Jeff Tedford's return to coach his alma mater two years ago had Fresno State eager to restore the football program's tradition of success against bigger conference opponents, dating to when Tedford played for the Bulldogs in the early 1980s.
Problem was the Bulldogs needed some wins against Power Five schools to hang their hat on.
After a close loss at Minnesota last year, Fresno State finally ended a 10-game losing streak to the Power Five by defeating UCLA the following week. It won the Mountain West title, and the momentum carried into the bowl season with a Las Vegas Bowl victory against Arizona State.
After almost pulling off an upset at Southern California last week, the Bulldogs want to prove that beating two Pac-12 opponents last year wasn't a fluke. What better way to do that than avenging last year's loss to the Gophers on Saturday at Bulldog Stadium.
"Anybody here saying they don't have a chip on their shoulder from last year would be lying to you," senior captain and linebacker Mykal Walker said in a telephone interview. "We definitely had this game circled for a while."
The Mountain West made headlines last week with four upsets. Boise State beat Florida State. Nevada beat Purdue. Wyoming beat Missouri. And Hawaii beat Arizona.
"There were some big wins there," Tedford said. "This conference is always pretty strong, I think. It's very competitive. Whenever we play in bowls and things like that."
Fresno State first made a habit of beating bigger conference teams nearly 40 years ago when Jim Sweeney, the program's all-time leader in wins, returned for a second stint as head coach in 1980.
During his first 10 seasons, Sweeney defeated Oregon and Arizona each twice and Oregon State three times; Tedford was his quarterback in 1981 and 1982.
"When Bulldog Stadium gets going," Tedford said, "it's definitely an advantage."
The Bulldogs remained a West Coast power well into the 2000s behind Pat Hill, who coached them for 15 seasons. Hill gained most of his notoriety with the Carr brothers at quarterback.
Former No. 1 pick David Carr won at Colorado, at Wisconsin and upset No. 10 Oregon State in his senior year in 2001. Derek Carr, now with the Oakland Raiders, led the Bulldogs to their last victory against a Big Ten team, against Illinois in 2010.
Expectations then were for Fresno State to beat a Power Five opponent annually, but it went five straight years without such a win from 2013-17, which included losses to Alabama and Washington in Tedford's first year.
Despite losing 30 players from a 12-win team last year, the Bulldogs proved they still have the talent to put fear into Power Five opponents after a 31-23 loss at USC last week.
Saturday's game against the Gophers gives Fresno State a chance not just to compete but build on those big wins against UCLA and Arizona State a year ago.
"I think that really turned it on here at Fresno State," said Walker, whose late father played for the Bulldogs. "It set the culture out here. We know we have to live up to those standards."