After hoisting the Mountain West Conference trophy last Saturday, Fresno State found out that they’d be facing Washington State in the 2nd edition of the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on December 17th. At the beginning of the year, a back-to-back 10 win season seemed like the goal, and that is still on the table on Saturday. Let’s take a quick look at what both teams are bringing to the game, and a prediction of what may happen.
Who: Fresno State Bulldogs (9-4, MWC Champs) v. WSU Cougars (7-5)
Where: SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles (Capacity-71,500)
When: Saturday, December 17, 2022, 12:30PM
The biggest thing for Fresno State going into this game is definitely health. It’s no secret that the team has been absolutely decimated by injuries this year in all phases of the team. After finally appearing healthy for the last month of the season, star Defensive End David Perales left with an ankle injury against Wyoming that kept him to only 8 snaps in the Championship Game against Boise. Reports from coaches seem to be that things are improving for Perales, and we should see a much healthier version of him on Saturday. He’s proven time and again that he’s able to disrupt an offense, so his presence will definitely be appreciated against Washington State. Jake Haener has been playing like a man possessed every since he returned against San Diego St, guiding the offense through 6 straight wins. He’s now been added to the East/West Shrine Bowl roster, and is popping up on more and more draft boards as the greater world starts to recognize what Fresno fans have known for years about Jake.
For Washington State, they find themselves in a similar place that the Bulldogs did last year before the New Mexico Bowl. Both coordinators for the Cougs have been hired away by other schools, their OC heads to North Texas, and their DC heads to Arizona State. Head coach Jake Dickert will be taking on DC duties for the bowl game while a new one is searched for. They’ve also lost multiple players to the transfer portal, including leading wide receiver Dezhaun Stribling. Meanwhile, Fresno State has lost wide receiver Josh Kelly, cornerback Cale Sanders Jr, and nickelback Emari Pait to the portal in the last week. A loss of productive players isn’t good for any team, but it appears that WSU is losing more significant production going into the bowl.
Despite only playing each other 4 times in the past, there is a large amount of history between the two schools. Legendary Fresno State coach Jim Sweeney came to the Dogs after 8 years in Pullman, and coached the Bulldogs in all 4 matchups between 1987-1994. The 1992 game between the two teams is well regarded as a classic for both programs, as two future Super Bowl Champion QBs would square off as Drew Bledsoe’s Cougars beat Trent Dilfer’s Bulldogs 39-37 in Fresno. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since 1994.
Looking at the two teams, Washington State spent their year beating the teams they were supposed to beat, and lost to the teams demonstrably better than them. They did have an upset win over No.19 Wisconsin in Week 2, but that has lost a bit of shine as Wisconsin limped to a 6-6 record and fired their head coach during the year. They lost games to ranked Utah, Oregon, USC, and Washington, alongside an Oregon State team that would end the season ranked. On the flip side of that, the teams that they defeated ended up with a winning percentage of 37%, so not great. It is usually a good thing for a team to say that every team they defeated ended up with a worse record than them, and every team they lost to had a better record than them.
Fresno State of course had a more complicated season, but it’s hard to argue against any school that wins 8 straight games en route to a conference championship . They started 1-4 with the embarrassing loss to UCONN, but rallied like few teams have after the loss to Boise in October. They’ll now come into the bowl game red-hot, and looking for that 10th win on the year.
Predicting the Game:
Looking at the various sources online, there definitely seems to be some discrepancy on how they see this game going. The line initially opened with Washington State as the favorite, but the coaching and player defections has swung things to Fresno now being a 4 point favorite through Vegas. ESPN’s FPI and SP+ systems both favor the Cougs, but neither one has been updated after the news about coaches and players leaving. Especially with WSU working without both of their coordinators, and a feisty Fresno State team, I can easily see the Mountain West going 2-0 in the LA Bowl.
The prognostications on this one all seem to have it as a close game, but I think the result may be a bit more convincing than expected. Wazzu will be missing a bunch, and Fresno State is peaking at the right moment after their huge conference title win. Plus, Jake Haener, Jordan Mims, Jalen Moreno-Cropper, Evan Williams, David Perales, and the coaches will want to make sure the Seniors go out on top. For my prediction, give me-