MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Fresno State was at its best six weeks ago
after beating nemesis Boise State for the first time in WAC play
and nearly upsetting top-ranked Southern California.
Then, the Bulldogs fell into their annual midseason slump -- and
dropped out of the national rankings -- with two straight conference
Now, quarterback Paul Pinegar says the goal is to prove Fresno
State still has that swagger when it faces former Western Athletic
Conference rival and Conference USA champion Tulsa in the AutoZone Liberty
Bowl on Saturday.
"We know we're a good team. Unfortunately, we just slipped in
the last couple of games," Pinegar said Friday. "You don't want
that, but we still know we're a good team. We haven't lost any
confidence, and we've just got to come out and play the same way
we've been playing all year."
The Bulldogs (8-4) became the talk of the nation in early
They snapped Boise State's 31-game WAC winning streak and rose
as high as 16th in the national rankings, then gave the No. 1
Trojans fits in a 50-42 loss. The Liberty Bowl invited them to
Memphis days later.
But Fresno State hasn't won since, losing to Nevada and
Louisiana Tech and closing with three straight defeats.
Meanwhile, Tulsa (8-4) wasn't expected to do much in its first
season in Conference USA, but the resurgent Golden Hurricane won
six of their last seven games to win the West, then beat Central
Florida in the league's inaugural title game.
"They've put together a great run to end the season," Fresno
State coach Pat Hill said. "When a team comes in the way they are
playing, that is something that you have to pay attention to."
Tulsa and Fresno State were in the same conference from
1996-2004, but they haven't played since 2002 because of the WAC's
Coach Steve Kragthorpe arrived at Tulsa in 2003 and engineered a
remarkable turnaround, taking over a program coming off 11 straight
losing seasons and leading the Golden Hurricane to two bowl games
in three years.
"It was a team that was almost used to losing and was not very
high on confidence," tight end Garrett Mills said. "He really
changed the attitude around here. We started winning, and
Now, Tulsa wants to take the next step and win its first bowl
game since 1991, when the Golden Hurricane beat San Diego State in
the Freedom Bowl. Georgia Tech beat the Hurricane 52-10 in the 2003
"You can have a great system, but if you don't do a good
job of molding that system to (the current players), basically what
you're saying is `We're not here to win right now. We're here to
win down the road,"' Kragthorpe said. "We wanted to win the day
we walked in the door."
Fresno State has become a perennial postseason participant under
Hill. The Bulldogs have played in six straight bowls and Pinegar is
3-0 as a starting quarterback in bowl games.
"You've just got to use your time wisely," Pinegar said.
"You've got 2-3 weeks to prepare for this game (and) you've got to
really study your own game plan and study yourself. The last three
years, we've done a great job of that. We've always had a great
game plan and went out and executed it."
Tulsa's 3-3-5 defense will attempt to contain a Fresno State
offense which led the WAC in scoring with an average of nearly 39
Nobody in the WAC ran for more touchdowns than Wendell Mathis,
who had 14.
"Both teams have a lot of weapons and are able to put a lot of
points on the board," Hill said.
Fresno State's WAC-leading defense will be tested by a Tulsa
offense that revolves around Mills, whose 1,183 yards receiving
this season set an NCAA record for tight ends and who credits
Kragthorpe's creative scheme for his individual success.
"They do a great job of studying film and trying to find
matchups for me to exploit against a linebacker or a safety,"
Mills said. "They find the matchups, and I just try to make the