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Fresno State's Non-Conference Back-to-Back From Hell Is Off to a Rough Start

Why would anyone willingly play Alabama and Washington in back-to-back weeks?

National championship frontrunner Alabama dismantled Fresno State, a team picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West’s West Division led by a first-year coach, Jeff Tedford. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the punishment is just beginning.

A week after the 41–10 loss to the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Fresno State will travel to Seattle to face No. 7 Washington. Non-conference strength of schedule has become a hot topic during the College Football Playoff era, but it’s hard to imagine any squad who makes the final four this season will face a tougher back-to-back set outside of league play.

Why did Fresno State agree to face the SEC’s best squad and arguably the Pac-12’s best in back-to-back weeks? These are typical buy games, wherein a big-boy program cuts a mid-major a sizable check to visit the big boy’s stadium for what, most of the time, is an uneven matchup that fails to stay competitive past halftime. That’s what has played out so far in Tuscaloosa, and it should be the case a week from now against the Huskies.

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Here’s how Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko explained the decision to face the Crimson Tide and Washington, from The Fresno Bee: “I had two [schools] call at the same time,” Bartko said. “I had two openings two years ago and two years ago we had no [guarantee games], so we popped them in. Just happened to fit our schedule.” The paper reported that the Bulldogs will cash $1.4 million for the Alabama game and $1 million for the trip to Seattle.

These contests probably wouldn’t have been so lopsided just a few years ago. NFL fans will recognize Fresno State as the program that produced Raiders star quarterback Derek Carr and his brother, 2002 No. 1 overall pick David Carr. The Bulldogs have been down for a few years now; a more realistic goal for Tedford is to keep his squad out of the Mountain West cellar. But Fresno State isn’t irredeemable: It won 20 games combined between 2012 and ’13.

The Bulldogs can look at those seasons for inspiration. Over the next two weeks, though, they should look for positives to take away from two likely whippings at the hands of a pair of national powers.