Dec. 16, 1999
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Billy Volek got married and became a father this year and in between quietly put together a remarkable year as Fresno State's quarterback.
"Numbers wise, Billy is as good as anyone," said Fresno State coach Pat Hill, whose Bulldogs (8-4) play Utah (8-3) Saturday in the eighth Las Vegas Bowl.
"His completion percentage is in the high 60s and his 10-to-1 touchdown-interception ratio is better than anybody's. He's won a championship. He just hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves but not many people have seen him because our games haven't been on television. This will be his chance and our chance to be seen."
No one has to tell the Utes about Volek, however. They're already familiar with him, having faced Fresno State's three-year starter regularly when the schools were in the Western Athletic Conference. Utah and seven other schools broke away from the WAC to form the Mountain West Conference this season and the Utes earned their fifth trip to a bowl in the 1990s by sharing the new league's inaugural championship.
"We knew he was a great quarterback when we played them last year and he's made some obvious strides this year," Utah defensive end John Frank said. "He's definitely their main weapon and one of the better quarterbacks we've faced. We've got to try to put the pressure on him and hopefully disrupt him and maybe frustrate him a little, if that's possible."
Volek, who married Fresno State equestrian athlete Kerri File in May and and was with her when the couple's daughter, Morgan, was born Nov. 17, said his play reflects the more serious approach he adopted since becoming a husband and father.
"It's made me more focused," he said. "My first two seasons, I'd be going out with the guys 2-3 nights a week. Being married, I'm staying at home. I've become more a student of the game and I've gotten to know the offense inside out."
Volek, one of four quarterbacks to throw 30 TD passes this season, set two NCAA records for accuracy.
He had three interceptions in 355 passing attempts for a 0.8 percent interception rate, eclipsing the 1.1 percent by Tennessee's Peyton Manning in 1995 and Florida State's Charlie Ward in 1993. Volek's career percentage of 1.3 (12 interceptions in 954 attempts) bettered the 2.4 percent by Utah State's Anthony Calvillo in 1992-93.
"I feel good about all that but it's not anything I can reflect on now," said Volek, whose father, John, is the coach at Sacramento State. "It's nice to have the records but I'm focusing on Utah. We've got one more game left and we can be pretty good when all 11 people execute on the field."
Volek, a 23-year-old senior ranked fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, comes into the Las Vegas Bowl off his best performance.
He was 22-of-30 for 311 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-12 victory over San Jose State, the Bulldogs' highest point total since a 63-37 defeat of San Diego State in 1993, when Fresno State last went to a bowl.
Volek extended his streak without an interception to 178 passes and his five TDs boosted his regular season total to a school-record 30, surpassing Trent Dilfer's 28 in 1993.
Only Marshall's Chad Pennington (37), Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay (35) and Western Michigan's Tim Lester (34) had more touchdown passes this season.
"We wouldn't be where we are without Billy," Fresno State tight end Vince
Branstetter said. "He's a leader on the field and in the huddle, a take-charge
type of guy. What he's done, throwing for 30 touchdowns and just three
interceptions, that's remarkable. Look around the country. No one has those
kinds of numbers."
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