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The Fresno State Bulldogs football team represents California State University, Fresno in NCAA Division I FBS college football as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The green “V” on the Bulldogs' helmets, uniforms, field symbolize California Central Valley, specifically the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural valley from which they draw their support. The current head coach is Tim DeRuyter, who was hired to replace Pat Hill on December 14, 2011.
Football was first played on the Fresno campus in 1921, and for its first year it played as an independent. The Bulldogs joined the California Coast Conference which included several regional opponents the next year, and moved to the Northern California Athletic Conference of which it was among the charter schools in 1925. These early years laid the foundations of rivalries to come, with games against San Jose State and Pacific in the first year, and adding UC Davis, Nevada, and San Diego State in the following years of NCAC play. The NCAA began classifying schools into University Division and College Division groups in 1937, and the Bulldogs, along with the other major college schools in the conference, broke off into the California Collegiate Athletic Association in 1939, a conference it remained in until joining the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, later known as the Big West Conference, in 1969. Notable coaches during this period include Cecil Coleman, who during his five years at Fresno State had a .76 winning percentage, and took the 1961 team to an undefeated season capped by a 36-6 Mercy Bowl victory over Bowling Green. Fresno State football experienced a stretch of seasons hovering around the .500 mark during the later 1960s and 70s. Yet despite also having a number of winning seasons, including two where the Bulldogs went undefeated, they only participated in two university division bowl games before the 1980s.
In 1976, Jim Sweeney took over a Bulldog squad that had had 8 winning seasons since its last bowl bid, and promptly took the 1977 squad to a 9-2 record in his second year as head coach. The Sweeney era bristled with confidence as the Bulldogs became, along with rival San Jose State, the class of the Big West, earning postseason bowl berths four times in the 1980s. Sweeney’s 1985 squad is particularly memorable for Bulldog fans, as the team finished as the only unbeaten Division I-A team in the country, ranked 16th in the coaches poll. The 1985 squad did not, however, finish untied, after a 24-24 tie at home against the Rainbow clad Warriors of Hawaii. The lone blemish to a perfect season, coupled with the difficulty either team has had in winning in the other’s home stadium, has led the Warriors and Bulldogs to contend for one of the WAC’s fiercest rivalries.
The face of Fresno State football changed with the construction of a university football stadium for the team for the 1980 season. Before then, the Bulldogs played their home games in Fresno City College’s Ratcliffe Stadium, which seated approximately 13,000 fans. The construction of a modern new stadium which held over 30,000 in attendance was an outstanding improvement for the Bulldogs, who saw drastic increases in attendance and alumni support. The new stadium brought with it a renewed success for the football team, as they enjoyed four Big West championships in the new stadium which took them to five California Bowl appearances against opponents from the Mid-American Conference. During the Sweeney era, the Bulldogs posted nine consecutive winning seasons, a run which included five double-digit win seasons. 1994, however, marked the beginning of three consecutive losing seasons which ended the Sweeney era and brought in Pat Hill, who had worked both in the NFL and colleges for the past several decades.