While Derek Carr and Fresno State saw their bid for an undefeated season and a possible BCS bowl come to an end last week, they still have plenty to play for.
The 24th-ranked Bulldogs try to bounce back from their first loss Saturday night when they host surging Utah State in the first Mountain West championship game.
West Division champion Fresno State had outscored opponents by an average of 19.8 points in winning its first 10 games before falling 62-52 at San Jose State last Friday. Carr had 519 passing yards and six touchdowns but also threw a fourth-quarter interception as the Bulldogs (10-1, 7-1) surrendered 736 yards of total offense and their most points this season.
The loss ended Fresno State's chances to beat out Northern Illinois for a spot in a BCS bowl.
"Put the blame on me for the offense. You guys want to praise me when it's good - Heisman this and all this. Blame me for the loss. I need to do a better job to help my team win," Carr said after his conference record of 305 consecutive pass attempts without a pick was snapped. "We wanted it bad. If you don't want to do your very best, to play in a BCS bowl game then you shouldn't be playing college football."
The Bulldogs, who won a share of the Mountain West title in their first season in the league last year, are quickly moving on to Utah State (8-4, 7-1). Fresno State has taken five straight and eight of nine from the Aggies, though Saturday's clash marks their first meeting as members of the MWC.
"Guys are tore up, as well they should be," Carr told the school's official website. "This will be easier to put (behind us) because we are playing for our No. 1 goal, and that's a conference championship. It's so hard to win every game, it really is."
The Bulldogs are again seeking a school record-tying 11th win. They are 12-0 at home since the start of last season and haven't dropped back-to-back games since Nov. 26-Dec. 3, 2011.
"When you have the type of season we were having - we are having - it's rough but we still got bigger goals ahead of us," said star wideout Davante Adams, who leads the country with 22 TD receptions. "Obviously coming into the season our goal was to win the conference championship, so we still got that ahead of us."
Fresno State is averaging 47.3 points to rank fourth in the nation, and Utah State is seventh with 16.8 allowed per game.
"We'll get their very best shot and they'll get our very best shot," said Aggies coach Matt Wells, whose team has won five straight. "Our defense has a major challenge on our hands. That will be a huge part of the game - the No. 1 offense in the Mountain West against the No. 1 defense in the Mountain West."
Utah State cruised to a 35-7 rout of Wyoming last Saturday. Freshman Darell Garretson threw for 156 yards and a season high-tying three TDs while Joey DeMartino ran for 112 and a touchdown.
"We had the opportunity to win a Mountain Division championship and we did it. We won the first rifle," Wells said. "I think it's just another step in this program's climb. We're not there yet, we're continuing to ascend and give ourselves the chance to compete.
"We've got one more week to finish the drill. … I'd kind of forgotten we just played Wyoming, because for the last 48 hours all we've been seeing is red and white. The Bulldogs get your attention really quick."
The Aggies could have an especially hard time trying to contain Carr, who leads the FBS with 45 touchdowns and 405.6 passing yards per game. He has thrown at least one TD pass in 31 straight, the longest active streak in the country.
"He's got an NFL arm," Wells said. "He's very, very accurate and he has one of the quickest releases I've ever seen. I've seen enough of them to know how good they are."
Utah State is 2-50 all-time against ranked opponents and 1-39 on the road after pulling out a 48-41 overtime win at No. 19 Louisiana Tech on Nov. 17, 2012, in its last such matchup.