- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Tulane, Marshall, TCU… . Fresno State.

Nearly every season, some senior-laden squad rises up from minor-conference anonymity, lays a beating on a couple of big-league bullies and spends the rest of the fall lobbying for BCS respect.

Less than two full weeks into the college football schedule, Fresno State already has cemented its status as this season's small-conference colossus. The Bulldogs dropped Colorado 24-22 in Boulder to open the season and routed then-No. 10 Oregon State 44-24 while most East Coast sports fans were sleeping Sunday night.

Two weeks ago, most folks didn't know Fresno State had a football team. Now the Bulldogs have their first Associated Press ranking (No. 19) since 1993 and a darkhorse Heisman candidate in senior quarterback David Carr.

"We still don't get the respect we should," said Carr, who completed 21 of 34 passes for 340 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Beavers. "We've been doing a lot of good things here for two years now, but we're in the WAC and it's tough. If it was Florida that came out and did this to Oregon State, then you'd hear all about it."

To put it another way, if Fresno State didn't spend most of its Saturdays pounding on teams like Tulsa, Hawaii, SMU, Rice, Nevada and Louisiana Tech (all sub-.500 teams in 2000), then the media might have tossed the Bulldogs a few bones heading into the season.

All WAC-bashing aside, if Fresno State posts a third straight stunner against No. 23 Wisconsin (1-1) on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, recognition on a grand scale is almost certain to follow not to mention a possible perfect season.

"Fresno State probably has the most explosive offense we'll face this season, and we saw a great one last week at Oregon," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "Carr just looks fantastic on tape. He's a very polished player."

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Carr began the season as an unknown to most fans, but NFL scouts began to notice him last season when he passed for 2,729 yards and 23 touchdowns, leading Fresno State to a rare bowl appearance (Silicon Valley Classic). Both of Carr's predecessors (Trent Dilfer and Billy Volek) landed in the NFL, and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper calls Carr a "probable first-rounder."

"Physically, David Carr will probably be the best quarterback in the 2002 NFL Draft," Kiper said before the season. "If he produces on the field this year, he could be the first quarterback taken."

Said Colorado's Gary Barnett after his Buffs became Carr's first victim: "He's got a very nice combination of size, strength and touch. I watched a lot of tape of the guy, and he's got a great ability to deliver the ball on timing routes that's rare in college for a big, pocket-type passer."

But Carr is only one part of the Bulldogs' upset formula. Carr's two top receivers, each of whom caught at least 40 balls last season, are back this year. And they have been joined by game-breaker Marque Davis, who had eight catches for 95 yards and a touchdown against Colorado.

Defensively, Fresno State has two future NFLers on its front line in senior tackle Alan Harper and junior end Nick Burley. The two have combined for six tackles for loss and five sacks in the Bulldogs' two victories. Run defense is Fresno State's specialty, a fact that was borne out when the squad held Oregon State's one-time Heisman candidate Ken Simonton to a paltry 42 yards on 15 carries.

"We just swarmed that little man," Harper said. "His Heisman hopes took a beating down here."

Meanwhile, nobody's reputation has been bolstered as much over the past two weeks as that of Pat Hill, the sculptor of the unlikely uprising in Fresno.

"When I first came here, I said that we couldn't go places without a serious non-conference schedule. First, we had to get people to play us, which we did over the last few years. And now we've started beating them," said Hill, the 50-year-old journeyman who was an offensive line coach with the Baltimore Ravens (1996) and Cleveland Browns (1992-95) before taking his first head-coaching job at Fresno in 1997. "I made sure the kids knew I believed, and now maybe everyone does. Why not us? Why can't Fresno State play with the big guys? Why not? You tell me."


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