ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Back in August, there was talk of Fresno State making a Bowl Championship Series run. Four months later, the Bulldogs get the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State on Saturday.
That's a major step down, but coach Pat Hill said Friday it's also a big accomplishment because of what has happened since the start of the season.
Fresno State (7-5) lost six starters to injuries, four on defense, and hasn't had the same 11 offensive players on the field to start a game.
It wasn't until Week 8 that the defensive lineup was identical two games in a row.
"Football is a very, very unforgiving game," Hill said.
Yet if there's any disappointment about playing a bowl game in 40-degree temperatures under the snowcapped Sandia Mountains, the Fresno State players aren't showing it.
"That's the thing about expectations. You've got to go out and do it," safety Moses Harris said. "We ended up here. We're happy to be at this bowl. To me, it's a successful year."
Things looked promising for the Bulldogs after they opened with a 24-7 win at Rutgers and even a 13-10 home loss to Wisconsin didn't derail the high hopes. Next came wins at Toledo and UCLA.
Then Fresno State crashed with a 32-29 overtime loss to Hawaii, starting a 4-4 run through the Western Athletic Conference. Starting around that time was a run of injuries and the frustrations of inconsistent play.
"It was a roller coaster," linebacker Ben Jacobs said. "Injuries here and there, missed assignments. When the defense was on, the offense was off. When the offense was on, the defense was off. A rough season."
What about that preseason talk about Fresno State knocking Boise State from atop the WAC? Well, the injury-depleted Bulldogs closed the regular season with a 61-10 loss on the blue turf in Boise.
Hill blamed himself for the season's outcome, saying he underestimated the effects of making two trips east of the Mississippi River so early. He won't complain about injuries, but that was part of it, too.
"You've got to take it for what it's worth," quarterback Tom Brandstater said. "A lot of teams try to go 12-0 every year. We came up short, but I guarantee it wasn't from lack of effort."
Hill makes no apologies. He praised this year's team for its resiliency and noted so many freshmen and sophomores are playing right now that it's likely to help the Bulldogs in coming years.
"Sometimes, you have to open the wine bottles a little bit before they're ready," he said.
He also defended the "Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere" mantra that has defined Fresno State over his 12 seasons as coach.
He acknowledged his approach has been criticized because of the difficulty in going undefeated, especially with a loaded schedule, but said it's the cornerstone of his recruiting philosophy.
"There's a lot of people who talk about getting into the ring and fighting," Hill said. "Many of them just talk about it, sit outside and watch. We get into the ring. It hasn't gotten us there but we'll keep trying."
Colorado State, meanwhile, is approaching the New Mexico Bowl from the opposite end, delighted to be in the postseason for the first time since 2005.
First-year coach Steve Fairchild led the Rams (6-6) to an impressive rebound after last year's 3-9 record, a downturn for a team that dominated the Mountain West earlier this decade.
Fresno State's young defense, which includes two freshmen and two sophomores up front, will be tested by Gartrell Johnson, a power runner who had 1,191 yards rushing and averaged 4.7 yards per carry this season.
The Rams won their last two games to become bowl eligible.
"Guys are pumped up," Johnson said. "We've worked so hard this season. It was one of our goals in the offseason to go to a bowl game. Our guys are excited. We don't want to take this for granted."
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every College Football game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.
This game will match veteran (Fresno State's Pat Hill) and newbie (Colorado State's Steve Fairchild) coaches. Fairchild is CSU's first first-year coach to take the Rams to a bowl and the first to win six games. Hill had yet another winning season, but it wasn't the type of season many expected of the Bulldogs. The showcase matchup in this game will be at tight end, where both CSU's Kory Sperry and FSU's Bear Pascoe are NFL prospects. -- Graham Watson