Monday, April 25, 2011

Is this Fresno State's Best Chance to Finally Win a Conference Championship?

Fresno State is itching for an outright conference championship and with Boise State out of the mix, maybe the 2011 season is finally going to be their year. Or is it?

When head coach Pat Hill was hired, his goal at Fresno State was going to be turning them into a conference powerhouse. A team who could win conference championships and be a team the city could be proud of.

More than a decade and one shared conference title later, Bulldog fans are wondering what happened to that promise. They are wondering what happened to the teams they were promised and what happened to the team they could be proud of?

Seems the last time they were able to watch, and be excited about, a Fresno State team was 10 years ago when the team was ranked in the top 10 thanks to now NFL quarterback, David Carr. He was arguably the nation's best quarterback and he was breaking school records with every pass and every touchdown he threw.

Since then, Bulldog Stadium has grown quiet and the fans more restless with every year gone by. Some want Hill out as the head coach and for a new era to begin, others will defend him tooth and nail because of the academic success of his players.

While Hill and his coaching staff continue to scratch their heads and wonder how things could have gone so wrong since he took over the program, they may have their best chance at an outright conference championship coming in to the 2011 season.

Boise State, the team who no one can seem to beat, is now a member of the Mountain West Conference and the Bulldogs no longer have to worry about looking up at the boys in blue, hoping for a loss here or there to give them a chance. They can finally make their own destiny.

Make no mistake about it, this isn't going to be a walk in the park. This isn't going to be a year where the team can glide to the end of the season and expect to hold up the Western Athletic Conference trophy. There are still two other schools who will do everything they can to make sure they are the ones celebrating a conference championship at year's end.

The Nevada Wolfpack and Hawaii Warriors have been two teams who have always challenged Fresno State and they have made for some of the best rivalry games the conference has ever seen.

The Wolfpack, however, will be without Colin Kaepernick, their star quarterback who will always be remembered as the one who finally broke through Boise State's iron grip.

As for the Warriors they have one of the best young quarterbacks in college football, Bryant Moniz, who threw for over 5000 yards in 2010 (5,040) to go along with 39 touchdown passes to just 15 interceptions. It didn't hurt that the Warriors had two wide receivers, Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, who both finished with more than a thousand yards receiving last season.

The Bulldogs have never had an easy time with either Nevada or Hawaii. While they had their success against them over the years, it's never been enough to get to the top. With one last season remaining for these three schools join the Broncos in the Mountain West, you can bet on all three battling it out for the top spot all year long.

For the Bulldogs, they will usher in a new era under young quarterback Derek Carr. He comes with a ton of hype not only from the media but also from the school itself. He was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and a player everyone in California's central valley has been looking forward to for quite some time.

Their offense has never been the biggest problem for Fresno State. It's been their defense or lack thereof.

They have struggled mightily against the run over the years, something opposing teams know exactly how to take advantage of. Though they have had their own share of talent in the backfield with former running back, Ryan Mathews, and current running back, Robbie Rouse, the amount of points they can put up just seems to make little difference sometimes.

Pat Hill will have one last chance to prove he can really be the top dog in this conference because once the Bulldogs make the jump to the Mountain West, they will no longer be one of the top dogs. They might be, at best, just another middle of the road team in a mid-major conference.

This is Hill's last chance to deliver on his promise. Though, in the eyes of some especially in Boise, it may come with an asterisk because his program did it without Boise State being in the conference. It would like like a prize fighter retiring and the boxer who could never beat the champ, finally wins the big prize. Yet it doesn't mean quite the same.

The Bulldogs are a talented team and while they may finally put it all together in 2011, they will need to deal with another tough non-conference schedule. In five of their first six weeks of the season, Fresno State will have Cal, Nebraska, Ole Miss, and Boise State. Only one of those, Nebraska, coming on the road.

The big question might be, will the team be too banged up to face their conference schedule or will the be so fired up for the big games they'll forget how to get ready for the small ones?

Though we may not get answers to those questions for several months, Hill continues to show year in and year out that he never backs down from a fight.

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