Respect - FSU game preview

We all know the song and how that first verse opens: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…"

But do you remember the chorus? "Sock-it-to-me, Sock-it-to-me, Sock-it-to-me…" repeated over and over opening the door for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin to break down what respect means…to her.

Makes you wonder, what lyrics would Pat Hill's Fresno Bulldogs write to describe their definition of respect? Makes you also want to say to Pat, be careful what you wish for, or the Trojans just might sock-it-to-them.

If you take the time to listen to both coaches, their players and fans, that's what this game is all about – respect for an up-and-comer, as well as for the king-of-the-hill.

"A lot of people maybe frown at us, but we're trying to build a program here that is respected throughout the country," said Fresno State Head Coach, Pat Hill.

"Maybe people will respect us enough to say, 'Hey, it's worth our while to play Fresno..."

Yeah, coach we here you – the Rodney Dangerfield of Fresno, no respect. Many Trojan fans might still think the Bulldogs are a "B" team. That they don't have the history of a team like USC – they're right.

But Fresno's done more than many know – take a look at a few of their former players now currently on NFL payrolls: Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Billy Volek, Lorenzo Neal and Michael Pittman. The list goes on to include nearly 20 players around the league.

The Bulldogs current club has more than a few players who will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, including at least one first rounder.

It appears Pete Carroll heard Pat's cries and offered as much positive publicity for visiting, WAC champion Fresno as they could have ever hoped for.

"I think it's a great match-up," Carroll said. "I think this is one of the best teams Fresno State has ever had and this is one of the best teams we've ever had. Let's go. Let's see what happens."

Throughout game week, the Trojans' leader has been giving his all to let any and all who would listen know that this latest version of the Bulldogs is not your father's Bulldogs. That this is the most talented team ever fielded by Fresno State and that they are, or could be, the best team USC has played all year.

That last thought by Pete brings a smile to my face as I see it as "a shot over the bow" of Notre Dame's battleship. That has just has to put a deep burn into New Jersey Charlie's dark soul. Pete played nice with Charlie and this newbie's media campaign to slander the Trojans.

Pete offered no retort, let him rebuke the claims that "He owned Pete Carroll in the NFL and will own him in college," and instead shook hands and smiled from his side of that field, when they could see each other over the "trees" of grass, to let him know it's all just a game.

Now, along comes palooka number two – Pat Hill. Fresno fans, please forgive the "palooka" comment but I have never seen a coach that fits that description or looks as much like his cartooned mascot, Bulldog, as much as Pat Hill does. You almost expect him to roar up on an "Easy Rider" Harley, do-rag covering his dome, handlebar moustache fighting the wind, as you do come in on the team bus.

He looks ten minutes away from a bar-room brawl and as much like a "bulldog," because of the handlebar moustache, as any person I could imagine. This might sound like a put down, but in actuality it is a compliment – Pat Hill is one tough hombre. And he's put that same fight into his club – they go into every game with a chip on their shoulder and a black-jack in their pocket – ready to rumble.

And that's where the danger lies…

The Bulldogs are not happy simply to be in a game against the nation's top-ranked team. They know the only way to make everyone else believe, as they do, is to take on the best opponents and win. And you can't blame them. They want to build a program that competes for National Championships, gets invited to BCS games and on occasion, has a player that gets enough publicity to make it to the Heisman ceremony, every once-in-a-while.

"We've always got to prove that we belong," Hill said.

The 16th-ranked Fresno State won the WAC this season, has just one loss this season - a three-point loss to Oregon in its second game - and has three players who have topped 1,000 career yards.

Tackle Winston Justice said after Monday's practice: "It used to be they were 'just Fresno State.' But then they started playing big games and telling people, they aren't the same team, anymore."

And there's the rub that gets to teams like USC and their fan base and where the sword of "respect" displays its "other" edge – the place where the Trojans need to express their own meaning to the word. Respect the heritage that belongs to one of the greatest teams in college football history.

Head Coach, Pat Hill, seemed to realize this and responded to his "we'll play anyone, anywhere" comments on television and radio with near Carroll-esque aplomb.

He reminded people he is an Los Angeles native, grew up going to the Coliseum to watch his favorite team, the USC Trojans play and how much he "respected" what Pete Carroll and USC has been able to accomplish. But is all this too little, too late?

