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For seniors, final chapter needs title
13 players make last homefield appearance tonight.
By Marek Warszawski
The Fresno Bee
(Published Friday, November 21, 2003, 5:32 AM)




To Bryce McGill, it feels like only last week. He was a clueless freshman, dropped off by his mother, Pamela, and brother Ramon for the first day of Fresno State football practice.
"I had no idea what to expect," McGill said. "I just can't believe it all came and went so fast."

McGill is a senior now, one of 13 who play the final home game of their careers tonight against No. 20 Boise State at Bulldog Stadium. The 6 p.m. contest, piped into the nation's living rooms by ESPN2, will go a long way toward settling the Western Athletic Conference title.

"I've got to leave as a WAC champion," McGill said. "We've won a lot of games, but winning a championship is something I've never really experienced."

Boise State is one of the primary reasons why. The Broncos ambushed Fresno State here in 2001, wrecking an undefeated season, and last year scored a blowout victory over the Bulldogs.

A strong safety turned outside linebacker, McGill knows the history of this brief but spirited rivalry as well as anyone.

He lived it.

"They came in here two years ago and took something special away from us," McGill said. "This year, I think we have a pretty good chance of taking something away from them."

While McGill draws his motivation from the past, fellow senior linebacker Marc Dailey is focusing squarely on the present.

"We can't look back at what happened last year or two years ago," Dailey said. "We've just got to focus on this year.

"We haven't won a championship since I've been here and Boise is the team in our way."

If Fresno State (7-4, 5-1) wins tonight, it can clinch a share of its first WAC title since 1999 by beating ninth-place Texas-El Paso next Saturday. In 1999, Dailey and the rest of the fifth-year seniors were true freshmen.

Defending champion Boise State (9-1, 5-0), riding a 15-game conference winning streak, still has Nevada and Hawaii on the schedule.

"The streak gives us a lot of confidence," Broncos wide receiver Tim Gilligan said. "It makes us think we can go anyplace in the WAC and win."

Even though the oddsmakers have installed Boise State as 81/2-point favorites, the Broncos are bucking plenty of history.

Fresno State's senior class is 20-2 at home since 2000. Coach Pat Hill is 2-0 at home against ranked opponents, 6-1 as a home underdog and 7-0 in "point to" games at home.

What's a "point to" game?

Subjective but simple: It's the game you point to first when going over the home schedule before the season.

In 1997, Hill's first season, the Bulldogs ambushed heavily favored Utah 27-13. In 1998, Fresno State knocked off former WAC linchpin Brigham Young 31-21.

The trend continued in 1999 when Texas Christian arrived as the WAC favorite and left with a 26-19 overtime loss. Cal fell victim in 2000, losing 17-3. In 2001, Fresno State spanked Oregon State, Sports Illustrated's No. 1 team, 44-24. Last year, the Bulldogs held off nationally ranked Colorado State 32-30.

Based on last year's results, one could argue on behalf of two "point to" games this year: Oregon State and Boise State.

Fresno State already took care of Oregon State, 16-14, beating the only team to defeat the Broncos this season.

"Hopefully, all the success we've had at home will continue," Hill said. "Boise State is a very dangerous football team."

Led by quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie, the Broncos' high-octane offense averages 43.6 points per game and hasn't scored fewer than 45 in its past four outings.

Boise State runs a ton of formations, keeping opponents on their toes with constant shifting and motion.

Rising to the challenge, Fresno State's defense has allowed an average of 9.3 points in its past three games while stiffening against the run.

"They still like to blitz you and play physical football," Dinwiddie said, "but it seems like their coverage schemes and DBs have gotten a lot better."

With so much at stake tonight, Dailey hasn't had time to get caught up in all the Senior Night nostalgia.

"Right now, I'm just preparing like any other week," Dailey said. "It hasn't really crossed my mind that it's my last time going down that ramp.

"It'll probably all hit me at once after the game."

By then, the legacy of this senior class will already have been written.
 

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