Utah State football: Two Aggie teams, two different directions
College football • Utah State moving up; New Mexico St. facing tough future.
Published: October 17, 2012 03:18PM
Updated: February 7, 2013 11:31PM
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Tribune file photo Aggie head coach Gary Andersen cheers as his team takes the field for the game against BYU in Provo in September.

Logan • With an air of confidence, Utah State head coach Gary Andersen spoke openly this week about maintaining focus and the danger of overlooking New Mexico State.

NMSU coach DeWayne Walker, meanwhile, hinted at the challenge ahead for his Southern Aggies on Saturday. New Mexico State will be a sizable underdog at Romney Stadium, presenting nothing more than an expected speed bump for USU.

Four years ago, the two coaches were hired to revive dormant programs. Today, the future has never looked brighter for Utah State. And the future has never been more bleak for NMSU.

“It’s cool to see how far they’ve come,” Walker said. “They have made a commitment to football. It’s night and day to see where they are and where they were as a program.”

While Utah State prepares for its Mountain West Conference journey, New Mexico State is on the brink, a football program without a conference after this season. In the hustle of collegiate realignment, NMSU hasn’t measured up on the field. And the facilities in Las Cruces haven’t helped them off the field.

New Mexico State is a football orphan.

NMSU will go at it as an independent in 2013, with no concrete plans beyond next season. The program’s problems are not Walker’s fault alone. But his record in four years has left a lot to be desired. The former BYU assistant is 10-34 overall. He’s won as many as four games just once, and New Mexico State is 1-5 heading into Saturday.

“I have a ton of respect for DeWayne Walker because he’s had a challenging time,” Andersen said. “He’s surrounded by good kids; he loves his kids, and he loves coaching football.

“It’s hard to win,” he added. “I’ve known DeWayne four years now. He is pushing through it and grinding through it. We’ve had a tough time with his team over the years.”

Andersen mentioned how grateful he is for the backing he’s received from his administration, and Utah State’s progress has been steady. Two consecutive 4-8 seasons were followed by a 7-6 finish last year that included the school’s first bowl appearance since the 1990s. This season, the Aggies have truly broken out.

“We had to go at this thing together, and we had to sell Gary a plan,” USU athletics director Scott Barnes said. “We crafted together a football mission statement. We wanted to win the WAC, and we wanted to be competitive nationally. We’ve succeeded.”

The Aggies have received attention from all over. Nearly every bowl projection has Utah State’s name somewhere on the list. USU has also began putting players in the NFL on an annual basis since Andersen has taken over.

“You have to credit Utah State at the administration level,” said Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, the former longtime WAC commissioner. “They have made football a priority, and it’s paying off.”

It’s hard to believe the two programs were in virtually the same place in 2008. Brent Guy’s last game as USU’s head coach came against New Mexico State. Utah State won 47-2.

You would never have known it at the time, but that result would represent a symbol of fortunes to come between the two programs.

tjones@sltrib.com

Drifting apart

DeWayne Walker

New Mexico State

2009 • 3-10

2010 • 2-10

2011 • 4-9

2012 • 1-5

Gary Andersen

Utah State

2009 • 4-8

2010 • 4-8

2011 • 7-6

2012 • 5-2

New Mexico St. at Utah State

P Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV • KMYU