It seems Pat's comments about the level of his team's play coupled with Pete's ability to get his team ready for every game, might have been just enough to get the Trojans' undivided interest. At least it sounds like it:

Winston Justice: "They've dominated their conference and we have to get ready to play them."

Trojans defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "We'll be in our element against Fresno State."

"The journey that we're on, we're not going to overlook anybody," Ryan Kalil, the Trojans' starting center said about this week's game versus the others. "Every week, teams that we play, it's their championship game. We're ready." The only response that comes to mind, is: "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."

San Francisco recently passed a law against dangerous breeds – dogs that bite, that is

In a controversial decision San Francisco legislators have placed a mandatory spay and neuter law into effect to help stem the breeding of dangerous dogs, like Pit Bulls, Rotweilers, Dobermans, and the like. While bulldogs are not considered as ferocious as their canine cousins, the Pit Bull, Los Angeles, following this game against Fresno state, might consider banning the animals from Los Angeles city limits all together.

Hill and his dogs are going to take whatever piece of LA and the Trojans home with them, they can. These dogs do bite.

Fresno fans love to talk about the last times these two teams met and how Fresno won in dominate fashion. Pete Carroll responded to questions from the media regarding this exact thing and how it might play into a revenge roll, come this weekend.

In 1992, about 28,000 Fresno State fans traveled to the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium, where the Bulldogs upset USC 24-7 in their only previous meeting.

That was then. This is now.

Carroll quickly pointed out that, as much as he knew of that game, that SC was a 6-5 team and nothing like it's modern day counterpart. Basically letting everyone know, SC wasn't going to get caught napping this time round.

Of the many reasons people like to think there could be another upset this weekend, this one seems to be most prominent: Pat Hill has 10 wins over BCS schools, the most of any non-BCS school.

Here's a few more…

Four year Starter at Quarterback: Paul Pinegar might end his college career as the most successful quarterback in school history - a history that includes three current NFL quarterbacks.

Last year, Pinegar, who was the MVP of the MPC Computer's Bowl, took great strides in the team's final five games. He guided the Bulldogs to a 5-0 record while outscoring their opponents by a 280-80 margin. He's continued that trend through the 2005 season.

As an added bonus for the senior QB, Fresno returns its entire receiving core. By far the most balanced in the WAC.

Balanced Backfield: Fresno State has experienced runners in the backfield, with Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis. Each have rushed for more than 1,000 yards during a season and former Ucla Bruin, Mathis is closing in on another monster year.

Defense: Pat Hill teaches tough football and his players seem to have learned their lesson. This year, Fresno's defense ranked 17th overall, has given up just over 300 yards per game and a meager 14 points to their opponents.

Special Teams: This is where Fresno could be their most dangerous for the Trojans. Speedster, Adam Jennings, whom Pete Carroll believes is a future first rounder, is 9th in the nation for punt returns and 3rd in kickoff returns, with a 30+ yard average.

Fresno's punt and kickoff teams are equal to their return counterparts and are atop their league in every category.

In contrast and although USC features Reggie Bush, one of the most dangerous punt returners in the nation, the Trojans are averaging a meager 8.65 yards per return, which is only the 68th-best average in the country. Despite returning a punt 84 yards for a touchdown, Bush averages just 10.1 yards per return.

SC also gives up a lot to opponents in return yardage, finding themselves near the bottom of the national standings in both punt and kick off defense. This might prove to be the one true Achilles heal for USC versus Fresno, come Saturday.

Fresno has every aspect of their game covered – they do it all well. It is all those reasons No.1 USC (10-0) isn't taking the Bulldogs (8-1) lightly. And it is also why all of Pat's cries for respect, got USC's attention just enough to not let history repeat itself.

It's not necessary to list of the accomplishments of this year's USC Trojans but suffice it to say, they are on the verge of breaking every offensive record in college history and their defense seems to have found their own voice with big hits and stifling schemes.

Pete's boys, not in need of the recognition Fresno yearns for, might find themselves singing their own little tune; something more in line with how they see themselves…

"Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you." And no team in the nation sings that song with as much passion as do Pete Carroll's Trojans. And it will be up to the Trojans to do just that – be better than a very, very good opponent.

Pete's been nice enough to keep these dogs around through the season, long enough, to let the nation think Saturday is going to be a game. For one half, it probably will be, but as Trojan players and coaches have taught their loyal fans, you win games in the fourth quarter and not before. Seems like the time has come to put the old dog down.

USC 48 Fresno St. 14


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