Fresno has plenty to prove in Boise

Posted: Monday, December 27, 2004

BOISE, Idaho Virginia offers the perfect matchup for Fresno State coach Pat Hill: a Top 25 opponent and another chance to knock off a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference.

At least this time Fresno State faces the 18th-ranked Cavaliers of the Atlantic Coast Conference on a neutral field today in the MPC Computers Bowl. Usually, the Bulldogs play these games in the other team's stadium.

But if anyone thinks Fresno State (8-3) from the Western Athletic Conference has nothing to lose, think again.

''We've got plenty to lose,'' Hill insisted. ''When we played Washington in the opener, our fans wouldn't have accepted a loss. The expectation at Fresno State is to win, and a win over Virginia would salvage our season at 9-3.''

Boise isn't your typical bowl trip.

The weather is frosty, though this year it's rather warm with a forecast of 41 degrees and partly cloudy skies. Rather than strolling the beaches, players can ride snowmobiles in the mountains.

''The sky is as blue as the field,'' Virginia coach Al Groh marveled when the Cavaliers arrived last week.

Yep, there's that eye-popping blue field, which must startle some TV viewers. Nothing's wrong with your television the Smurf Turf matches the colors of host school Boise State.

As for the game itself, it's a solid matchup.

Virginia (8-3) is making its third straight bowl trip, and the Cavaliers' only losses this season were to ACC heavyweights Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.

''They're a couple of plays away from winning the ACC,'' Hill said. ''They have an outstanding team. We feel very fortunate to get the fourth-place team from the ACC. Here at Fresno State, that's a great matchup.''

Virginia is led by quick-footed quarterback Marques Hagans, a versatile threat who averages 197.4 yards in total offense per game. He completed 63 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 1,862 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Cavaliers split rushing duties between two backs. Alvin Pearman had 985 yards rushing and nine TDs while Wali Lundy ran for 801 yards and led the ACC with 16 rushing TDs.

''They're the most talented team we've played,'' Hill said. ''Boise State is as good of a team as we've played in a couple of years. But Virginia? On paper, the talent level is unbelievable.''

That's not to say the Bulldogs won't compete.

Fresno State's offense is rolling, averaging 56 points a game over a current five-game winning streak. In their last seven games, the Bulldogs have 31 TDs and two field-goals on 33 trips inside the 20.

''They're really clicking,'' said Groh, the former New York Jets coach who is 30-20 in four seasons at Virginia.

Bulldogs quarterback Paul Pinegar is 2-0 in bowl games and 5-3 against BCS schools, including three straight wins. He's 23-8 as a starter, rivaling Fresno State stars Trent Dilfer, Billy Volek and David Carr all in the NFL.

''He's a strong quarterback,'' Groh said. ''He has a good pocket presence. Their system requires the quarterback to throw with a good sense of rhythm, and he been able to get into a rhythm.''

Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis took over when standout tailback Dwayne Wright sustained a season-ending knee injury in the second game at Kansas State, and Fresno State averaged 228 yards rushing per game.

No question the Bulldogs will be up for this opponent. Fresno State, making its sixth straight bowl trip, has won nine of its last 15 against teams from BCS conferences.

In their last two bowl games, the Bulldogs have beaten UCLA and Georgia Tech.

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