One year ago, Fresno State was days removed from the worst regular season in program history. They fired their head coach, beat zero FBS teams, lost 11 games by an average of 18 points apiece and were an irrelevant speck on the college football radar
This year, the Bulldogs are a valuable piece of the College Football Playoff puzzle.
Fresno State and first-year head Jeff Tedford visited Alabama in Week 2. They were walloped by the Tide in a game that, at the time, didn't appear to carry any long-term significance. For Alabama, it was just another can't-lose game that meant nothing outside of improving their record to 2-0. For Fresno State, while it was a decent performance that showed improvement from a one-win season, ultimately the outcome wouldn't matter for a program widely projected to finish outside of bowl eligibility.
It mattered — a lot.
The Bulldogs lost to Washington the next week but won eight of their final nine regular-season games to win their first Mountain West West Division title ever and post the biggest win improvement (plus-eight) in program history. They were ranked No. 25 in the Week 14 College Football Playoff rankings. And while they entered the conference championship vs. Boise State with no shot at a playoff spot or New Year's Six bowl bid, their ranking was a huge win for Alabama.
The Tide lost to Auburn three days before those rankings were released, knocking them out the SEC Championship and in need of help to make the four-team field for a fourth straight year. To make the playoff, Alabama needed a win by Ohio State over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and enough love from the committee to keep them above the Buckeyes.
Their biggest wins came against No. 17 LSU, No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 25 Fresno State. Who knows if the Tide's 31-point shellacking of the Bulldogs will be the deciding factor in giving them a berth over Ohio State (if they win on Saturday night) but it's very clear that an early-season win that everyone thought was irrelevant is now one of the most important outcomes of the entire season.