Pat Hill, the Fresno State coach, has recruited well to his program, especially in California's San Joaquin Valley. Now he'd like to win...

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Pat Hill, the Fresno State coach, has recruited well to his program, especially in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Now he’d like to win friends in Sacramento.


FSU (8-1 and leading the Western Athletic Conference) has a much-awaited game at top-ranked USC tonight. It’s the kind of meeting the Bulldogs love and can’t often get in their own state.


“The two sellouts [for USC] before the season started were for UCLA and Fresno State,” Hill pointed out this week on the WAC coaches conference call. “I believe if we played Cal and Stanford and UCLA, the same would come. I wish somebody would mandate it in the state of California, like they did in the state of Florida.”


That probably won’t happen, since California lawmakers have other concerns — budgetary woes, the governor’s shrinking popularity base, whether to have the garden burger or avocado club for lunch.


There isn’t exactly a big history of the four California Pac-10 schools risking themselves against Fresno State. Combined, they’ve played the Bulldogs only 13 times. The only time Fresno played USC, it upset the Trojans, 24-7, in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, and it helped get Larry Smith fired as USC coach.


Even tonight’s game represents how difficult it is for the aspiring Bulldogs. Hill had lobbied USC to play for years, pointing to September dates in 2004. But the Trojans instead got Colorado State to drop a date — with Fresno — and got CSU in ’04.


Initially furious, Hill kept working USC and arranged this date, palatable to the Trojans because they otherwise would have had three weeks without a game before they play UCLA on Dec. 3.


“They’re a championship team that plays well in all phases,” said USC coach Pete Carroll. “Pat’s got a real good approach. His players are not going to be wowed by anything. This is a beautiful opportunity for them.”


Oregon State at Oregon


The Civil War game pitting Oregon and Oregon State has been aptly described in a lot of ways:


West Coast series with the most meetings (108), having started in 1894. Bitter, in that the rivals are an unusually close 40 miles apart.


Lately, there’s been another applicable adjective: chalk.


For the past eight seasons, the winner of the game has been the home team, and none of the past three has been decided by less than two touchdowns. That augurs well for Oregon, a 13-point favorite over the Beavers in Eugene.


Significant spoils are out there for both. The Ducks are 9-1, and can argue for a BCS bid if they win. The Beavers, 5-5, would become bowl eligible with a victory.


Referring to Oregon’s BCS worthiness with a victory, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said, “Absolutely — a 10-1 record with our strength of schedule.”


Neither starting quarterback will be on the field. Kellen Clemens has given way to the latest rendition of Bellotti’s two-QB system, as Dennis Dixon will start with Brady Leaf relieving. And Matt Moore’s knee injury means OSU sophomore Ryan Gunderson will make his first start.


California at Stanford


So Cal is so desperate at quarterback, it’s starting an ESPN anchor in the Big Game against Stanford?


No, not that Steve Levy.


But some would argue that it’s a measure of Cal’s plight that it’s starting its own Steve Levy. He played fullback and special teams last year and has thrown only 14 career passes, 11 this year as the backup to Joe Ayoob.


On Thursday, Cal (6-4) announced in a news release Levy would make his first start over the struggling Ayoob. After practice, coach Jeff Tedford said Levy “most likely” would start, indicating that Ayoob would also play.


Meanwhile, Stanford (5-4) hopes to become bowl eligible behind quarterback Trent Edwards. With a sore thumb on his left (non-throwing) hand, he has thrown while not taking snaps to try to avoid aggravating the injury.


Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com