Fresno State will face Washington State in the second annual Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Saturday at SoFi Stadium, seeking to extend an eight-game winning streak following a 1-4 start.
The Bulldogs (9-4) earned a spot in the game with a 28-16 victory over Boise State in the Mountain West Football Championship Game Dec. 3, avenging a 40-20 loss to the Broncos on Oct. 8, their last loss.
After the College Football Playoff, Rose Bowl and other New Year’s Six bowls, the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl has the fifth choice among Pac-12 Conference teams, behind the Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Sun Bowl.
The 7-5 Cougars were the only remaining bowl-eligible Pac-12 team when it came time for executive director Jason Gannon to choose the game’s representative from the conference.
Fresno State’s 1-4 start included two games quarterback Jake Haener missed because of an injury to his right left suffered Sept. 17 in a 45-17 loss to USC. He was also sidelined for the first two games of the eight-game winning streak, the Bulldogs’ longest since a 10-game winning streak in 2013.
Haener was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection, despite missing four games. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 28 consecutive games, the conference record.
“Jake is an unbelievable competitor,” Fresno State Jeff Tedford said. “He’s a grinder. The way he approaches the game, with his preparation, everyone just feeds off of him.
“He’s the most disciplined guy I’ve ever been around when it comes to anything. His diet. The way he prepares. He’s just been a blessing.”
Haener spent the first two years of his college career at Washington, redshirting in 2017 and completing nine of 13 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown in four games in 2018.
After sitting out the 2019 season because of NCAA transfer rules, Haener started all six games for the Bulldogs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, completing 150 of 232 passes for 2,021 yards and 14 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Haener was a second-team all-conference selection in 2021 when he completed 329 of 490 passes for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He was ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards and 11th in touchdown passes, as he helped lead Fresno State to a 10-3 record, including a 31-24 victory over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
Haener has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, widely regarded as the preeminent college football all-star game and the first stage in the NFL draft process.
A victory would make the Bulldogs the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to have a 10-victory season after a 1-4 start, an accomplishment made easier by the expansion of the regular season to 12 games in 2006. (Teams were also able to play 12 games in years when there were 14 Saturdays from the first permissible playing date through the last playing date in November, which occurred in 2002 and 2003.)
All five of Washington State’s losses were to teams currently ranked in the College Football Playoff top 15, including a 51-33 loss to 12th-ranked Washington in its regular-season finale Nov. 26.
The Cougars will be without both their offensive and defensive coordinators. Offensive coordinator Eric Morris was hired as North Texas’ coach while defensive coordinator Brian Ward was hired as Arizona State’s defensive coordinator.
Coach Jake Dickert will also serve as defensive coordinator Saturday, a role he held with Washington State in 2020 and 2021.
“Love being back in the room, got a chance going into the linebacker room, working through some drills, calling the plays, going back to a lot of film study and the process,” said Dickert, who was Washington State’s interim coach for the final five games of the 2021 season following Nick Rolovich’s firing for failing to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and was appointed to the job on a permanent basis one day after a 40-13 victory over rival Washington in the regular-season finale.
Offensive line coach Clay McGuire will be the offensive coordinator.
The teams have two common opponents: USC and Oregon State. The Cougars lost to the Trojans, 30-14 on Oct. 8 and 24-10 to the Beavers on Oct. 15. Fresno State lost to Oregon State, 35-32, on Sept. 10, and to USC, 45-17 on Sept. 17.
Linebacker Daiyan Henley is among six Washington State players to have played high school football in Los Angeles County. The Crenshaw High alum was a first-team All-Pac-12 Conference selection and a second-team selection as an all-purpose/special teams player.
Henley is second in the conference with 106 tackles. He leads the Cougars with six special teams tackles.
Linebacker Malachi Langley is among 13 Bulldogs to have played high school football in Los Angeles County. The Pasadena High alum was an honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference selection. His 62 tackles were second on the team.
Washington State will be making its seventh bowl appearance in eight seasons, missing only in 2020 when it was 1-3 with three games canceled because of coronavirus issues. The Cougars have not won a bowl game since the 2018 Alamo Bowl when they defeated Iowa State, 28-26.
Fresno State is making its second consecutive bowl appearance and third since 2018.
Washington State leads the series, 3-1, including a 24-3 victory in 1994, the most recent meeting.
The 12:30 p.m. game will be televised by ABC.