CBS Sports Network college football analyst Aaron Taylor — who will be working the BYU-Utah State game on Friday — has some very distinct memories of playing the Cougars.
“They were always very well coached,” said the former Notre Dame offensive lineman who won the Lombardi Trophy in 1993. “They were always a very tough team.”
That despite the fact that the Fighting Irish delivered beat-downs to the Cougars in 1992 (42-16) and 1993 (45-20).
But what Taylor really remembers is checking out the game programs.
“You’d sit down and look up the dude you were going to be playing against.” Taylor said. “And all of us would be, like, ‘Man, look at this dude! He’s 25 years old.’ ‘This guy’s got a mustache!’ ‘My guy’s married and got four kids already!’
“We were 19, 20 years old. It was such a unique experience to play against guys that were, in our eyes, grown men.”
Clearly, Taylor wasn’t complaining. Because, clearly, Notre Dame’s boys didn’t have any trouble dispatching BYU’s men.
And when he gets to Logan for Friday’s game (6 p.m. MT, CBSSN), he’ll find that on both sides of the ball. BYU has about four dozen returned LDS missionaries, but USU has a couple dozen of its own.
“It’s different than most of the games we do,” Taylor said with a laugh.
When the CBS analyst looks at BYU, he sees a considerable contrast to what people have traditionally come to expect from the Cougars.
“On the offensive side of the ball, they look quite a bit different than they have in the past,” Taylor said. “When I played them, they were just throwing the ball all around the field and lighting it up.”
He didn’t criticize the BYU coaches for turning to the running game with quarterback Taysom Hill this season, “Coaches’ jobs are to put the ball in their playmakers’ hands. To their credit, they’ve adjusted their offense to accommodate him.”
But he reserved his praise for BYU’s defense.
“You’re going to win a lot of games if you can play great defense. But you have to be able to outscore people sometimes and make a play and convert third downs and be effective in the red zone,” he said, pointing to BYU’s “turnovers and the lack of production on the offensive side.”
On the other side of the ball, USU quarterback “Chuckie Keeton is a special player. And when you have special players, that gives you a chance to win.”
And Taylor, while he couldn’t make a prediction for Friday’s game because he’ll be in the booth, he said he thinks the Aggies have turned a corner in their rebuilding process.
“Now, for three-star recruits, Utah State is a viable option,” he said. “I think the Mountain West Conference is wide open this year. And Utah State, in the end, will be one of the teams competing to win it.”
After Notre Dame, Taylor spent six years in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers. He’s traveled across the country working as a TV analyst, first for ABC and now for CBS.
But this will be his first trip to Logan.
“I didn’t even know how to get there,” he said with a laugh. “I knew it was Utah. I figured I’d probably have to go to Salt Lake, but I didn’t know whether I needed to look into connecting flights or what.
“I’ve heard good things. I’m looking forward to it.”
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.