There will be plenty of history at stake when Fresno State battles UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday in Albuquerque as one team looks to turn a page and the other is still writing the book.
The page-turning team is the Bulldogs (9-3), who over the three weeks since the end of their successful season have seen their head coach and offensive coordinator leave the program for other jobs.
Fresno State also watched as its senior starting quarterback, Jake Haener, entered the transfer portal and then thought better of the move once Jeff Tedford was hired as the Bulldogs’ next coach.
Tedford, who had a successful run at California and an aborted early retirement, will not coach the Bulldogs in the bowl game — that job falls to interim coach Lee Marks.
Marks’ charge will be to focus his team on the task at hand rather than the future. A win in Albuquerque would give Fresno State its first double-digit victory campaign since 2018, when it went 12-2 and won the Mountain West Conference championship.
“Practice has been going really, really well,” Marks said earlier this week. “The excitement that’s in the program right now is electric. The guys are moving around, they’re bouncing around and they’re really excited to get a chance to play against the Miners. We also know that we earned a spot to be down here and to do what we need to do to make sure we finish the right way.”
Marks would not reveal who would start at quarterback for the Bulldogs between Haener and freshmen Jaylen Henderson and Logan Fife.
“All those guys are doing a really, really good job with the plan right now,” he said. “(We are going to) keep everything in-house.”
UTEP (7-5) is a program on the rise, matching its highest win total since the 2014 season while finishing fourth in Conference USA’s West Division.
It’s the Miners first bowl game since 2014 (also the New Mexico Bowl) and the 15th bowl game in program history. UTEP is looking for its first win in postseason action since the 1967 Sun Bowl. That’s the longest postseason victory drought in FBS as the Miners have a six-game postseason losing streak.
“What you want in a bowl game is a chance to make history, and we have that,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “At UTEP we haven’t won a bowl game in 40 years (actually 54). It’s a blessing to go out there and compete and hopefully win.
“When you play the game, it brings a lot of unity to our football team. That’s a big part of it. The unity gets even better.”
The Miners did not beat a team with a winning record this year, with the teams UTEP bested going a combined 23-60. The Miners are a two-touchdown underdog, the biggest longshot in the 42 bowls.
The Bulldogs and Miners will meet for the 13th time in program history, with Fresno State owning an 8-3-1 series edge. It will be the first meeting between the teams since 2004.
–Field Level Media