This year it's the WAC's Fresno State on the schedule for a game in Oxford, and the Rebels return the game to California next season. Fresno is supposed to come back to Oxford to play another game in 2015 to complete the three-game set.
Both a media poll and a coaches poll have Boise State picked to win the WAC this season as the Broncos are in just about everybody's Top 5 national picks.
The 2010 version of Fresno State Bulldog football is picked third in the WAC in both polls. Veteran head coach Pat Hill, at Fresno since 1997, will field another competitive squad this fall.
"I feel really good about this football team," said Hill, who enters his 14th season with the Bulldogs and has a record of 100-66. "We expect to be very competitive. I like the way our team has worked in the offseason. We've got some holes to fill just like everybody else does. Our goals have always remained the same -- compete for a WAC championship and participate in the postseason -- and we will never change from that."
Fresno State was 8-5 in 2009 (6-2 in the WAC), losing 35-28 to Wyoming in double overtime in the New Mexico Bowl. The Bulldogs return seven starters on both sides of the ball. So there is some experience.
Leading the way is a veteran signal caller getting some national pub as the season nears. Quarterback Ryan Colburn has been named to the Manning Award Watch List. The Manning Award, sponsored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl, has honored the top quarterback in the nation for the past six years.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Colburn is coming off a junior season where he completed 60 percent of his passes, for 2,459 yards and 19 touchdowns. In his last nine games he threw only four interceptions to 12 touchdown passes while completing 63 percent of his passes. He improved to ninth in the NCAA in passing efficiency over a seven-game stretch.
For the season he finished 20th in passing efficiency (143.71) and helped lead Fresno State to the New Mexico Bowl. In a road WAC win over Idaho, he was a perfect 14-for-14 for 159 yards and one touchdown. He was nearly perfect in a win at Hawaii where he was 12-for-14 with two touchdowns.
"Ryan has worked very hard to develop himself into one of the nation's premier college quarterbacks," Hill said. "He's tough, a competitor and a great leader. This is great recognition for him and we are happy for him."
Pete Fiutak of CollegeFootballNews.com, affiliated with Scout.com, takes a closer look at the Fresno State Bulldogs of 2010.
Fresno State has been tagged with being soft in the mid-level games while only getting up for the big games and the BCS teams, but that's not fair; it's not like Pat Hill's club has given away many cheap ones since the disastrous 4-8 2006 season. The worst defeat over the last three years was a home gaffe to a mediocre Hawaii in 2008, but losing to Colorado State and Wyoming the last two years in bowl games hasn't helped the reputation.
However, with 17 starters returning and as much speed and athleticism as a Boise State team that's going to be ranked in almost everyone's top five, there's a chance to do some big things before the WAC loses some weight.
Even with the loss of now-San Diego Charger, Ryan Mathews, the running game should still be terrific with a slew of speedy backs working behind a veteran and talented offensive front that returns all five starters. If everyone stays healthy, the receiving corps has the wheels and the ability to come up with big play after big play, and Ryan Colburn is a solid veteran passer who can put up big numbers with more of an emphasis on the passing game than last year.
The defense has to start getting to the quarterback on a regular basis and it has to start coming up with takeaways for the first time in a few years, but it's a veteran group led by Chris Carter and a quick front line, Ben Jacobs and possibly the best linebacking corps in the WAC, and with speed to burn in the secondary. So now it's up to Pat Hill to pull something out of his bag of tricks.
The pressure will be completely and totally on Boise State, and Nevada to a lesser extent, while few will believe Fresno has the ability to overcome its flakiness to put a full season together. The Bulldogs will go bowling and they'll have some big moments, but all that really matters right now is coming up with one big performance against Boise State to show that things are changing their way while the rest of the league is simply changing.
What to watch for on offense: A bit more balance. With no Ryan Mathews, the offense will rely a bit more on Ryan Colburn and the passing game while using more of a rotation for the ground attack. There's so much speed and upside at receiver, and the pass protection should be so strong, that there should be more firepower through the air.
What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. The defensive front has the potential to do more with Chris Carter leading an active group, but it's the linebacking corps that should star. Ben Jacobs has the potential to be the WAC Defensive Player of the Year, but his stats aren't going to be quite as strong because he's not going to have to do as much as past years with the return of Chris Lewis on one side and the expected emergence of Travis Brown on the other. This will be a more active group and should come up with more big plays.
The team will be far better if...it wins the turnover battle. The Bulldogs have to start generating more pressure into the backfield, finishing second-to-last in the nation in sacks, and they have to force more takeaways. This is way too athletic and way too active a group to only come up with eight interceptions and seven fumble recoveries, and if it can start to do more, that could be the difference in at least two games. The offense had some fumbling problems and Ryan Colburn threw too many picks early on, and it could stand to tighten up.
The schedule: As always, there are some interesting non-conference games as the Bulldogs will take their cut at home in the opener against Cincinnati and closing out with a home date against Illinois. With Cal Poly coming to Fresno, that means the only non-conference road date is at Ole Miss.
Unfortunately, the Boise State game is on the blue turf, but that's the only road game in the final four, getting Nevada and Idaho at home. There's a nice three game home stretch in the middle of the season with Cal Poly, Hawaii, and New Mexico State on the slate to come up with a good run.
Best offensive player: Senior OT Kenny Wiggins...or senior OG Andrew Jackson. The Bulldogs have an all-star right side of the line protecting Ryan Colburn's blindside, and Wiggins could end up being the star right tackle at 6-7 and 310 pounds with just enough quickness to be a solid pass protector. However, even at his size and with his talent, he's likely to be a late round draft pick, at best. The 6-5, 295-pound Jackson could be taken around the fourth round as a right tackle or a zone blocking guard in the right scheme.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Ben Jacobs. The defense needs Chris Carter and more of the linemen to star, and it would be nice if a corner grew into a superstar, but this is Ben Jacobs' defense. While he's not huge at 6-3 and 225 pounds, he has tremendous range, is a peerless tackler, and has done a little bit of everything for the defensive front seven over the last few years. He's as tough as they come and he has the potential to be the WAC's defensive player of the year.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Logan Harrell is a nice-looking talent with the athleticism and burst to be a threat into the backfield from the interior and the toughness to hold up against the run. For a defense that finished 111th in the nation against the run and 119th in sacks, Harrell has to provide a boost to the interior next to Cornell Banks, and if he's a star, the ends could do far more.
The season will be a success if...Fresno State wins the WAC title. No, the Bulldogs aren't as good as Boise State, but everything breaks their way with Nevada, Hawaii, and Idaho at home and with enough talent on both sides of the ball to win at least seven games and be a lock for a bowl no matter what happens against the Broncos....but, it's time to beat the Broncos. The goal has to be to beat the big dog and finally, finally get an outright WAC title under Pat Hill.