Aug. 14, 2005
By J. Darin Darst
CBS Staff Writer
Tell J. Darin your opinion!

Expectations are high at Fresno State this season.

But as long as Pat Hill is coaching, this year is just like any other.

"My expectations have always been to win -- that will never change," said Hill, who is entering his ninth season at the school. "Until we finish the job every game for the entire season, we aren't getting the job done. It places a big bull's-eye on my back every year, but we are going to set our goals high and our job is to obtain those. And we haven't done that yet."

Predicted Finish
1. Fresno State
2. Boise State
3. Nevada
4. New Mexico State
5. Louisiana Tech
6. Hawaii
7. Idaho
8. San Jose State
9. Utah State
Off. player of year:
Bryson Sumlin, Fresno State
Def. player of year:
Korey Hall, Boise State
Coach of the year:
Pat Hill, Fresno State

Fresno State returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Paul Pinegar and running back Bryson Sumlin. That's good news for a team that finished 9-3, averaged 40 points per game and won its third consecutive bowl game over a team from a BCS conference.

But the one thing the keeps evading the Bulldogs is a conference title and a chance to play in a major bowl game.

Fresno State's last conference title was 1999, and a major reason for the drought is Boise State.

Boise State is 4-0 against Fresno State since joining the WAC in 2001 and has won the past three championships and a record 26 consecutive conference games.

Boise State QB Jared Zabransky returns after throwing 16 TDs in 2004. (Getty Images)
"If you are going to win this conference you have to win against Boise," Hill said. "I compare Boise State to BYU in the '70s and '80s; they just didn't lose. Right now we are going through a cycle where Boise State has a very good program. What they've done over the past three years is amazing."

Fresno State has lost at least two conference games in each of the past four seasons but has knocked off an impressive list of teams from BCS conferences, including Kansas State, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Virginia, Oregon State and Colorado.

This season's schedule features two more out-of-conference games that could get the Bulldogs closer to achieving their goals -- Sept. 17 at Oregon and Nov. 19 at Southern Calfornia.

"We have the type of schedule for us to obtain certain goals in Division I. We need to focus and play every game like a Game 7," said Hill. "This team has a lot of potential, but you got to win the WAC. ... You got to win them all -- that's my mentality."

Predicted order of finish:

1. Fresno State: The Bulldogs return a loaded team, both on offense and defense. Circle Nov. 12 on the calendar; that's when Boise State visits.

Conference Previews
Big East Pac-10
Big Ten SEC
Big 12 Sun Belt
MAC Indep.
2. Boise State: If Fresno State doesn't win the conference title, Boise State will. Jared Zabransky is back for his senior season after throwing 16 TDs last year.

3. Nevada: The Wolf Pack have a high-powered offense, led by wide receiver Nichiren Flowers. If the defense plays better, Nevada could push for a bowl game.

4. New Mexico State: Former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme takes over of a team that could surprise in the conference. Linebacker Jimmy Cottrell is one of the best in the league.

5. Louisiana Tech: All eyes will be on running back Freddie Franklin, who takes over for last year's WAC offensive player of the year, Ryan Moats, who's now in the NFL.

6. Hawaii: The Warriors will have a totally new offense with the departure of Timmy Chang and the team's four leading receivers. The defense has to get better after allowing close to 500 yards per game in 2004.

7. Idaho: The Vandals could be a sleeper team with the return of starting running back Jayson Bird and quarterback Michael Harrington. The defense is led by linebacker Cole Snyder, who had 136 tackles last season.

8. San Jose State: Rufus Skillern is one of the best wide receivers in the conference, but the rest of the offense is inexperienced. Safety Josh Powell anchors the defense.

9. Utah State: The Aggies have two solid receivers, but need to find a quarterback to throw them the ball. Expect Utah State to be in the bottom of the standings.