Up until last week, Fresno State had an outside shot at a BCS at-large bid. The Bulldogs were unbeaten and jostling for position with fellow non-AQ conference unbeaten Northern Illinois. However, a lack of defense doomed Fresno State against San Jose State on Black Friday, much as NIU was undone by its an inability to generate stops in this week's conference championship loss to Bowling Green. There will be no BCS buster in the final season before the College Football Playoff goes into effect.
The Bulldogs were able to do what the Huskies couldn't, though, winning their league by besting Utah State 24-17 in the Mountain West championship on Saturday night. Quarterback Derek Carr continued his season of statistical whimsy, going 36-of-53 for 404 yards with three touchdowns, and Fresno was able to make just enough plays against a stout Aggies' defense.
Here are three quick thoughts from the MWC title game:
• Carr hasn't made many mistakes this year, but Utah State had his number on Saturday. The senior signal-caller coughed up a second-quarter fumble that was returned for an 86-yard touchdown. Defensive back Brian Suite intercepted Carr twice, the second on an extremely athletic play near the sideline in which Suite was able to remain inbounds. The Aggies had arguably the best defense in the conference and forced four total turnovers against the Bulldogs. Holding Fresno State (a team that averaged more than 47 points per game) to just 24 points was pretty impressive.
• First-year coach Matt Wells overcame the loss of leader and starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton (knee) to lead Utah State into the conference championship game. Yet Keeton's absence was felt greatly against Fresno State. In the third quarter, the Aggies couldn't take advantage of advantageous field position. Keeton has made plenty of big plays in his career, and he could've potentially turned the tide against the Bulldogs. Freshman Darrell Garretson has had some moments -- and his ability on particular throws or quarterback keepers is clear -- but he still has a long way to go. Garretson went 12-of-25 for 198 yards with an interception and suffered what appeared to be a head injury on a hard hit early in the fourth quarter
• It's safe to say Fresno State's quarterback no longer lives in his older brother David's shadow, as CBS' Gregg Doyel detailed earlier this week.
"Ever since I was little," Derek said, "I knew I wanted to come here and do what my brother did."
His brother threw for 4,839 yards and 46 touchdowns in 2001.
"I guess I must be silly because I didn't know this many yards was impossible," Derek said. "I just thought, that's what happens."
He was right, of course. With two games left Derek Carr has thrown for 4,467 yards and 45 touchdowns. He leads the country in both categories.
Just like his brother did in 2001.