December 19, 2008

Fresno State settles for New Mexico Bowl

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

Fresno State is in a bowl for the ninth time in 10 seasons, but you'll have to forgive the Bulldogs if they're not enamored with their destination the New Mexico Bowl this season.

In the summer, Fresno State was seen as a potential BCS-buster. There were visions of the Fiesta or Sugar bowls dancing in the Bulldogs' heads. Instead, they're in a pre-Christmas bowl for the first time since 1999.

NEW MEXICO BOWL

Colorado State (6-6)
vs. Fresno State (7-5)

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 20
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore will do play-by-play, with Rod Gilmore as the analyst).
THE LINE: Fresno State by 3.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Colorado State 1-5, Fresno State 1-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Colorado State 28th, Fresno State 104th.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for either.
COACHES: Colorado State − Steve Fairchild (first season); Fresno State − Pat Hill (4-4 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If you're tired of wrapping gifts or tired of Christmas shopping, this game could be a diversion. As far as must-watch football, though, this ain't it.
KEY STATS: Colorado State is plus-2 in turnover margin, and Fresno State is minus-11. Fresno State committed 23 turnovers, and 16 came in the Bulldogs' five losses.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Fresno State QB Tom Brandstater. He made a big jump from his sophomore to junior season, but has had a quasi-disappointing senior season. He threw 17 TD passes, but eight of them came in two games. Plus, he didn't throw a TD pass in any of the final three regular-season games.
"No one within our program is completely pleased with the results of this season, but the season's not over," Fresno State coach Pat Hill told reporters earlier this month. "We can finish it with a bowl win and build toward next year."

The Bulldogs' opponent is Colorado State, which is in the postseason for the first time in three seasons under first-year coach Steve Fairchild. The Rams won a combined seven games the past two seasons, and a win over Fresno State would give the Rams seven wins this season.

This is the first of two bowls matching Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference opponents; the other is the Dec. 23 Poinsettia Bowl between Boise State and TCU. The Mountain West is 2-1 vs. the WAC in bowls this decade.

Who gets the edge?

Colorado State run offense vs. Fresno State run defense
Colorado State has been inconsistent running the ball, though the Rams did a better job over the second half of the regular season. Gartrell Johnson III had four 100-yard games in the final five regular-season contests. Fresno gives up 5.3 yards per carry and allowed at least 200 rushing yards in seven games.
Edge: Colorado State.

Colorado State pass offense vs. Fresno State pass defense
Colorado State senior QB Billy Farris had thrown 39 career passes heading into the season, then threw 37 in the season opener. He has adapted well to new coach Steve Fairchild's offense, though he makes some poor decisions at times. Eight of his 12 picks have come in Rams losses. WR Dion Morton is a good deep threat, and TE Kory Sperry was effective this season. Fresno has been OK against the pass, but one reason why is that opponents have found it so easy to run. The Bulldogs have just four interceptions this season and two of them came in the season-opening win over Rutgers. The Bulldogs don't have much of a pass rush, either.
Edge: Colorado State.

Fresno State run offense vs. Colorado State run defense
The Bulldogs have been solid on the ground despite star TB Ryan Mathews missing five games with various injuries. He is questionable for the bowl, but he would give the Bulldogs a lift if he plays. If he doesn't, it'll be a combination of Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding, who have combined for 1,401 yards and nine TDs. Colorado State has been pitiful against the run, and this is the area that Fresno needs to dominate.
Edge: Fresno State.

Fresno State pass offense vs. Colorado State pass defense
Brandstater has the skills; he just has lacked consistency this season. TE Bear Pascoe is a big weapon, but Seyi Ajirotutu is the only wide receiver of note. The Rams' pass defense isn't much, which might not be surprising when you consider two freshmen start in the secondary. Colorado State is last in the nation with just nine sacks, and the Rams also have just nine interceptions.
Edge: Fresno State.

Colorado State special teams vs. Fresno State special teams
Fresno has excellent return men in A.J. Jefferson (fifth nationally in kickoff returns) and Rashad Evans (15th in punt returns). Kicker Kevin Goessling is solid and Robert Malone is a good punter. Colorado State's return teams are mediocre, kicker Jason Smith is OK and punter Anthony Hartz is excellent. The coverage units for both teams are awful. Given Fresno's return capabilities, that bodes ill for Colorado State. Fresno State has blocked 44 kicks since 2002, the most in the nation in that span.
Edge: Fresno State.

Colorado State coaches vs. Fresno State coaches
Fairchild, who was an assistant for the Rams in their glory days in the late '90s and early this decade, has done a nice job getting the program back on track in his first season. He had been quarterback coach of the Buffalo Bills, and did a superb job with the inexperienced Farris. This is the ninth bowl for Fresno's Hill, who is 4-1 in the postseason against "Big Six" schools but 0-3 against non-"Big Sixers." The Bulldogs were a disappointment this season, and winning this bowl won't change that.
Edge: Fresno State.

X-factor: Fresno State's mind-set will be important. That Colorado State is in a bowl at all is surprising. That Fresno is in this bowl is surprising, too, but only because much more was expected of the Bulldogs.

Colorado State will win if: The Rams have to play good run defense if they're to win. If they can limit Fresno to 150 yards or less on the ground, they have a good shot at the victory.

Fresno State will win if: It's simple if Fresno runs well, it wins. Colorado State's defense isn't very good, and Brandstater can use play action to his heart's content if the Bulldogs run effectively. Colorado State likely will have success on the ground, but it won't matter if Miller and Harding and maybe Mathews are productive.

The pick
Mike Huguenin: Fresno State 31, Colorado State 24

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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