Two of the nation's best running attacks meet tomorrow. They are two teams with winning streaks and a real shot at a conference title. When Fresno State (6-3, 5-1) makes the bus ride to Reno, to take on the Wolfpack (6-3, 5-0) they go in knowing that they have to win this game.
Pat Hill's teams have typically lost these kind of games. Late in the year, on the road in the WAC, Fresno State teams have let down. In order for this year to be any different, to be considered successful, the Bulldogs need to come through in a big game.
Saturday's game is the last chance for them. Yes, they do travel to Illinois but that game doesn't look as big as it did back in September. Fresno should travel to Champaigne as the favorite. That game can only have meaning if the Bulldogs win on Saturday.
Beating the Wolfpack in Nevada will not be an easy chore. Nevada has been on a roll of late. After a disappointing 0-3 start, they have won six in a row and have done it in impressive fashion. They rank first in college football in rushing and have four runners who can carry the load.
Colin Kaepernick, who got his career started in a big way two years ago against the Bulldogs, is the focal point. He has shown a much improved passing ability to go with his hyped running game. He is the Tim Tebow that the national media doesn't know/care about. For the Bulldogs to win they will have to keep his damage to a minimum.
Thankfully the Bulldogs are the fifth leading rushing team in the nation. They also have four guys who can carry the load. However the Bulldogs have given almost all the responsibility to the Doak Walker semi-finalist Ryan Mathews. The 'dogs will have to utilize their great back and win the battle of time of possession.
Quarterback Ryan Colburn will also have to be on his game and make wise decisions as he did against Idaho. He was 14-for-14 passing in that game and appeared more poised than at any point in the season.
By game experience, he's still a young QB and has shown a tendency to rush decisions or throw ill-advised passes that have wound up being game changing or ending interceptions. If he plays well the Bulldogs have hope.
A win against Nevada would mean they are still in the WAC title chase, and it's been quite some time that you could say that about a Bulldog team this late in the year. Perennial conference leader Boise State still has two tough games against Idaho and these Nevada Wolfpack remaining.
There is a somewhat realistic chance that they lose one of these games. With that scenario the Bulldogs would have a share of the crown for the first time in what seems like ages.
Not only would a win keep title hopes alive, it also might vault them into the national rankings. And in the crazy world of college football in the BCS era, getting into the rankings to end this season can only help your ranking for next year.
To get totally ahead of myself, if the Bulldogs end this year ranked and return Ryan Mathews next year we could be talking BCS buster again.
But that's not really what Saturday's game is about. The Bulldogs and their coach need to finish the season well to restore legitimacy to the program. The mantra of "anyone, anywhere, anytime" has gotten stale to the local fans.
People in the central valley want a winner. Not just a winner sometimes on a big stage, but a consistent winner on any stage.
A loss for Fresno means that this team is just another typical Pat Hill team. It will deflate the momentum that the five game winning streak, sparked by Ryan Mathews, has created.
Beating a good Nevada team and finishing strong sends a message to local fans and the national media that Fresno State football is for real. The Bulldogs are not just a fun story to start the season that fades as the weather get cold, but a team that can be taken seriously.
If Fresno State wants to be taken seriously, it starts against Nevada. Quite simply, the Bulldogs must win.