Utah State football: Familiar foes, new league
Aggies, Spartans square off for first time as Mountain West members.
Published: September 27, 2013 08:27AM
Updated: September 26, 2013 11:34PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah State Aggies wide receiver Bruce Natson (9) leaps into the air as the University of Utah hosts Utah State, college football Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

San Jose, Calif. • They both came from the WAC and into the Mountain West. They both are replacing head coaches. They both have nationally respected quarterbacks. Both won 11 games last year.

If you had the time, you could list the similarities between Utah State and San Jose State all day, Aggie coach Matt Wells joked earlier this week.

“Both wear a shade of blue. Both have State in their name, I could go on,” he said.

If conference realignment is a stormy, shifting sea, San Jose State and Utah State are sharing a life raft. Both programs were scrambling as recently as a year-and-a-half ago, trying to find a home as WAC football fell apart.

This season finds both the Aggies (2-2, 1-0) and the Spartans (1-2, 0-0) both with losses they might not have expected this year, but with their futures secured in the Mountain West. Still, as siblings must, each seeks to prove they’re doing a little better than the other.

This rivalry just happens to play out Friday night on ESPN.

“It’s definitely fun going back to San Jose,” cornerback Nevin Lawson said. “I know they’re a great team. We definitely can’t go in there and think we’re going to roll over them. We know they are going to come out and compete against us.”

The Spartans have had up-and-down years in the past decade — with plenty of down to go around. They’ve had a renaissance in recent years, as former SJS coach Mike MacIntyre (now at Colorado) went from 1-12 in 2010 to an 11-2 record last year.

As the Aggies have looked for exposure and ways to build their brand from the mountains of Utah, San Jose State sits in the oversaturated Bay Area market, mired on the bottom rungs. Over the years, it’s been tough for the program to earn a share of the spotlight, and it has fought constantly with low budgets and aging facilities.

A win on ESPN, on a night when there are almost no other football games on, could be a big opportunity for a school like San Jose State. Or Utah State.

Therein lies the drama.

“Exposure is one of the best things about moving to the Mountain West,” coach Rod Caragher said during Mountain West media days. “We’re going to have six games on national TV, which is more games than any year in our history.”

Sound familiar?

Of course, Utah State has owned this sibling rivalry lately, winning the last four games. Last year, the Aggies pounded quarterback David Fales to the turf with 13 sacks, in a game he described as “just a blur.”

Utah State has also bounced back after losses like their defeat to USC. Earlier this year, the Aggies took a loss at Utah and turned around to trounce Air Force. The last time the Aggies lost back-to-back games was in 2011 against Fresno State and Louisiana Tech, virtually another era.

The stakes are high for two programs that are trying to prove last year’s records were no fluke. And Utah State hopes to be the team on Friday that proves that it’s still leading the way. Unlike most sibling rivalries, this one is just about business.

“We’re not necessarily playing to upstage another team,” quarterback Chuckie Keeton said. “We try to take the headlines out of it. We’re just a brotherhood, playing for each other.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Utah State at San Jose State

O Friday, 7 p.m.

TV • ESPN. Radio • 1280 AM

Records • Utah State (2-2, 1-0); San Jose State (1-2, 0-0)

Series history • San Jose State leads, 20-13-1

Last meeting • Oct. 13, 2012 at SJSU; USU 49, SJSU 27

About the Aggies • Utah State is coming of a 17-14 defeat at USC, where it put up season-lows in scoring (14) and yards (285). … The Aggies defense has seen improvement recently, rising to No. 15 nationally in total defense (285 ypg) and 10th in third-down defense (24.6 percent). … Despite scoring a season-low two touchdowns last week, quarterback Chuckie Keeton is tied for second in the nation with touchdown passes (14) and is No. 17 in passing efficiency (166.5).

About the Spartans • San Jose quarterback David Fales is passing for 293.3 yards per game with six touchdowns and three interceptions. … Linebacker Keith Smith leads the nation in tackles, averaging 17 per game. … The last time San Jose won a game in the series was in 2008, when it bested the Aggies 30-7. … San Jose State joined Utah State as WAC teams finishing in the top 25 rankings last year.

MW members

West teams

Fresno State

Nevada

UNLV

San Jose State

San Diego State

Hawaii

Mountain teams

Wyoming

Utah State

Boise State

New Mexico

Colorado State

Air Force