Call it a fluke, or the upset of the week, or whatever you want. Fresno State's players and coaches don't think of it that way.
"There's nobody in the country that's opened the season with two wins like we have," Bulldogs Coach Pat Hill said yesterday.
He's right. Saturday, the Bulldogs followed up their season-opening victory at Washington by drilling Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., a 45-21 thumping that showed exactly how good Fresno can be.
Whose start to the season is better? Sure, Utah followed up a home victory over Texas A&M by winning at Arizona. And yes, Troy State beat Missouri, Southern Miss beat Nebraska and Boise State ran all over Oregon State. Schools from conferences not affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series are off to an attention-getting start.
No one, though, deserves more attention than the Bulldogs, not only for what they have done, but for what they intend to do.
"The kids want to play for the big prize," Hill said. "Why shouldn't it be like that in football? A lot of people like to laugh at us for that, but at least we're trying to do it."
In 2001, when the Bulldogs were led by quarterback David Carr, who eventually became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Fresno made a similar run before losing at home to Boise State. But the Fresno program has hardly allowed that season to become the good ol' days. Hill has tried to schedule anyone he can. He said yesterday that defending national champion Southern California declined a matchup. Hill also said Texas Tech and Oklahoma State have canceled future games at Fresno, forcing the Bulldogs to travel and play BCS schools almost every single time.
"I can't get anybody to play us here," he said.
Regardless of how he must do it, it's important to Hill to go after a berth in the BCS every year, if only to prove the system doesn't work. Fresno won't earn one of the two at-large berths simply by winning the Western Athletic Conference. It must go on the road early and gain attention by beating BCS teams. Hill refers to it as a "reverse-playoff order," in which the Bulldogs' biggest challenges come at the start of the season. "We lose, and we're out," he said.
Because their goals are so clearly stated, Hill isn't afraid to talk about going undefeated and seeing if the BCS would extend an invitation.
"We want to see if the system is really what they say it is," Hill said, "or is it a lip-service deal? . . . . If this team runs the table, I'm hoping this is the year somebody breaks the barrier."
Fresno is perhaps best equipped to do it despite the fact that starting tailback Dwayne Wright likely is lost for the season with a knee injury. The Bulldogs haven't won these games using a single star player or a tricked-up offense. Rather, Hill said the team is best symbolized by a pair of former walk-ons, offensive tackle Logan Mankins and defensive tackle Garrett McIntyre, both of whom played at small high schools but developed well beyond what others projected.
They develop under Hill's simple philosophy. Over every door in the Bulldogs' training facility is just one phrase: "Play hard." The phrase is over each player's locker. The coach signs all his personal notes, "Play hard, Pat Hill." And every Fresno player can recite the expanded definition of Bulldogs football, written on a sign just outside the locker room: "Tough, hard-nosed, aggressive, fundamental football played with fanatical effort for as long as it takes to win." At the bottom of the sign, it says, "And leave no doubt."
If the Bulldogs continue to roll, they will leave no doubt they belong in a BCS game. The biggest obstacle appears to be an Oct. 23 game at Boise State -- which Hill said is "better than anyone we've played so far" -- in what could be a matchup of unbeaten teams.
"The 'Rockys' of the world need a chance at the championship," Hill said. "If he gets beat, he's out. We understand that. But we want the chance."
Bunting in Trouble?
The next two weeks -- home games against Georgia Tech and Louisville -- amount to must wins for fourth-year North Carolina coach John Bunting, and there's little reason to believe the Tar Heels can win them. In its 56-24 loss to Virginia on Saturday, Carolina gave up at least 30 points for the 20th time in its last 22 games. By yielding 549 yards of offense, Bunting-coached teams now have nine of the 13 worst defensive performances in school history.
"It's not just details," Bunting said yesterday. "It's Fundamental Football 101."
Thus, Steve Spurrier's name will be mentioned even more frequently in Chapel Hill (where it already comes up quite often). The problem, though, belongs to more people than just Bunting. When Bunting was hired in December 2001 -- when he was a linebackers coach with the New Orleans Saints whose only head coaching experience was at Division III Rowan -- UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour failed to land Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer. Consider other coaches in their fourth year: USC's Pete Carroll, Georgia's Mark Richt, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Virginia's Al Groh and Maryland's Ralph Friedgen. Should Bunting be fired, Baddour almost certainly won't make the next hire on his own.
Was there a more stunning result Saturday than New Hampshire's 35-24 victory at Rutgers? Consider that the Scarlet Knights had beaten Michigan State a week earlier, that they led 24-14 at halftime and that the I-AA Wildcats had never beaten a Division I-A opponent. . . . Potential nonconference game of the week: Ohio State at N.C. State. The teams played a triple-overtime thriller in Columbus last year, and the Buckeyes -- who needed a last-second 55-yard field goal to beat Marshall -- look vulnerable.