Logan • Utah State will be a six-point favorite over BYU when the Aggies meet the Cougars Friday at Romney Stadium.
This would have been unheard even a few years ago. And Mark Weber, a USU assistant coach who used to work for BYU, has watched the whole evoloution up close.
When Weber joined the Cougars’ staff as an offensive line coach, Utah State was a pushover. In 2008, BYU trampled the Aggies in a 34-14 win in what would eventually be former USU coach Brent Guy’s last season.
But after Guy’s successor, Gary Andersen arrived in Logan, things began to change. Weber, now USU’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach, says BYU’s coaching staff became increasingly anxious about the Utah State game. The Aggies merited a little more attention every year.
“What I saw was Utah State getting better and better,” Weber said. “It was pretty cool to watch — if you like football, if you’re into it — to see something change that way. I knew this was an up-and-coming program, the hottest in the state.”
There’s no doubt in terms of budget, exposure and tradition, Utah State still lingers behind its two bigger in-state rivals. But beating the Cougars 31-16 in 2010 (and defeating Utah last season) has given the Aggies a serious shot of momentum, and more meaning to their in-state rivalries that were one-sided for decades.
When BYU takes the field in Logan Friday, the Cougars will be facing their equal, for this season at least. The Aggies are still working to expand their fan base and resources to be competitive year after year. But the program has certainly halted what had become annual beatdowns against BYU and Utah.
“This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing,” athletic director Scott Barnes said recently. “We believe now the foundation is there to be consistently competitive.”
The Old Wagon Wheel rivalry has a rich tradition for both USU and BYU. Cougars-Aggies is the second-most played rivalry in each program’s history.
The Cougars hold a 45-34-3 advantage all-time, but for much of the early history, Utah State held the edge. The Aggies’ decline from a peak in the 1960s and the Cougars’ rise under LaVell Edwards can be measured: Since 1975, BYU is 28-4 in the annual battle.
Asked how BYU-Utah State compared to the Cougars’ long-standing grudge match against the Utes, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall gently called it a “different kind of rivalry.” He’s only been beaten once in the game.
“I’m not saying it’s better or worse, I just think it’s different and I think it should be,” Mendenhall said. “Different teams, a little bit more distance, but still a great game and it has been the past number of years.”
Utah State offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven, who grew up in Orem as a BYU fan, was more frank.
“As competitive as the games have been the last couple years, it wasn’t always that way,” he said. “I think some BYU fans didn’t really see it as a rivalry. I think Aggie fans think a lot more of it that BYU fans do, because BYU assumed it was going to stroll through it every year.”
That has changed. Although BYU has still gotten the best of the Aggies in the last two seasons, each win was by three points. The Cougars scored at least 30 points on Utah State in 21 straight games between 1982 and 2009, but hasn’t passed that mark since falling in that 2010 game.
The two schools restructured their contract in July from a two-for-one deal to a home-and-home series. In 2015 and 2016, the Aggies will play the Cougars on Thanksgiving weekend, one of BYU’s most meaningful games in the tail of their schedule.
For years, the Cougars have been one of the biggest-drawing opponents in Logan. Nothing quite excites Utah State fans like the prospect of playing BYU at home.
“It is one of the hardest places to play in the Western half of America, honestly, because the fans are so dialed in,” said BYU receiver and Sky View native J.D. Falslev. “The fans are so rigorous. The fans have bought in to what they are doing. So it makes it tough. They are going to be loud, they are going to be nasty, they are going to be all over the place.”
Reporter Jay Drew contributed to this story.
BYU at Utah State
P Romney Stadium (Logan)
Kickoff • Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • CBS Sports Network
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • Utah State 3-2; BYU 2-2
Series history • BYU leads 45-34-3
Last meeting • BYU, 6-3 (Oct. 5, 2012)
About the Aggies • Quarterback Chuckie Keeton has the second-most passing touchdowns of any quarterback in the country with 17, trailing Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. … Linebacker Jake Doughty is averaging 10 tackles per game, good for 21st in the nation. … The Aggies are hoping for the return of Connor Williams, an all-WAC defensive lineman in 2012 who has missed four starts since getting injured against the Utes.
About the Cougars • They are averaging 307.2 rushing yards per game, fourth in the nation. … RB Jamaal Williams, who suffered a concussion during the 20-13 loss to Utah two weeks ago, is expected to play, but in a limited role. … WR Cody Hoffman, who missed last week’s 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee State due to suspension, needs just three touchdown catches and nine receptions to become the school’s all-time leader in those categories. … Safety Daniel Sorensen is tied for eighth nationally with seven pass breakups.
Construction could slow trip to Logan
Interstate 15 will be narrowed to two lanes in each direction in Layton this weekend for construction, weather permitting, and highway officials are expecting significant delays there.
From Friday at 8 p.m. through Monday at 6 a.m. , crews will restrict lanes to rehabilitate bridges at Hill Field Road. The freeway normally has three to four lanes in different points in that section.
The Utah Department of Transportation expects heavy congestion, in part because of the Utah State-BYU game on Fridau and the LDS General Conference this weekend.
UDOT encourages people to use a combination of US-89 and Interstate 84 in Davis and Weber counties to avoid I-15 in Layton.