hill strived for when he arrived in Fresno. Mediocrity may be what he's known for when his time in Fresno is over.

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