-- FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- For all of Pat Hill's remarkable successes during his nine seasons at Fresno State, the coach knows there's a blue-and-orange cloud hanging over the last five years.
The 20th-ranked Bulldogs can only chase it away with a victory over Boise State on Thursday night in the most anticipated Western Athletic Conference game in many years. The stakes are big and stark: The conference title probably will be decided in front of Bulldog Stadium's screaming sellout crowd and a national television audience.
And the losing school will a big hit -- particularly if Fresno State again fails to complete its toughest task.
Hill, no stranger to hyperbole, is betting the house on his Bulldogs' opportunity to erase a four-game losing streak and a burgeoning inferiority complex.
"There hasn't been a bigger game in Bulldog Stadium in my nine years, I'll tell you that," Hill said. "We're going to have the greatest crowd we ever had, and we're going to need them."
Sure, Hill's Bulldogs (7-1, 5-0 WAC) own a respected national profile, a regular Top-25 ranking and one of the nation's best success stories for a mid-major school.
But Boise State has owned the Bulldogs ever since it traveled to Fresno in 2001 and ruined the Bulldogs' breakout unbeaten season.
Hill, the ebullient architect of Fresno State's renaissance, turns melancholy when he recalls that 35-30 defeat, which catapulted coach Dan Hawkins' club to prominence while sending then-No. 8 Fresno State into the first of four straight midseason tailspins.
"They came in and took something from us, and we've never got it back," Hill said.
Three more victories in the rivalry followed for the Broncos, who also won the last three WAC titles. Boise State (7-2, 5-0) has won 31 straight conference games in all -- the longest streak in WAC history -- and could vault back into the national rankings with another win.
"How can you call it a rivalry when we're 0-4?" Hill asked. "We've lost seven games in nine years in Bulldog Stadium, and two of them were to Boise State. That's not a rivalry."
Boise State, which went 11-1 in 2004, has won seven straight since opening the season with road losses at Georgia and Oregon State. Fresno State has outscored its last 14 opponents by more than 30 points per game, losing just once -- at No. 11 Oregon by three points.
Two unbeaten WAC teams haven't met this late in the season since 1977. While the game is important to Boise State, many Bulldogs see it as a life-defining moment -- even with a trip to top-ranked Southern California looming next week.
"To me, Boise is a bigger game than USC," receiver Paul Williams said. "Boise has spoiled our party too many times. I think this is the year, and from now on, we should beat Boise. If everybody does what they're supposed to do, if everybody comes out on fire on offense, defense and special teams, there's no reason why Boise State should even be in the game."
The Bulldogs certainly seem ready for their breakthrough season. Their offense has been steady and explosive behind quarterback Paul Pinegar, a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, and running backs Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin, who have combined for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"Everybody is ready for this game," Mathis said. "We've been ready all year long. This is the biggest game on our schedule. Mentally, I think we're more than ready for it."
Though Boise State stumbled early, Hawkins' players are back in the form that's taken them to three straight conference crowns. Quarterback Jared Zabransky has been mostly outstanding, and the Broncos lead the WAC in rushing, averaging 219 yards per game.
But after four straight losses to Hawkins' clubs, the Bulldogs clearly have more at stake than Boise State. For all of his accomplishments, Hill has never won an outright WAC title.
"For the first time in a long time, we're in the month of November controlling our destiny," Hill said. "I like it better this way, when you're ramping up to something big. You look forward to these games when they mean something, and this one really means a lot."