Will fans rally 'round Nevada?
By Ferd Lewis
A curious thing happened last month in Fresno State's raucous Bulldog Stadium, one of the most partisan college football atmospheres on the West Coast.
We're told that as a couple hundred Boise State fans made their way among the red-clad Bulldog faithful, there were welcoming handshakes and even applause for the startled visitors.
This in a stadium where a couple of seasons earlier then-FSU athletic director Scott Johnson had felt compelled to take out ads in the daily newspaper urging fans to refrain from conduct embarrassing to the school.
The reason for the sudden turnaround in this heated rivalry? Fresno State fans were moved to show their appreciation for the way Broncos fans had adopted the Bulldogs as their team less than 11 months earlier in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise.
While Boise State was away in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., as Western Athletic Conference champion, their fans not only turned out more than 20,000 strong to see conference rival Fresno State play Virginia, they rallied behind the Bulldogs in a 37-34 overtime victory.
"I'd never experienced anything like that," FSU coach Pat Hill later told the Fresno Bee. "They were a big factor in our comeback. It's quite a humbling experience ... they are true football fans."
You wonder if WAC co-champion Nevada, which meets Central Florida of Conference USA in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl Saturday, will be able to say anything like that about its experience at Aloha Stadium.
Will UH fans, those who make it out on Christmas Eve, back the Wolf Pack, a team that eliminated the Warriors from bowl eligibility? And, more to the point, will there be enough of them to make a difference?
While the Las Vegas betting line on the game lists an over-under of 63 points on the score, the most speculated-upon numbers locally involves the crowd. The over-under there is five figures, as in 10,000 through the gates, or not.
Without the host Warriors for the first time in its four-year history, this is new, uncharted territory for the bowl. Previously, UH's participation guaranteed making the NCAA-mandated minimums; this time, the turnout is anybody's guess.
The participating teams are bringing but a couple hundred between them so what crowd there is will be determined by the local turnout. Not all that promising a prospect, perhaps, considering even UH struggled to draw more than 20,000 in two of its last three home games.
Bowl officials have said their "magic number" is 11,200 turnstile attendance, the figure that would keep the bowl above the NCAA's 25,000 rolling three-year average for certification.
About 16,500 tickets have been distributed for the game, through sales, promotions and participating team obligations, officials said yesterday. The question is: How many will find their way into the hands of people actually attending?
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.