Logan • Utah State coach Gary Andersen shifted uncomfortably last week after the Aggies’ blowout win over Southern Utah.
“I would like to enjoy this for at least an hour,” Andersen said of the victory, but it was clear he was already thinking about his team’s next challenge — Friday’s game against Utah.
It has been awhile since any Utah-Utah State football game has been deemed significant — the Utes have won the last 12 games, most in blowout fashion. But the atmosphere at Romney Stadium figures to be charged for this one.
For starters, the Aggies have improved under Andersen to the point that they have a chance to be competitive against the favored Utes, and maybe even beat them with some breaks. The game also will be nationally televised by ESPN2.
But there will be still another reason this game will have some juice: This could be the Utes’ last visit to Logan. And it could mark the beginning of the end of “the Brothers” playing regularly, or even semi-regularly, going forward.
USU is scheduled to travel to Salt Lake City for games in 2013 and 2015. The Utes were booked to play the Aggies in Logan in 2014, but bought their way out of the game by paying USU $500,000. No other games have been scheduled.
It is probable the historic rivals will continue to meet. How often is the question. With their nine-game Pac-12 schedule, the Utes are limited to just three nonconference games a year, a schedule that has already forced changes in the Utah-BYU rivalry. That series will go dark in 2014-15, resuming in 2016.
The rivalry with Utah State doesn’t rank nearly that high on the Utes’ priority list. So there are questions about just how frequently the teams will play going forward. But all sides seem to agree on one thing: the days of Utah traveling to the Cache Valley are probably numbered — if not over.
“That may be,” Utes athletic director Chris Hill said about the possibility of this being the last trip to Logan. “As I tell everybody, we’re still very new in the situation we’re in. I don’t know if we’ll go home and home again with Utah State. I couldn’t guarantee one way or the other. I’ve talked with Scott [Barnes, USU’s athletics director] about it a little bit. As so many things are with us right now, they’re up in the air.”
Barnes says he’s hopeful the rivalry can continue on a home-and-home basis, although he too, acknowledges that may no longer be feasible for the Utes. His own program may soon be up against the same kind of constraints, with the Mountain West Conference — Utah State’s new home beginning next year — considering a nine-game conference schedule as well.
“It would be difficult to line things up if we were dealing with a nine-game schedule,” Barnes said. “In a perfect world, I would love to play this game every year with Utah and BYU. But the needs are changing with both schools. They have changed with Utah, and they are changing with us.”
Utah State also is contributing to the Utes’ reticence by becoming more competitive under Andersen. The Aggies took defending national champion Auburn to the wire last year, had BYU basically beaten in Provo before wilting under a furious Cougar comeback and earned their first bowl berth since the 1990s. They are picked to contend for a WAC title this season.
Andersen, needless to say, wants to see the rivalry continue, and advocates for a continuation of a home-and-home arrangement. He chafes under the current two-for-one deal with the Cougars.
“The rivalry with Utah is important to the state, and it’s important to us,” Andersen said. “Without question, the fans and the players will be ready to go. It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere.”
When Friday rolls around, it will mark almost four years since the Utes last visited Romney Stadium. Brent Guy was coaching in his last season with the Aggies and the program was in shambles. And the Utes’ 58-10 win was the Aggies’ biggest embarrassment of the season.
Andersen was the Utes’ defensive coordinator that night. He has already lost once to his old team, a 35-17 setback at Rice-Eccles Stadium in his 2009 USU coaching debut. But Andersen has beaten BYU (in 2010) and there is no question that he and the Aggies will be taking their best shot on Friday.
Will it be enough? Maybe. Maybe not. But it may be enough that Friday’s game will matter to both teams.
That’s a rivalry.
on twitter: @tonyaggieville
Tribune reporter Bill Oram contributed to this story
Utah vs. Utah State
• It is the nation’s ninth-longest rivalry, going back 109 games
• The first ever meeting was on Nov. 25, 1892. The Aggies won 12-0.
• Utah leads the series 77-28-4.
• Utah State has lost the last 12 games and 20 of the last 22 games in the rivalry.