From 1985-1991 the winner of this heated battle won the conference title and a berth to the California Bowl. The Bulldogs left for the Western Athletic Conference in 1992 and the rivalry all but died with their move.
The schools met in 1994 in a non-conference game, and the rivalry was reborn when the Spartans joined WAC in 1996. However, SJSU has not made it much of a rivalry since the days of the Big West. The rivalry has so much history, and the 1986 game, arguably the best ever in the series, was named the Sports Illustrated Game of the Year.
"Our guys realize the history of the San Jose State/Fresno State rivalry. But, they also understand that San Jose State has not been holding up their end of the rivalry in recent years. It’s not a rivalry if the other team’s won eight straight. We need to hold up our end of the bargain and make it a rivalry,” said Spartan head coach Dick Tomey.
Actually, it has been eleven straight wins by Fresno State, but Tomey knows a thing or two about escaping Bulldog Stadium without a loss. He was the coach of the 1985 Hawaii team that tied the Bulldogs and prevented them from having an unblemished record.
“That was a great game. It was hot and there was a great crowd. It was a slugfest. Most tie games are tied because somebody scores late in the game to tie it,” Tomey said.
“Both teams were trying to kick a field goal or score a touchdown or do something, but nobody could score.”
Ironically, the 1985 Bulldog team will be honored this Saturday for their magnificent 11-0-1 season twenty years ago. Fresno State capped that year off with a win over 11-0 20th ranked Bowling Green, but the 24-24 tie to Tomey’s Rainbow Warriors will forever be remembered.
Can Dick Tomey make his second appearance in Bulldog Stadium as memorable and wreck havoc once again? Probably not, but San Jose State has been looking forward to this game all year long, something Fresno State cannot say.
"They’re arguably the best team in our conference,” Tomey said.
“First of all, they hammer you with the run. The team takes on the personality of their coach and Pat Hill is a tough offensive line coach and their offense is very tough. They have one of the best special teams coaches in John Baxter. Baxter has dedicated his life to coaching special teams and he’s excellent at it.”
Both Hill and Baxter were assistant coaches under Tomey during his stint at Arizona. It will be the second time this season that Hill will face off against a former mentor. Weber State coach Ron McBride was the first.
SJSU is just 1-7 on the year. The Tomey era started with a win over Division I-AA power, Eastern Washington, but has suffered seven straight losses. The most recent was last week’s 31-14 setback at Louisiana Tech. The game was tied at the half, 14-14, but the offense went cold and the Bulldogs cruised to a victory.
Spartan running backs Yonus Davis and Patrick Perry combined to record 144 of the team's 160 yards rushing last week against Louisiana Tech. While quarterback Adam Tafralis connected on 11-of-29 for 161 yards and a score with one interception.
Tafralis is last in the WAC in completion percentage at 49.6, and has a 10 to 8 touchdown to interception ratio. Davis averages 42.9 yards a game rushing, which ranks 10th in the conference, yet is averaging close to 5.5 yards per carry. Rufus Skillern continues to impress, after receiving many preseason accolades. He is putting up good numbers despite the team's poor play, with 29 catches for 474 yards and six scores.
Many think Fresno State is overlooking San Jose State. The Bulldogs have back to back games against preseason WAC favorite, Boise State, and defending national champion USC coming up after the Spartans; As good as the Bulldogs have played this season, there are many things that need attention.
For the lack of a better term, this weekend’s game against SJSU is a glorified scrimmage. The Bulldog offense has yet to be consistent, efficient, and electrifying since the game at Oregon. Despite 445 yards against Hawaii last week, the offense managed only 27 points. That is fine when the defense and special teams pick up the slack, but 27 points will not get the job done against Boise State or USC.
Fresno State needs to make a statement offensively this week against the Spartans. Paul Pinegar has made very few mistakes this year, but the passing game has looked less than fluid. Teams have been stacking eight or nine in the box to stop the run. Expect SJSU to do the same. The Bulldogs need to work on exploiting single man coverage when opposing teams gear up to stop the ground game. Otherwise Boise State, who is synonymous for stacking the box, and USC, will force Fresno State to pass.
At least there are very few things to worry about on defense. The Fresno State defense continues to rank among the best in nation. The scoring defense is currently 15th in the country, giving up just 17 points per game. The run defense is 13th in the country allowing only 104.3 yards per game. They are not only first in the WAC but 23rd in the nation this week in total defense at 313.9 yards per game.
If the defense and special teams have another spectacular game and give the Bulldogs short fields to work with and/or points, what does Hill do? Fresno State built a 44-7 lead against Toledo earlier this season with just over 200 yard of total offense and 69 yards passing from Pinegar. Hill pulled the starters early in the fourth, and cruised to a 44-14 win.
Does he rest the starters and take the win or does he continue opening up the offense in preparation for Boise State and USC? That is the question, and only Hill knows the answer.
But who knows, SJSU could play their best game of the year and Fresno State might find itself in a dogfight. The Spartans just may be the best 1-7 team in the country.
That is pretty farfetched, but I do expect the Spartans to come out fired up. My fearless prediction is Fresno State 48, San Jose State 17.
About the Author:
Mario Gomez is a native Fresnan, a 1999 graduate of Fresno State and writes daily blogs on Fresno State Football(fsbulldogsfootball.blogspot.com) and college football blog(mdgcollegefootball.blogspot.com).