At left, Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener, a former Husky, will face off against Washington State quarterback Cam Ward in the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl on Dec. 17 in Los Angeles. (The Associated Press)

At left, Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener, a former Husky, will face off against Washington State quarterback Cam Ward in the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl on Dec. 17 in Los Angeles. (The Associated Press)

PIERRE LaBOSSIERE COLUMN: UW, Fresno State joined at the hip

I’ve circled the date of Dec. 17.

That’s the day may alma mater, Fresno State, plays in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.

Their opponent? The Washington State Cougars.

It should be a barnburner. Both teams have explosive offenses and defenses that, well, show up some games, but not every game.

I’m surrounded by Cougars fans at work, so I have to keep the gamesmanship on the down low. Plus, I’ve always liked the Cougars. They always seem to be underdogs and have a chip on their shoulder. I’m not really a rude kind of sports fan, anyway. Not unless you’re a Boise State fan. Then I shall taunt you some more until you go away.

Let me give the Cougars fans a bit of a primer on the Bulldogs. The Mountain West champions started off the season at 1-4 after losing their starting quarterback Jake Haener to a high ankle sprain in a loss against USC. Their season looked lost, frankly.

But after a couple of shocking wins against San Diego State and San Jose State with their backup quarterback, the Bulldogs got Haener back, rattled off seven straight wins and then beat bad old Boise State on their dumb Smurf field in Boise 28-16 to go to 9-4 and win the MWC.

And if you want to know why I hate Boise State, they are the Bulldogs’ white whale. Boise State beat Fresno State 11 times in 12 years at one point early this century and their fans were pretty eager to rub that in. Fresno State has drawn even with them lately, but the Broncos still lead the series 17-8.

The Cougars are a decent team at 7-5 and had a three-game winning streak toward the end of the season that ended with Washington’s 51-33 win in the Apple Cup.

One thing Cougars fans may not be aware of is Fresno State and the University of Washington are joined at the hip. Haener started out as a Huskies quarterback, but transferred to Fresno State when Washington brought in Jacob Eason. His numbers are amazingly close to WSU quarterback Cam Ward’s numbers. Haener has thrown for 8,800 yards and 66 touchdowns in 31 games for Fresno State. He’s a little small for the NFL at 6-foot-1, but he has an absolute rocket launcher for an arm. He could end up a mid-round NFL draft choice.

I jokingly call Washington the UW Bulldogs and Fresno State the FSU Huskies. Washington’s head coach Kalen DeBoer is a former Fresno State head coach. When he took the head coaching job at UW, Haener briefly entered the transfer portal with the apparent intent to return to UW. When Jeff Tedford was re-hired to coach Fresno State, Haener decided to stay.

In addition to Haener being a former Husky, Tedford is a former consultant for the University of Washington. DeBoer also used to be Tedford’s offensive coordinator at Fresno State.

Like Washington, Fresno State throws it, throws it again and then throws it some more. They might have two or three wide receivers who will play in the NFL someday. Yet, they also have a running back, Jordan Mims, who gained more than 1,160 yards this season. The Cougars give up 394 yards a game. This could be fun.

The game will be broadcast on ABC at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 17.

The Cougs have a big thing going for them. Fresno State is 0-2 this season against the Pac-12. The Bulldogs got crushed by USC 45-17 after Haener got hurt, then blew a lead against Oregon State, allowing the Beavers to march all the way down the field with 1:05 left to win 35-32.

I am so glad to see Fresno State get a high-profile bowl in Los Angeles. It will be Jimmy Kimmel. Hollywood. And SoFi Stadium. It sure beats the Mashed Potato bowl on a Tuesday night on that damn Smurf field.


Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at plabossiere@

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