Fresno State's latest talking point targets quarterback Tom Brandstater.
Was the Turlock High graduate a success or a failure in his three seasons in charge and his 5½ years on the FSU campus? If he failed, why? Was he the reason the Bulldogs again couldn't break through in the Western Athletic Conference, or was he the victim of miles-over-the-top expectations?
If you're conflicted, I'll provide a tie-breaker at the bottom of the column.
For now, Brandstater wraps up his career in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State. In three years, he's been up, down, cheered, mocked, rejected, demoted and promoted.
And he knew all of it was coming.
He was counseled by his Fresno State predecessor, Paul Pinegar, whose three bowl victories didn't keep him from nearly being chased out of town.
"Paul motioned me toward his locker after a loss and on his cell phone were all these nasty messages," Brandstater remembered this week. "He told me, 'This is what you have to look forward to.' "
See, Fresno State fans, spoiled by the quality of NFL quarterbacks David Carr and Billy Volek, demand excellence. They've been conditioned by coach Pat Hill's ambitious "anywhere, anyplace, anytime" mantra which has given the Bulldogs a positive national identity. They've also twisted reality into grotesque shapes.
Brandstater, 6 feet, 5 inches and blessed with a strong arm, was supposed to be an upgrade over Pinegar. The record says otherwise, however, and no one wants long-winded explanations about injuries, a rebuilding project launched during Brandstater's sophomore season or other nuance.
It's all about the scoreboard that flashed both good and bad news for Brandstater's teams.
Brandstater lost and regained his job during a difficult sophomore season. He bounced back as a junior with nine wins and was named the MVP of Fresno State's win over Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl. Then, as a senior, the Bulldogs lurched about at an uneven 7-5.
Under Brandstater's watch, Fresno State enjoyed wins over UCLA, Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Rutgers. The Bulldogs also lost to Oregon, LSU, Washington and Texas A&M. They never beat Hawaii or Boise State and never beat a ranked team under Brandstater.
"I was walking up the ramp at halftime one game and a young boy said, 'Gimme five!' And when I reached out to slap his hand, he pulled it back and said, 'You suck!'
"His father nearby yelled, 'That's right! You tell him!' " Brandstater said. "I had to laugh. I realized I couldn't please everybody."
Too bad there are no extra-credit points awarded to quarterbacks who absorb countless beatings but never miss a game due to injury. Brandstater was nothing if not leather-tough and thick-skinned.
He'll leave Fresno State as the No. 6-ranked quarterback in school history in total offense, but that doesn't mean as much to him as his team MVP trophy.
"To know that came from my teammates, even though I felt I could have played better, says a lot," Brandstater said. "I hope to go out the right way Saturday and see the smiles on the guys' faces."
OK, about that tie-breaker: Brandstater completed his work toward a Master's degree in sports psychology this week. Name another elite-level quarterback with a Master's in hand before his final game.
"I learned the quarterback position is extreme at both ends," he said. "It's been a great ride. It's not the storybook thing but it was a childhood dream to play college ball. I'll remember the high from knowing my teammates are looking to me and all that anticipation before each game. I've learned about myself and about life."
The tiebreaker goes to Brandstater.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.
|Key wins: Kansas State, Georgia Tech|
|Key wins: At Rutgers, at UCLA|
|¹ Backed up quarterback Paul Pinegar|
² Benched during three losses in midseason