Nov. 17, 2012
By Jason Clay
By Jason Clay
FRESNO, Calif. - Fresno State is in a position it hasn't been in for quite some time - 13 years to be exact - as the Bulldogs enter next Saturday's game against Air Force.
With a win over the Falcons, the Bulldogs will capture at least a share of their first conference championship since 1999 when the 'Dogs shared the WAC crown with TCU and Hawai'i. All three schools had a 5-2 record in league play that season.
Winning a Mountain West title this year would be special.
It is Fresno State's first season in the conference and it would put the finishing touches on a major turnaround, as the Bulldogs went 4-9 last year.
So how did the Bulldogs get to this point?
It starts at the top with first-year head coach Tim DeRuyter. DeRuyter, a defensive minded coach, changed the culture in not only the way the team plays (i.e. new offensive and defensive schemes he implemented), but the Bulldogs' way of thinking.
The two core values of his team are truth and love. DeRuyter preached those values from the day he was hired with one purpose and one goal for his team, that they would lead the Bulldogs to a Mountain West championship.
"We want to win championships here," DeRuyter said after Fresno State beat Nevada convincingly on the road on Nov. 10. "Our kids bought into that and that's what we got a chance to do now.
"We have a bunch of guys that have totally bought into being a part of a brotherhood, part of a family, and they play for each other."
Making winning a conference championship as the top priority, the players were driven to hit that standard. Coming off a down year last season, the Bulldogs had plenty of fuel in their fire to set out and show Fresno State fans that they are indeed champions.
"We have a chance to win a championship here, and we haven't been up to that level since I've been here," said senior safety Phillip Thomas, who leads the nation with eight interceptions. "It's just really exciting and I put this at the top. [The Air Force game] is going to be an even more important game and we are excited for it."
After defeating Nevada 52-36 behind three defensive touchdowns and 261 yards rushing from senior running back Robbie Rouse, the Bulldogs had a bye week in between that win at Nevada and the game vs. Air Force.
Having played 11-straight weeks to open the season, the Bulldogs will be fresh and prepared for Saturday's game.
"If you would have told me that I have two weeks to prepare to win a championship ring, I would have signed on the dotted line before the season started," said quarterback Derek Carr, who has thrown for 3,290 yards and 32 touchdowns this year. "This will be the biggest game I've ever played in - it's for a championship."
Along with the opportunity to win a conference championship, this game will mean a little something extra to the 22 seniors on the team who will be playing their final game in Bulldog Stadium.
"It's definitely going to be emotional," Rouse said. "Me and some of the other senior guys were talking about it, two games left - one a bowl game - and then only one game left in Bulldog Stadium. It's crazy to think how time flew by.
"Just the situation we are in, personally to for me in my senior year, in a new conference with new coaches, to be one game from being conference champions, you're just thinking about giving your team your all."
Fresno State has been electric at home this year. The 'Dogs are 5-0 in Bulldog Stadium, have averaged 49 points and 540 yards of offense on their home turf. More impressively, Fresno State has won its five home games by an average margin of 31.4 points.
With everything that is on the line, these 'Dogs sure will be hungry to get out in front of the Red Wave and bring home that conference championship.
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