As Fresno State coach Pat Hill prepared for this season, he told a reporter, "Our time is coming."
It has arrived.
After defeating Colorado in Boulder a week ago, the Bulldogs ripped No. 10 Oregon State 44-24 Sunday to declare themselves contenders for a Bowl Championship Series berth, and possibly the national title.
The Bulldogs annihilated a team that was last seen kicking Notre Dame all over the Fiesta Bowl in a 41-9 romp last winter. When Fresno State's victory ended, fans from the largest crowd in Bulldog Stadium history (42,410) poured onto the field and carted away the goalposts.
"This put us on the map," tailback Josh Levi said. "It showed we could play with anybody."
That's not what the powers who run the BCS want to hear. Six major conferences control the BCS and can't be thrilled at the idea of sharing payouts that range from $11.8 million to $14.7 million per team. But to fend off possible legal action, BCS honchos agreed to allow teams from non-affiliated conferences into the four BCS bowls, provided they finish in the top six in the BCS standings.
The BCS standings weigh the two major polls, computer rankings, strength of schedule and losses. The first standings come out next month.
Climbing the rankings may take time. The WAC's Bulldogs debuted at No. 19 in this week's AP media poll, their first appearance in the AP ratings since 1993. They're still not ranked in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, but that's probably because this week's coaches vote was released before the Bulldogs dismantled Oregon State.
And in this week's Sagarin Football Ratings, which are part of the BCS equation, the Bulldogs check in at No. 35--two slots below Syracuse, which already has lost twice.
"We still don't get the respect we should," quarterback David Carr said. "But we're in the WAC, and it's tough. If it was Florida that came out and did this to Oregon State, then you'd hear all about it."
Fresno State has become the standard-bearer for non-BCS conferences such as the Mountain West and Chicago-based Conference USA. In 1998, Conference USA member Tulane went 12-0 but was excluded from the major bowls mainly because it had played a weak schedule.
The BCS can't make that argument against the Bulldogs. Knowing his WAC schedule won't impress the major pollsters and the BCS computer programmers, Hill went out and signed as many tough opponents as he could.
Some major schools, such as Southern Cal, have ducked Hill's team. But last year he challenged Ohio State in Columbus and UCLA in Pasadena, and while the Dawgs lost both games, they weren't in over their heads.
"We may take our lumps at some point, but with the guys we have in our program, I don't think we're scared of anybody," said Hill, a former Bulldog assistant who succeeded longtime coach Jim Sweeney in 1997.
Indeed, plenty of major-conference teams, including perhaps every Big Ten member, would trade their starting quarterback for Carr, who bombed the Beavers for 340 yards and four touchdowns. And many would swap their top receiver for Rodney Wright, who burned Oregon State's vaunted secondary for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
Fresno State's BCS hopes may hinge on this weekend's visit to No. 23 Wisconsin. Should the Bulldogs manage at win at Camp Randall Stadium, one of college football's more hostile environments, they will have defeated quality opponents from the Big XII, the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.
If Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin have good seasons, their success will validate the Bulldogs further and provide a lift in the BCS' strength-of-schedule component.