Here’s an inescapable question for football fans in the state of Utah, who can answer definitively because they were forced to live through the darn thing: What kind of season would it have been around here without Utah State?
A season of disappointment.
A bummer, all around.
Outside of the Aggies, the notion occurs, there are only two alternatives for characterizing what happened in 2012, and neither of them is encouraging. Either Utah and BYU badly underachieved or their programs are in deep doo-doo.
It’s the exact opposite in Logan. The Ags have a clear vision of what they want to be and how to accomplish it. They have a focused coach, a terrific quarterback and a bright future, as long as Gary Andersen decides to stick around.
Winning a school-record 10 games and having just missed in their two losses, Andersen and the Aggies completed a project that gained momentum as it rolled toward a national ranking and a league championship. Funny thing about that is this: Andersen had a plan in place before he ever arrived at Utah State for how the whole endeavor could be renovated and built into the success it has become. When he was interviewed for the coaching job there, he told administrators what he was going to do, and then once they hired him, he did it. He never got caught up in the mumbo-jumbo or the egocentric behavior that vexes some coaches. Andersen simply recruited and developed a capable quarterback, made smart decisions and went about his business.
Now the No. 20 Aggies, who respect themselves because they should, will prepare for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise on Dec. 15. Beyond that, they will ready themselves to jump from the WAC to the Mountain West, where new challenges will be faced in the upgrade. As long as Andersen stays, which he may or may not, the Aggies will be in a great position to continue with their clear and uncluttered ascension.
Utah and BYU, on the other hand, are bogged down to the point where nobody is certain where the answers are. Both Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall have made some bad decisions on the field and off it, and the confidence and the future for each program is clouded.
Nobody wants to dwell on what happened to either program this season, but dialing in on what comes next is daunting and difficult, as well.
In both cases, next year’s schedule presents tough tests. The Cougars lose the heart of their defense to graduation as they hurtle toward what could be the toughest slate they’ve ever faced. In independence, they are forced to find their way between playing crappy teams to bolster their record and playing good teams to bolster their reputation, if they finally can beat those kinds of opponents. That’s a problem. The Utes have had the good fortune — with lousy results — of playing a Pac-12 schedule that hasn’t included Oregon or Stanford. That changes next year. They get the Ducks and the Cardinal, alongside the rest of the league.
So what’s going to change for the positive?
That’s where the answers dry up.
The Aggies, on the other hand, will be ready for their future — if Andersen decides to stay. With coaches already being given the boot at a number of attractive destinations, it might be hard to hang on to him, though.
At least Utah State has the present to celebrate, which is a few miles ahead of where Utah and BYU are at this dismal point.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.