Initially unsure whether its coach would be on the sideline for the postseason, Fresno State can now focus on the team on the other sideline at the New Mexico Bowl.
Colorado State never had a doubt about where Steve Fairchild would be Dec. 20, and the Rams’ first-year coach leads Colorado State into University Stadium in Albuquerque against the Bulldogs, a team looking for its fifth bowl victory in seven seasons.
Fresno State (7-5) is coming off a 61-10 loss to Boise State on Nov. 28 in its regular-season finale - the most points it has allowed since a 62-0 defeat to then-No. 18 Auburn on Sept. 7, 1996.
Not only did the Bulldogs drop three of their final five games, they could have lost their coach. A day after the season ended, Pat Hill interviewed for the University of Washington job that eventually went to Southern California offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Hill, who led the Bulldogs to a 40-28 victory over Georgia Tech in the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl, withdrew his name from consideration Dec. 4. He had wanted a decision from Washington before getting back to preparing Fresno State for its bowl game.
“At this time, it’s in the best interest of my players and the Fresno State program that I withdraw from consideration and put my full attention on preparing for a bowl game and getting our team ready for the 2009 season,” Hill said in announcing he was no longer a candidate for the job.
With Hill remaining as coach, Fresno State quarterback Tom Brandstater can turn his attention to closing out his college career in strong fashion after a somewhat disappointing senior season. He threw for 2,478 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, a year after throwing for 2,654 yards, 15 TDs and five INTs.
Brandstater and his favorite target, junior wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, could have a big game against a Colorado State defense that recorded a Football Bowl Subdivision-low nine sacks. Brandstater and Ajirotutu connected 44 times for 714 yards and five touchdowns in 2008.
Brandstater will also be looking for senior tight end Bear Pascoe, who caught 37 passes for 361 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs’ rushing attack could prove to be even more effective than the passing game. Anthony Harden ran for only 11 yards on nine carries against Boise State, but he led the Bulldogs with 702 rushing yards. Lonyae Miller rushed for 699 yards and five touchdowns as the Bulldogs averaged 176.8 yards on the ground.
Colorado State is allowing 185.3 yards rushing per game.
While the Bulldogs will be playing in their ninth bowl game since the start of the 1999 season, Colorado State makes its first bowl appearance since a 51-30 loss to Navy in the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl. After the Rams finished 3-9 last season under Sonny Lubick, Fairchild become the first coach in the program’s history to guide the team to a bowl in his first season.
“We still have a lot of work to do here at Colorado State, in all areas of our program, but this is obviously a step in the right direction, and a tremendous reward for our 17 seniors, who’ve worked extremely hard during their time here in Fort Collins,” Fairchild said.
Colorado State (6-6), looking for its first postseason win since defeating North Texas 45-20 in the 2001 New Orleans Bowl, became bowl-eligible by winning its final two games – 20-6 over New Mexico on Nov. 15 and 31-20 over Wyoming on Nov. 22.
Senior Billy Farris threw for 2,677 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and guides a passing attack that averages 247.5 yards. The Rams will be facing a Fresno State team that’s giving up 30.3 points per game and has intercepted an FBS-low four passes - only two coming since a two-interception opener.
Rashaun Greer leads Colorado State with 62 catches and 1,045 yards, while Dion Morton has been the big-play threat for the Rams of late. Morton, with 48 catches for 830 yards on the season, has seven of his team-high 10 receiving touchdowns in the last four games, including a career-high three in the win over Wyoming.
He also posted career highs of six catches and 160 yards in the game.
Colorado State senior Gartrell Johnson has reached the 100-yard rushing mark four times in the last five games. He’s rushed for 1,191 yards and 10 touchdowns this year and will face a Fresno State defense that’s allowing 197.3 rushing yards per game.
The Rams leads the series with the Bulldogs 6-5 after winning the last two meetings. Colorado State took the most recent matchup 35-23 on Sept. 30, 2006.