Fresno State’s football team came to Fort Collins last year ranked in the Top 25 and riding the arm of quarterback David Carr, the eventual No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
The Bulldogs fended off CSU’s upset attempt in overtime, but the game turned the year around for the Rams as they won five out of the last six games to close out the 2001 season.
This year, the story is much different.
Without Carr at the helm, Fresno has struggled to a 2-3 start. Meanwhile, the Rams’ have started the season 4-1 and enter the game ranked No. 25 in the nation. The game gets under way in Fresno, Calif. at 6 p.m. Friday and will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.
The roles have been reversed from last year, and it is now CSU attempting to avoid an upset.
“I don’t think they’re as good as they were last year, and I think we’re a lot better than we were last year,” linebacker Drew Wood said. “Realistically, we should be able to do what we want to do. We match up pretty well against them. I think if we go out there and play our game and play physical we can take it to them.”
But the Rams are taking on a team that is better than it’s record shows. The Bulldogs have played several quality opponents this season, including two losses to Wisconsin and Oregon, both ranked in the top 25. Fresno lost those games by a combined six points.
The potential for an upset was clearly on the mind of co-offensive coordinator John Benton.
“It’s a really tough place to play, you know, a real hostile crowd,” he said. “It’s really loud and we’ve struggled playing there in the past. On defense, they’re as talented as ever.”
To head coach Sonny Lubick, the Bulldogs are a team that should always be respected and a program that constantly fields solid teams.
“I like the way they play,” Lubick said. “Defensively they play very well. Offensively, the one area that I’ve seen immense improvement – that the average person wouldn’t see – is in their offensive line. They’re real big and strong, bigger than they’ve ever been.”
For the Rams, the game marks their fourth game on the road so far this season, and the second in a row against a WAC opponent. The team has benefited from a home crowd only once this year, and some Rams players are eager to get back to Hughes Stadium.
“I don’t remember even having a home game this year,” Wood joked. “Did we have one?”
In one of the Rams’ most exciting games last year, Fresno battled back to tie the game at 22-22 with a 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. In overtime, the Rams failed to get into the end zone and the Bulldogs won by virtue of another long field goal. That win evened the all-time series between the teams at 4-4.
For the Rams’ players, the overtime loss is still fresh in their mind.
“We definitely want to get them back for last year, but we want to win every game,” defensive end Peter Hogan said. “It’s a hostile environment. They’ve got a lot of athletes and really good special teams, and a really big offensive line, so it’s going to be a physical game.”
– Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin